Sunday, August 1, 2010

My Impressions of Impressionism

I’ve been to the de Young Museum a lot over the past year, mostly trying to find places to kill people that won’t be captured by all the surveillance cameras. Hey, it’s my job. I’m a mystery writer and my new book, HOW TO CRASH A KILLER BASH, (due out August 3) is set at the de Young.

The art is cool too.

So when my mother called and asked if I might take her to the museum, I said, “Been there, done that—a lot, lately. How about a trip to a local KOA in our RV?”

“How about Paris, circa 1874?” she countered.

Turns out my mother was eager to see the “Birth of Impressionism” exhibit, which had traveled all the way from the City of Lights to the City by the Bay. The de Young was “the only place in the world besides Paris to see the masterpieces from the Musee d’Orsay,” she claimed.”

How could I refuse?

My mother lives in West Sacramento and doesn’t drive much, so I picked her up on a Tuesday and brought her back home to Danville. Although I knew this would not be an easy task, I wanted to make sure she got her fill of lily ponds, ballerinas, and old women in rocking chairs. Meanwhile I’d look around for other places I could hide a dead body.

Traffic to the city was thick, as usual, and once we got to Golden Gate Park, we saw a line outside that wound around Music Concourse like a Rousseau snake. The good news: Those people were there for the Academy of Sciences which is free to the public on the third Wednesday of the month. The bad news: The parking lot was already full.

My mother whipped out her handicapped placard and we found a blue space not far from the entrance. Once inside I got her a free wheelchair to use. But the exhibit was as crowded as a Seurat Sunday afternoon on the Grande Jattee. After I ran over the toes of a couple of crabby art lovers, my mother decided to use the wheelchair for support rather than a free ride, and maneuvered skillfully throughout the exhibit without me.

On my own, I wandered through the life-size picture book of 100 paintings ranging from the mid- to late-19th century. There was “Whistler’s Mother”—not the often-caricatured cartoon but the real thing, practically rocking right in front of me. I could almost hear Manet’s “The Fife Player,” feel the breeze in Renoir’s “The Swing,” and enter the world of Monet’s “The Magpie.” I found it hard to believe that the impressionists—considered the most popular artists in the world today—were once ridiculed by the public and rejected by official exhibitions. (“Wallpaper in its embryonic state is more finished than that seascape,” wrote one critic.)

Want to take a trip to Paris in the 1800s? The exhibit runs until September 6th, then the Post-Impressionists—Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Degas—move in and stay until January.

As for my new mystery, I hope some critic doesn’t write: “Bird-cage liner in its embryonic state is more polished than this book.” I may be forced to hide his body in the picturesque de Young frog pond.

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