I spent Sunday in sparkling San Francisco, traveling there to see the much anticipated David Hockney "A Bigger Exhibition," at the deYoung Museum. I'd read about the exhibit, but was unprepared to enter a virtual (and I do mean virtual) wonder of the world.
At a time when we complain about memory lapses and gray hair, this 76 year-old master lives life to his fullest and shows no signs of slowing down. After navigating through a labyrinth of grand halls, I emerged renewed and astounded.
Much of the work originates from Great Britain, in the county of Yorkshire, near where Hockney grew up. There were two rooms in particular that struck me. He had chosen a spot in Woldgate Woods and in a quartet of pieces, painted this same spot in spring, summer, fall and winter. I could stand in the middle of the room, turn 90 degrees and watch the world ripen and die away throughout a year! The works were massive; six panels, each the size of a large painting in its own right. Immersion is putting it mildly.
The next room revealed another 4 pieces, in 4 seasons, on 4 walls. But this time, each one was a carefully constructed montage of 9 video screens, slowly advancing down a country lane, shifting in and out of synchronization and overlap (yes, some our party found it a bit dizzying).
The video images were created by placing 9 different cameras on a van, all filming the same scene from slightly different points of view. Once back in the studio, Hockney edited the footage to create the composite perspective in the piece above.
I had read much about Hockney's use of the iphone and ipad, but mistakenly discounted the authenticity of the media; thinking that a mark of the hand on paper is genuine and somehow more significant than gestures on a screen. I was taken aback as I entered yet another huge gallery, this one containing ipad drawings from Yosemite National Park, each enlarged to 12 feet tall. (The drawings were blown up in sections, printed on separate pieces of paper and reassembled.) The drawings were done in a sweeping and general way; the swirls and lines of cloud and tree reminiscent of Chinese landscape painting. The docent, whose tour I'd joined, invited us to approach each painting as if it were a roadside vista, stop 18 inches away, and "look up."
I obeyed, wondering what might happen. As I tilted my head up, I felt uncannily as if I were standing at the bottom of Half Dome, staring up into the gauzy clouds. If you've spent any time in Yosemite, many of the views are unmistakeable. As I looked over to the next painting, the swoops of cloud, which from standing afar, are clearly the artifacts of touch on an ipad, merged into a sort of luminous fog, obscuring the boundary between the depicted rock wall and the wall of the gallery.
Exiting the exhibition and then leaving the city, the green trees of The Presidio rushing by, I had the sensation of inhabiting an endless Hockney painting--the incredible gift of the painter and his works--and I wondered what the world would be like if we all tried a bit harder to study it from multiple perspectives.