I recently had a chance to sneak away and spend a day in San Francisco to see the “Balenciaga and Spain” exhibit at The De Young, curated by Vogue’s Hamish Bowles, and was happily inspired by the museum itself, just as much as the exhibit.
Having grown up in the bay area, going on countless field trips to Golden Gate Park and its museums and gardens, I must admit I had long taken them for granted since moving to New York. Coming upon the grand plaza of the Music Concourse, flanked on either side by The De Young and The California Academy of Sciences I was struck by the fine balance between old and new, nature and architecture.
The Plaza, completed in 1900, lined with neat rows of trees and facing the band shell of the Spreckels Temple of Music has the more formal feel of turn of the century design. Yet somehow, the two highly modern museums that surround it, both redone in the last decade, provide an interesting compliment to the plaza.
Before the recent renovations, both museums had sustained significant damage by earthquakes. The California Academy of Sciences, designed by Renzo Piano, is the world’s greenest museum, garnering the highest possible LEED rating. Its buildings feature a canopy of solar panels, a 2.5-acre living roof covered in native plants, and recycled denim used for insulation among other innovative elements.
The De Young was redesigned by Herzog and De Meuron and opened in 2005. It is wrapped in a warm copper surface that continues to change and shift as the patina develops. Because of the continued risk of earthquakes the museum was built sitting in what amounts to a mote so that it can shift during an earthquake to minimize any damage.
Although the new building cuts a modern geometric figure, they managed to integrate historic elements from the old De Young; including the sphinx sculptures, the Pool of Enchantment, and the original palm trees creating a connection between old and new. While in and around the building I was struck by the strong angles and geometric shapes created in different areas, such as the cantilevered roof over the cafe terrace and sculpture garden.
The De Young’s fashion exhibits have generated some controversy among some purists; however, Cristobol Balenciaga’s work was so connected to the worlds of art and architecture it seems a fitting choice. His approach was highly intellectual and conceptual. By the late 1950’s his clothing involved radical experimentation with form and volume paralleling his increasing engagement with contemporary art. The exhibit highlights these relationships and features a dress whose aerial view was based on a shape from a Joan Miró painting.
Balenciaga’s strong relationships were key in his work for example when he collaborated with The House of Abraham to develop Silk Gazaar, a silk gauze that allowed him to create sculptural pieces with minimal seaming which became a trademark of his work. The exhibit features strong colors and large format photos of his inspirations displayed with the corresponding collections. It was an inspiration to see the footage from Balenciaga shows from the ’50’s and get a glimpse of how simple the shows used to be.