I've read about a researcher who did a series of experiments to determine how long it takes for your eyes to adjust to a Rothko painting -- 35 seconds minimum, which is actually a long time for the typical museum goer to stand in front of a piece. But if you get up fairly close to one of those magnificent late fifties or early sixties pictures, so that it encompasses your entire field of vision, and gaze at it, the colors begin to unfold and ripple in an amazingly sensual way. What might appear, from a casual glance, as flat sheets of color, become deep and luminous and rich.
So when I saw one of those big pictures at SFMOMA, I rolled Josie up to it in her stroller and crouched down next to her to tell her some stories about the magnificent Mark Rothko. She pointed into it, in the way that she does when she's intrigued with something, and grinned. Dimly, I heard a voice chattering about Rothko's early years and his lessons with Albers, and gradually realized that the docent had brought the tour group up behind us and was just off to my left continuing with her tour, while the group was arranged semi-circularly around Josie and I. We moved on.
I wasn't at all sure how Josephine would take to the museum. When we've been out walking the streets (her in her stroller), she takes everything in very seriously and will then see something that makes her point and laugh and kick her legs with delight. Whether she'd see things that affected her that way in the museum, I didn't know, but I want her to grow up feeling that going to museums and looking at unfamiliar things and finding out what intrigues and inspires you about them is just a very normal thing for people to do, in the same way that reading books and listening to music and behaving well in restaurants are already part of her daily experience.
She liked the Rothko, and a few others of the big expressionist paintings on the 2nd floor, but what really set her off was when we went up to the 4th floor for the big Matthew Barney exhibit. I was carrying her at this point so that she'd have a better view, and as soon as we came around the corner from the elevators to see the first of the large sculptures that comprise Drawing Restraint 9 she started pointing and squirming and squealing with delight. I let her lead us through the rooms by her pointing, and we spent quite a bit of time there. I have no idea what she found so intriguing in those big shapes, but she was quite clear about which ones she liked.
Today I think we'll walk over to North Beach. I want to stop by the City Lights Bookstore and let her pick out something. We've been to the farmer's market at the Ferry building, and seen the sea lions (which she loves to imitate). Friday evening we'll do an Alcatraz tour. I suppose it's doubtful that she'll actually remember any of this as she gets older, but we're still trying to give her the full San Francisco experience.