Summer in San Francisco
San Francisco gave rise to the summer of love, which could be any summer in America’s LGBT capital, but the City by the Bay is also a great place to enjoy a summer of culture. Here’s a look at some of the art, theater, and music events happening in S.F. now and over the next few months.
De Young Museum
In the coming week, you’ll have your last chance to see Johannes Vermeer’s Girl With a Pearl Earring at the De Young Museum in beautiful Golden Gate Park. Making its first U.S. appearance in nearly 20 years, it’s one of about 35 Dutch Golden Age masterworks on loan from the collection of the Royal Picture Gallery Mauritshuis in the Hague while the Mauritshuis undergoes renovation. Also in the exhibit are paintings by other 17th-century notables including Rembrandt, Frans Hals, Carel Fabritius, and Rachel Ruysch, one of the few female painters of the era. The show is at the De Young through June 2; if you can’t make it to San Francisco, however, it will be at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta from June 23-September 29 and at the Frick Collection in New York City October 22-January 19. If you do get to the De Young, enjoy the concurrent, related exhibit “Rembrandt’s Century,” a selection of works on paper by Rembrandt and others, and check out the museum’s excellent permanent collection, representing a diverse group of artists — Mary Cassatt, Diego Rivera, Thomas Hart Benton, John Singleton Copley, among others. And there are more special exhibitions coming up later in the summer.
Legion of Honor
The De Young’s sister museum, the Legion of Honor (their umbrella organization is the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco), holds a special place in the hearts of cinephiles: In Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo,it’s where Kim Novak, as Madeleine, stared transfixed at the portrait of Carlotta Valdes. You won’t find the portrait there, as it was a prop created for the film, but most of the museum scenes were actually shot at the Legion, and some pieces of art seen in the movie are still there, including Rodin’s bronzes The Thinker and The Age of Bronze, and Nicholas de Largilliere’s painting Portrait of a Gentleman. So find a spot on a bench and do your very best impression of Kim in a trance as you take in these and other noteworthy works; the Legion’s permanent collection includes art by Seurat, Monet, Gainsborough, and more. The Legion also has a good deal of ancient art, and much of it has been gathered into “Gifts From the Gods: Art and the Olympic Ideal,” a special exhibit that will be up until June 23. Those who appreciate the male form in athletic poses will undoubtedly enjoy this show; besides ancient artifacts, it has modern pieces inspired by them — such as Diane Arbus photographs of bodybuilders. And if it’s natural beauty you’re after, the museum’s grounds offer a breathtaking ocean view, and in good weather you can sit outside while you have a snack or meal from the café.
Walt Disney Family Museum
Yes, there’s a museum devoted to Disney in San Francisco, not Los Angeles (or Florida) — it was founded by Walt’s daughter Diane Disney-Miller, a longtime Bay Area philanthropist, and her son Walter E.D. Miller. The museum has extensive permanent exhibits on how Walt Disney built his entertainment empire, rising from humble beginnings in the Midwest. Many LGBT visitors will come for that alone, out of love for all things Disney, but this summer there’s also a special show spotlighting the great gay author-illustrator Maurice Sendak. “Maurice Sendak: 50 Years, 50 Works, 50 Reasons” celebrates the 50th anniversary of Where the Wild Things Areby exhibiting 50 original artworks created for the book, along with 50 statements from a variety of celebrities on what Sendak’s work means to them. Among the contributors are President Obama, Tony Kushner, Stephen Colbert, Michael Bloomberg, and Tom Hanks. It’s appropriate for Sendak to be feted at this museum, as he was inspired to become an illustrator after seeing the Disney film Fantasia in his youth, and he later became a collector of Mickey Mouse and other Disney memorabilia. The Sendak show opened in May and runs through July 7. In another special exhibit, “Camille Rose Garcia: Down the Rabbit Hole,” on view now through November 3, 40 paintings by Garcia offer a goth-style interpretation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.Joining them are seven paintings that Mary Blair, an innovative modern artist and one of the few women working in animation at the time, created as concept art for Disney’s 1951 film of the Alice story.
