The main entrance space outside the de Young Museum erupted with billows of colorful non-toxic smoke clouds early Saturday evening as part of Judy Chicago's Forever de Young open-air performance — leaving Golden Gate Park hazy and smelling of sulfur.
It was hard not to be aware of the fact that 82-year-old artist Judy Chicago was hosting her "once-in-a-lifetime" IRL piece in San Francisco. The event — a site-specific iteration of her famous Atmospheres displays — was organized to celebrate the artist’s exhibition at the de Young Museum, Judy Chicago: A Retrospective. Her smoke-filled event was either a sight to behold... or a test around how long one could hold their breath.
Add Judy Chicago's "Forever de Young" performance to your calendar this Saturday! Don't miss this once-in-a-lifetime event.— de Young Museum (@deyoungmuseum) October 12, 2021
Heads up, the museum will be closing early at 4pm on Saturday in preparation for the performance. The materials employed contain non-toxic color pigments.
And how attendees perceived the event largely depended on which side of the performance they were positioned.
(I — later regrettably — chose to make the trek out Saturday and see Chicago's exhibit in person, rather than streaming it online, which I had previously planned on doing. Arriving at the de Young Museum’s main entrance, I was flanked by people on all sides who were delighted to have the chance to witness the performance. Children sat atop their parent's shoulders; selfie-sticks bobbed up and down in the shapeless crowd; couples who were fortunate enough to find unoccupied benches sat and drank atop of them before the performance began. But what we all presumably hadn't accounted for was that day's wind conditions and our position to Chicago’s yet-ignited work. What was implied by glossy campaign images showing clouds of multi-colored smoke became a completely different reality — one that, instead, mirrored a dystopian hellscape created by wildfire smoke. My clothes stank of burnt gunpowder afterward and, though the smoke has since been described as non-toxic, I found myself coughing for hours later.)
In a report by NBC Bay Area, nearby resident Vincent Staupe, who lives about a 10-minute walk from the de Young Museum, said he thought the park was on fire — before remembering that the performance was slated for Saturday evening.
“It was incredibly smoky for at least a half an hour," Staupe said of the aftermath. "I had to close all my windows. My air purifier symbol went red inside my apartment.”
It was estimated 4,000 people attended the event; another 2,500 tuned in to the livestream.
But if you weren't among the 6,500 or so who saw Chicago's Forever de Young exhibit play out in real-time, here are some pictures and videos of the event to peruse.
Remember: Art is subjective. So you decide for yourself where you stand on yesterday's pyrotechnic event in one of the Bay Area's most celebrated urban green spaces.
Judy Chicago yesterday at the de Young Museum. pic.twitter.com/LvymIqphsN— Christian Balanzar (@dipyourpizza) October 17, 2021
Artist Judy Chicago made this colorful smoke performance yesterday at the de Young. It looked like a giant blob of cotton candy was invading the music concourse. pic.twitter.com/F4iSSWP264— [indistinct chatterer] (@banksean) October 17, 2021
Wtf is going on in the Richmond/golden gate park? Smoke is pouring out of the park near 8th and Fulton pic.twitter.com/djVaYcouAZ— Patty (@Patty_mog) October 17, 2021
Photo: Courtesy of Twitter via @dipyourpizza