What are you guys doing this weekend?
I always liked the Oakland Museum. Before it closed, I used to enjoy visiting the gardens on a semi-regular basis, and not infrequently go there to pick up lunch, since it was the only place anywhere near where I work you could find even remotely edible food. So I’ve really missed the Museum since it closed at the end of last summer. Whenever they had a special exhibit, I would try to make sure I went to see it, and I think I managed to catch most of them since I’ve lived here. And for the most part, found them really enjoyable. I recall particularly loving the ones about California fashion and Henry J. Kaiser.
Anyway, despite being fond of the Museum, I never used to spend that much time with their permanent collection, and in general I found their galleries kind of drab and unengaging. So of course I was delighted at the prospect of the renovation, even though it meant I would have nowhere to go get a decent lunch for nine months.
So I went to check it out last night, and O.M.G.! I don’t know what I was expecting from the remodel, but it certainly wasn’t as cool as this. It was amazing.
The whole place in general just feels, I don’t know, bigger. The way everything is laid out now makes it feel like there’s more there than there used to be, but also that it’s more open and spacious, which I know sounds weird, but is somehow true. And there are all these delightful surprises around, like, every corner. Like the gold wall below.
I went to this media event for the museum renovation last December. Over lunch, they gave this long presentation about how they were all about making the museum interactive and making the visitor part of the experience and not making it like a traditional museum at all. At the time, I thought it all sounded really cool and exciting, but then couldn’t really picture what that would actually mean or what they were talking about.
They did give us a little tour of the art gallery under construction, but it was so under construction at that point that I had a hard time really imagining what it was really going to look like when it was all finished. So during that tour, they showed us this one example of their new interactive features, which wasn’t all finished at the time but I thought sounded cool, and it was this wall of self-portraits, with a little computer drawing pad next to it where you’re supposed to draw your own self-portrait and then all the pictures people drew of themselves cycle through and become part of the exhibit. How cool is that?
And there are tons of cushy seating areas all over the place too, which I think is kind of neat, just encouraging people to lounge and hang out around the art. The painting below has these really nice lounge chairs in front of it, and they come with headphones that when you play them, take you through this exercise to help you connect with the painting. The message at the beginning said the exercise would take eight minutes, but my dates were too impatient to let me go through the whole thing, and I got called away pretty close to the beginning, while the message on the headphones was telling me to focus on my breathing. So sadly, I didn’t get the opportunity to connect with this painting last night. But I’m sure I’ll be back.
Oh! This one was neat. Again, there are headphones, which I think are a little bit of false advertising. It says “listen to people’s conversations about whether or not things are art” or something like that, but the way it was phrased, I thought it was like, I don’t know, recordings of actual funny conversations people had in the museum that they recorded or something. I mean, I realize that would be kind of creepy, but still, the scripted (and poorly delivered) conversation on that they played for you was pretty weak. However, this little section was still wicked cool. You get to take little tickets and vote on each of the items whether or not they are art.
I got it wrong.
Here’s a view of Lake Merritt from the gardens. How amazing is that going to look when the 12th Street Bridge project is all finished? OMG.
So, as much fun as I had in the art gallery, I have to admit that I’m not actually much of an art person. Or really an art person at all. I love history, though, and I love history museums, so I was like, salivating all day yesterday at the prospect of getting to go after work and see what they’d done with the history gallery. Sadly, our time there was kind of rushed because they were about to close.
But from what we were able to see, it is super, super cool — even cooler than what they’ve done with the art. There are just neat little surprises every which way you turn, and all sorts of boxes and drawers and chests and stuff to open and find neat new treats inside. I loved this wall about the Europeans coming to California on their big ships, although the waves out the little window made me kind of dizzy after a while.
And just like they promised during that presentation in December, they really do have all sorts of ways they encourage people to participate with the exhibits.
The first thing I noticed when I walked into the room was the bulletin board, and a note on it that said something like “The new Oakland Museum is awesome!”. And I thought that was so great, and I knew I had to take a picture of it. But then I walked into it more, and I saw that it was even cooler than I had thought. The sign above the desk explained that they used to take naturalists on the the ships so they could draw pictures of the new species they encountered. So I guess it was supposed to be, like, the naturalist’s desk. And they had paper and pencils and this bulletin board, and I looked at the bulletin board again, and I saw that most people had not written notes like the one that had caught my attention at first, but drawn pictures of birds. Like the ship naturalists! It was really neat.
So of course I just had to draw one of my own. I tried to think of something an explorer would find in California, so I decided I would draw a wolf. It didn’t end up looking like a wolf at all, I’m afraid. Or like anything. I mean, maybe a cross between a badly drawn owl and dog and fox. Really badly drawn. I can’t draw anything. And even if I could, I am not sure exactly what a wolf looks like. But I thought the idea was just so neat I had to play along.
Here is my favorite of the pictures people had drawn. If you can’t read it, the note says “I saw this in my garden this morning. What is it?” Hahaha!
They had a great little exhibit about the Gold Rush. Part of it was you could look at different careers and see how much they paid during the Gold Rush. Then they had a calculator and a formula so you could see how much this job would pay now. I picked one up and it was for a cook. This was interesting to me because I used to be a cook. It said that in the Gold Rush, a cook for the miners would earn like $450 a week. I was shocked! Forget multiplying it by 28 or whatever, that’s like how much I used to make like five years ago cooking at a Michelin starred restaurant! OMG.
Also in the Gold Rush section, they had this like tree stump that instructed you to sit on it and when you did, it was like you were in a photo booth. Which made me want to take a picture. Which I did, of das88. He said I could use it on the blog, but only if I made it sepiatone. So I did. Say hi!
There was so much cool stuff going on all over the history gallery, and we really did just have to completely dash through it, which was a little sad. But also made me very excited about going back, because there are so many cool toys to play with. They’ve got this one like, electronic map table that you can touch and go over with a computer magnifying glass and move pictures all around — okay, I’m going to stop trying to explain that one because I know what I’m saying is making no sense. But trust me, it’s like straight out of CSI.
And in several different spots in the history gallery, they invite visitors to share their experience of California. Like, they’ll have a wall that asks “What do you remember about these years?” and in front of it index cards and tape and pencils. The wall in the photo below is a big long timeline, and it asks visitors to write on a post-it note what they think was the most important thing that happened since 1975 and put it up on the wall in the spot for the year it happened.
I loved looking at all the different kinds of responses people had for this. I thought the photo below captured the kind of mix pretty well. There was another note right below the Prop 13 one that was like “My daughter was born and has brought joy to my life every single day ever since” or something like that.
Here’s another of their cool little photo booth stations. This one has a bunch of labels that you can pick and hold in front of yourself, like you’re an exhibit too. All the choices were pretty cute. I was pretty amused by the ones dto510 and das88 picked.
Okay, enough of my photos. But I hope you get the idea. The new Oakland Museum is wicked cool. They have done an incredible job with their renovation, and I cannot wait to go back. Not only can I not wait to go back, but I can’t wait to take other people there too. I am so dragging both my little sisters there when they come visit me this summer, even though they will totally bitch and whine about how museums are boring and they want to go to Union Square instead, because I know that once they get there, they are going to flip out over how cool it is and they’re going to have a great time and won’t be able to stop talking about it.
So, in conclusion, go to the Museum. It’s awesome. As I’m sure you’ve heard, they are going to open for 31 straight hours this weekend to celebrate the re-opening, and they’re going to have all sorts of crazy events, and they’re trying to make #CALIFORNIA a trending topic on twitter on Saturday night, and it is all going to be free all weekend. But of course if you don’t want to brave the crowds, you just go and check it out next week or something. They’re open until 8 on both Thursdays and Fridays!
And, of course, you can always become a member of the museum, and then you can go visit anytime you want, as much as you want, for free.
Oh, and for higher quality pictures and some great information about the renovation, check out the excellent story about the reopening from last weekend’s Trib.