Asian Art Museum
This museum has one of the most comprehensive collections of Asian art in the world, encompassing 18,000 paintings, sculptures, textiles, furniture, porcelains, and other pieces, representing 6,000 years of history and diverse cultures from the Middle East to the Pacific Rim. Adding to the museum’s attractions beginning this summer will be “Proximities,” a three-part exhibition of new and recent works by Bay Area artists inspired by the vast continent. It’s curated by Glen Helfand, an educator and art critic who has written for The Advocate, among many publications. “Proximities 1: What Time Is It There?” deals with landscapes; it opened in May and continues through July 21. “Proximities 2: Knowing Me, Knowing You,” focusing on family, community, and ethnicity, runs October 11-December 8. “Proximities 3: Import/Export,” on trade and commerce, will be on view December 20-February 16.
There’s always plenty of good theater to be seen in San Francisco, LGBT-themed and otherwise, but here are a couple of recommendations. From May 30 through June 16, Theatre Rhinoceros, said to be the oldest queer theater in America, is hosting the Bay Area premiere of Drunk Enough to Say I Love You? about an obsessive love affair between two gay men, from the always provocative British feminist playwright Caryl Churchill. The play raises the question of whether the men’s behavior mirrors that of nations, and it’s presented in conjunction with two works that deal with conflict in the Middle East, Churchill’s Seven Jewish Children and Deborah S. Margolin’s Seven Palestinian Children.Then, for satirical but lighthearted entertainment, head to the North Beach neighborhood to see Beach Blanket Babylon,billed as the world’s longest-running musical revue. In the show, which opened in 1974 but is continually updated to reflect current events, a talented cast spoofs politics, pop culture, sports, and everything else. A Beach Blanket Babylon trademark is that the performers often sport huge and elaborate headdresses that, well, defy description. Just go! And June 6 would be a good night to attend, as that performance is a benefit for the San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus. For more about the chorus, read on.
The San Francisco Gay Men’s Chorus is marking its 35th anniversary this year, which is also the 35th anniversary of a great tragedy in LGBT history — the assassination of pioneering gay politician Harvey Milk, the first openly gay man elected to the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. The chorus is honoring Milk with its Harvey Milk 2013concert, featuring the world premiere of “I Am Harvey Milk,” a choral work by Tony and Grammy nominee Andrew Lippa. The concert will also include the debut of “I Am the Legacy,” a variety of performance pieces celebrating Milk’s legacy, submitted by artists from around the Bay Area. Performances are set for June 26-28.
San Francisco has no shortage of good restaurants, but here are a couple of faves from a recent visit. The Presidio Social Club serves classic American cuisine — steaks, chops, meat loaf, mac and cheese — in a historic building that was once a recreation hall for soldiers based at the Presidio. The food is delicious, and the staff is super friendly. The Tonga Room is an authentic tiki bar, offering flavorful Asian dishes and tropical cocktails as well as periodic simulated thunderstorms over its “lagoon,” an indoor pool. It’s at the luxurious Fairmont San Francisco Hotel. About which, read further.
There are many places to sleep in S.F.; the city has something for all tastes and budgets. Some suggestions: The unparalleled grandeur of the Fairmont San Francisco on Nob Hill will make you feel like you’ve died and gone to heaven. Designed by Julia Morgan, the architect who created Hearst Castle down the coast, when it was rebuilt after the 1906 earthquake, it’s been renovated over the years but retains its old-school elegance. The rooms are gorgeous, the service impeccable, and the dining options numerous. For a more modern version of luxury, conveniently located in the center of San Francisco’s business district, check out the Four Seasons on Market Street. It offers great service and dining too, and it’s close to the shops of Union Square, other San Francisco attractions, and plenty of mass transit stops.
It’s not hard to get to San Francisco, whether you’re driving U.S. 101 or flying into one of the area’s three major airports (San Francisco, Oakland, and San Jose). But if you’re coming from any point on the West Coast, a singular treat is a ride on Amtrak’s Coast Starlight. The train runs daily between Los Angeles and Seattle, with stops in Santa Barbara, the Bay Area, Portland, and elsewhere along the route. Both coach and sleeping car accommodations are available (if you go all the way from L.A. to Seattle, it’s an overnight trip), and there’s a dining car with good food and local wines. It’s a lovely and most civilized way to travel, and while the whole experience is enjoyable, the unquestionable highlight is the scenery. Take a seat in the observation car and view the Pacific Ocean, mountains, forests, and valleys. It’s an unforgettable journey.