Free entrance to museums should be required, especially for poor college students. Since it isn’t however, I quite appreciate the occasional art lovers paradise that allows students to flash their IDs in exchange for a ticket. I visited one such generous museum last weekend, the Norton Simon in Pasadena. Since the museum is fairly large, I will focus on the 20th century, which was my favorite wing.
There were the usual suspects lurking around each carefully presented corner: Picasso, Matisse, and Braque. However, I was particularly drawn in Sam Francis’s giant and gorgeous work Basel Mural I which is featured at the end of the wing. Turning the corner from Impressionism you are hit with the painting from a distance. Since the galleries are set up in a chain of connected rooms, you can see straight through to the end. Instead of heading straight to the end and staring deeply into the Francis paining, I dutifully wound through the other galleries, enjoying the sites and laughing at the eccentric museum goers all the while wondering what masterpiece awaited me at the end of the gallery. When I finally arrived at the Francis, I was not disappointed.
The huge expanse of canvas made the painting seem either disproportionately large or the viewer toddler sized. The entire viewing experience was rather like being a small child trying to open a door and finding that on your tippy toes your fingers only brush the knob. Basically, it was quite humbling. Although it is an oil painting, the lively dripping and combination of wet and dry brushstrokes results in a watercolor effect. The vibrant, gorgeous combination of reds, oranges, and blues, combined with the sparing use of a delicate orchid and lime green result in a painting that makes you want to become a master of art heist.
The painting is accompanied by two extremely vertical fragments of Basel Mural III, which was damaged and then restretched onto two canvases. While beautiful, once I learned they were mere pieces of another mural that was injured, it was hard not to see them as a reminder of what was lost.
All in all, the Norton Simon is another amazing art resource in the LA area that I can’t wait to return to. Perhaps next time the sculpture garden will be open, it looked gorgeous even through the rain!
Photo Credits: Kimberly Mackey, The Sam Francis Foundation/Artists Rights Society