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Art Forms: Q&A with Miriam Newcomer from The De Young Museum

  Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

The de Young museum is a fine arts museum in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park. Founded in 1895, the museum has stood as a beloved cultural and artistic center for over a century. The de Young’s collection surveys artwork from a variety of time periods and geographical locations, including an immense collection American artwork from the 17th through 21st centuries.

In the latest interview of our Art Forms series, we visit the de Young museum for an interview with the Director of Public Relations Miriam Newcomer. In this Q&A, Miriam shares her favorite UGallery artwork, the misconceptions of contemporary art, the surprising similarities between modern-day San Francisco and an ancient civilization, and more.

The De Young Museum displays a diverse collection of artwork from an array of time periods and cultures. In what ways can art from earlier centuries and a variety of cultures teach us about our own contemporary culture?

Absolutely everything. If you look back at past histories, it is often through art that our understanding of the culture survives. We currently have an exhibition up at the de Young that looks at the ancient city of Teotihuacan. Everything we know about this culture is from the artifacts left behind – there was no written word to be deciphered. Their society was incredibly sophisticated and the parallels to life today in San Francisco are extensive. For example, Teotihuacan was the cultural and economic center of the region made up of immigrants from the surrounding regions… the majority of whom lived in multi-family apartment units.

  Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Do you have any examples of artworks currently on display that reflect the values of present-day culture? 

Another exhibition currently on view at the de Young, looks at the work of African-American artists from the deep south that had been traditionally marginalized as outsider or folk art. In Revelations: Art from the African American South the de Young showcases 62 works that have recently joined the Museum’s renowned collection. Looking at today’s horrible headlines, the relevancy and power of this work cannot be ignored.

  Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

We are very interested in the De Young’s educational programs to bring a deeper understanding of contemporary art to a larger audience. In what ways has art education become more accessible to the public in the past few decades, and how has this accessibility influenced the way that modern viewers appreciate art? 

There can be such a misconception around contemporary art, but really, all art was once contemporary. The art world can be intimidating to those who might be exploring it for the first time and it’s important for people to know that everyone can have their own opinion. It’s ok to not like every work. Our collection has about 200,000 works. How could you possibly like every piece? Nurturing that understanding is where our educational programs and others around the city come into play. For example, this December we’re launching a new contemporary piece by the NY-based artist collective, DIS. One of the programs planned to celebrate the opening on December 3 is a “Circle Time” in which the artists break down the complex subjects they explore specifically to kids.

  DIS, "General Intellects" starring Mckenzie Wark (Video Still). Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

DIS, "General Intellects" starring Mckenzie Wark (Video Still). Image courtesy of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

In what ways has technology changed the way that visual art is appreciated, both in the context of the De Young collection and in general? Do you also see this happening across other art forms (dance, literature, music, etc.)?

You really see this everywhere. The gains in technology are disrupting all sectors across the board. You see this with social media, VR, and everything in between. Museums now have to attract both those that want a pristine experience with the art, and those that want to post every piece they come across to Instagram. It’s an incredibly difficult tightrope to walk and one that we must master to stay relevant to future generations. 

If you could have one piece from UGallery, what would you choose? 

Spikes 7 by Marie-Eve Champagne. I’m originally from Tucson, AZ, so I’m a sucker for anything that reminds me of home. 

Special thanks to Miriam Newcomer the De Young Collection, and Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco!