Three works of art featured at the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento + Museum Visit Report

Class: Art History 300
Museum Visit
Oct. 14, 2012

Exhibit One:

“Progress II,” 1976, Luis Jimenez, fiberglass, acrylic paint

Crocker Art didn’t list the size of their works but this thing is huge. It depicts a bull being roped in by a cowboy on a horse. Below the two animals is a base with a separate sculpture of a snake and one of an owl, which was holding a dead rodent in his claw. The part of the base that the animals were actually attached to had a skull, and several other animals. It was very intricate and well designed. The two animals were bigger than me and they were probably close to life size. The whole work was overwhelmingly large and the eyes of the animals even lit up, though one of the eyes on the horse was burnt out.

There weren’t a lot of colors used and it seemed to be using mostly a tertiary color palette including brown, but also had elements of warm colors like red. It also used deep purples, which created sort of a glaze over the work with glitter. The piece also used green for the snake and black for the hair of the horse. A video from Sacramento Bee covering the installation of this massive work said that the paint was boat paint, used to give the work a “hot-rod” look. The fact that the whole thing was built out of glass blew me away. It must have taken forever to create.

According to the information card, the piece represents progress in art history. The inspiration was drawn from Western artists such as Frederic Remington and Charles Russell. The first “Progress” work depicted a Native American buffalo hunt. The information card also said that the titles of the two works refer to the march of civilization and industry across the continent.

I chose this work because when I saw it, it was just so amazing. It’s massive size, it’s depiction of a very intense and exciting scene and the symbolism of the work all struck me as amazing. I took several minutes walking around the work and noticing all of the details and the subtle additions to the base. The details of the bull, the details of the horse, to the look on the cowboy’s face, the rope pulling in the bull was even there. It was truly magical too because of the way it is set up, it really appears to be a frozen scene pulled right out of a real event.

Exhibit Two:

Attic (Greek), Lekythos, No Name, Circa 620-480 BCE, Ceramic

This pot was very stunning. It was approximately one foot tall and had a very small opening at the top. The base of the pot was larger so it could hold a good amount. The pot was a orange-brown color and in black, had symbols around the part directly underneath the top of the bottle. On the base of the bottle was the depiction of what appeared to be a man. He was painted in all black and appeared to be wearing some sort of large robe. He was playing a harp instrument and in front of him were two females also in large robe-like attire. Behind the musician were another two women who looked identical to the women in front of him, except they were facing the opposite direction, being that they were behind him.

Unfortunately, Crocker Art didn’t list much information about this piece, but upon doing some further research online, I found that these pots were used for the remains of unmarried men and often depicted everyday events or rituals. This would explain the man playing music for the women and also why the hole is so small. It most likely wasn’t intended to be poured back out.

I chose this piece because simply being in the same room next to this and the many other pieces that were so old, was truly an awesome experience. Many of the pieces in this room were missing part of the structure like one was a small statue of an Egyptian woman and the body was completely missing. This pot in particular stood out to me though because it was truly stunning and the level of detail in the figures on the base was amazing.

Exhibit Three:

Unidentified Asmat Papua, Indonesian province, Late 20th Century, “Spirit Canoe” wood, red, black and white pigments, feathers, fiber, coix seed additions

This canoe sculpture, referred to as a Wuramon, was also very large. It was sitting on a base on the floor, which made it very easy to see the detail of the work and the intricate details that were portrayed. According to the information card this was a smaller Asmat piece, but it was still quite large. I’d estimate it was at least 10 feet. The information card said that the Asmat pieces usually were about 30 feet long, but that this one shared the open hull design as expected of these types of work.

The information card said that the figures on the canoe were a crew of spirit figures on their way to the next world. I guess this explains the open hull, seeing as they wouldn’t be using the boat to float in water. The card also explained that the red striping on the work depicted swiftness in navigation. Each figure is marked by social status with a process called scarification and the adornments of black feathers.

The craziest part about this work to me was that these were said to be used in the ceremony of the deceased and the celebration of boys becoming men, but that they were often only used once and then destroyed. I guess they didn’t see them as art because destroying something this amazing today would be a travesty.

I chose this work because it was very detailed and when I saw it, I was very intrigued by what it was used for and what it was depicting. I was also curious about why the hull was missing since it appeared to be a canoe. Luckily, Crocker provided this information, unlike some of their other items on display.

Visiting the Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento

            The Crocker Art museum has long been a staple in the Sacramento area. For residents of the area, it’s one of those places that have been seen a hundred times—or so it seems. Along with places like the Railroad museum, some Sacramento residents become over-saturated to these attractions. However, in 2010, the Crocker Art Museum underwent a major change. A new branch was added on and opened for business that year and according to the facility’s pamphlet, it tripled the size of the gallery’s offerings. Unfortunately, this came at the cost of the museum cutting back its popular free Sunday morning visits to just once a month, but along with it brought a bigger and more fulfilling experience.

            Upon entering the new building, visitors should notice the beautiful architecture that can be considered a work of art in itself. There are wood floors, which are quite comfortable to walk on, carpeted areas, custom built display cases and high ceilings that allow for a comfortable environment, which is well-lit and that makes it easy for a viewer to get lost in their surroundings as the art becomes the focal point of each room.

After paying at the front desk and placing a visitor sticker on one’s shirt, it is time to move on to the second floor. The first floor of the building is filled with a gift shop, a café, a children’s area and some educational resources like a library and an auditorium. The second floor is where the magic starts. Though the first section of this upper floor exhibit is well-lit and very noticeably filled with pots, baskets, other sculpture art, and the “Spirit Canoe” exhibit, it overlooks the eating area, which can take away from the experience. Placing this eating area in an enclosed section or away from the view of the art viewers’ path would have been a wise choice by the designers, but this is a minor annoyance that can easily be forgiven.

            The next thing visitors may notice is that much of this area is bare. There are several sections of this area with completely blank walls, not to mention the wide walkways that can easily house more display cases. Perhaps these sections will eventually be filled up, but for now, it’s such a waste of space compared to the oft over-crowded areas that are seen later on the walk-through. A more balanced displaying of the art work would have cut down on the overwhelming feeling that overcomes the viewer in some areas and the slightly-less stimulating feeling that overcomes the viewer in these more bare areas.

Another annoying aspect is the security staff that seems to follow people in areas that are only inhabited by one or two visitors. If something were to break, it’s not like a security guard can fix it and at the same time, if someone were to steal something, it wouldn’t exactly be easy to get back downstairs and past the front desk without being stopped. It’s a bit silly to have a security guard following viewers around as if one were in a grocery store looking to shoplift. This takes away from the viewer’s experience and distracts from the viewing of the work on display. However, security is a necessary step at any facility of this size, so it’s understandable; it would just make for a more enjoyable experience if they weren’t always following visitors around.

The next part of the gallery that is stunning and a lot of fun to see is a section that houses a rotating exhibit. Currently, the gallery is filled with the works of Sacramento native, Mel Ramos. A video playing outside of the gallery details Ramos and his history in the field of fine arts. There is a sign before entering the exhibit that appropriately warns parents of the content in the section by saying that it might be challenging for small children. The use of the word challenging is an interesting choice, indeed.

On display is a large collection of Ramos’ pop-art style paintings of nude women. Also on display are a few sculptures including one of a nude woman straddling a large cigar that has a unique style similar to the pop-art look of the paintings. The colors are gorgeous and almost make it look like a three-dimensional version of the paintings themselves. To some extent the sculpture almost makes it feel as if the viewer isn’t even looking at a 3D object. Another sculpture is a nude lady emerging from a banana peel that has a noticeably high amount of detail. Several of the paintings depicted women with candy, Coca-Cola products and other such mockups of advertising material, which was an interesting choice seeing as these pictures would never be used in mainstream advertising. The information cards explained that Ramos was basically making his own version of these ads.

The last section of his work is his early work from before he got into doing the nudes that he has become famous for, but it was noticeable that these works aren’t as polished—brush strokes are more noticeable and the faces aren’t as detailed at all. It is interesting to compare his early work to his more recent work and see how much he’s grown as an artist. Also, on display is a collection of his superhero art that includes Batman, Superman and the Flash, all members of the DC Comics family, and even the Human Torch from Marvel Comics.

             Aside from the art in the gallery, there are some other noticeable things about this museum. The new building is connected to the old Crocker house that for many years was the only building of the museum, and there is a noticeable shift in the look of the buildings. The buildings are connected by a bridge of sorts that is located on the second and third floor. This actually adds to the art feel of the museum because viewers will notice a huge difference between 1800s architecture, from the balconies to the staircases to the flooring and the modern open, white walled, contemporary feel of the new building. Not to mention there is an odd odor to the old building that’s a tad distracting and the temperature in the old building is much colder than that of the new building, though, the transition from one building to the next is fairly seamless.

            Some of the areas of the museum are quite overwhelming, like the area that houses the “Progress II” sculpture, which had the massive sculpture surrounded by other work, making it almost too much to take in. There are other areas that had very little to look at or were just displaying paintings that aren’t particularly interesting to look at. This is an odd set-up because other displays are very well-balanced. The museum is very quiet and on a Sunday morning, actually has quite a few art viewers that visit, however the size of the new facility keeps everyone far enough apart that it is easy to get lost in the work without being distracted by others.

In terms of content, it’s nice that the museum focuses so much on local artwork with artists from the Sacramento and surroundings areas, but more work from around the world would be a welcome addition. The buildings also have plenty of places to sit down, plenty of access to bathrooms and even water fountains scattered throughout the halls, which are all nice additions to keep viewers from becoming too tired or distracted by bodily functions.

Other notable items to watch out for in the Crocker Art Museum’s current set-up are a bird sculpture that is placed up high in one of the rooms and a random chair in the midst of paintings that seems a bit out of place. Some of the picture frames in the old building were enormous—to house the huge paintings—but these frames were works of art in and of themselves. However, though stunning pieces of work, the frames sometimes draw the viewer’s eyes away from the painting.

While some areas of the museum are well lit, others are too dim. One section of the old building, the one with the random chair, is so dark it is almost impossible to read the information cards. Speaking of which, some information cards do a wonderful job of providing information while others are much too vague and some even give too many details, which can take away from the mystique or mystery of the works. Some of the cards are also oddly placed and it can be difficult to figure out which one goes to which work of art. It’s understandable that some of this artwork can’t be exposed to too much light, but lighting up the cards themselves and pointing light away from the work could definitely make these sections more enjoyable.

            Before exiting the museum at the end of one’s trip, it is of course tempting to enter the gift shop until visitors realize that this, like most gift shops, is an overpriced store with not many items that can’t be found elsewhere, cheaper.

As viewers walk out of the museum to go back to their cars, a feeling of satisfaction comes over oneself because this new version of a classic museum is even more satisfying and exciting than ever before. It’s filled with diversity and variety, lots of knowledgeable people and it seems a lot of effort went into making it the best it could possibly be. Even the little touches like looking out several of the windows to see waterfalls outside in the courtyards of the building or the artwork that was added to Interstate 5, which can be seen from some of the windows, adds to the overall feeling of artistry in the museum. The Crocker Art Museum in Sacramento is truly a unique and exhilarating experience and with some of the exhibits rotating, it’s a place that can be visited multiple times and still be enjoyed to its fullest.

About Daniel Wilson

Daniel has been a writer for over 25 years and recently earned his Bachelor's degree in journalism. Portfolio:
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