A metal strongbox with appliques (circa AD 1-79) from Parco Archeologico di Pompei is among the items on view in “Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave.” <ins>(Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)</ins>

A metal strongbox with appliques (circa AD 1-79) from Parco Archeologico di Pompei is among the items on view in “Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave.” (Courtesy Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco)

Legion of Honor reopens with two original exhibitions

Museum showcases ancient objects from Pompeii, bold new sculptures

In a poignant coincidence, one of the first exhibits opening at the Legion of Honor since the pandemic disaster began 14 months ago is about the disaster that struck Pompeii in 79 AD.

The museum, which reopens to the general public on Friday — with timed admission and COVID safety measures in place — has mounted two new exhibitions: “Last Supper in Pompeii: From the Table to the Grave,” curated by Renee Dreyfus, and “Wangechi Mutu: “I Am Speaking, Are You Listening?,” featuring sculptures by the Kenyan-American artist and curated by Claudia Schmuckli.

The prominent Roman city devastated by fire and ash from the volcanic eruption in Mount Vesuvius had “remarkable parallels with the San Francisco Bay Area with its rich and lively culture around food and wine,” says Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco Director Tom Campbell.

In the first century, Pompeii was a large, flourishing Mediterranean city, its streets filled with shops, bars and taverns. Many of its elegant villas belonged to families who made their fortune trading in such famous local commodities as wine.

Dreyfus, whose titles are distinguished curator and curator in charge of Ancient Art and Interpretation, has organized some 20 exhibits at the Fine Arts Museums over the years, including the 1979 “Treasures of Tutankhamun,” the 2009 sequel, “Tutankhamun and the Golden Age of the Pharaohs,” and “The Search for Alexander.”

She had long planned a show about Pompeii, but instead of a general exhibit, she developed the current special exhibition (extra admission fee required) with a specific focus, because, she says, “with its narrative about food and wine, it brings us closer to the everyday lives of the people who lived and died there.”

Dreyfus arranged for bringing 150 objects from Pompeii during COVID-restricted days of international transportation. Among the items in the exhibition are sculptures, mosaics, frescoes, precious metals, and even a group of carbonized food. Most of the items — covered by ash for centuries until excavations began — are on view for the first time in the U.S.

There is even a section of erotic art, clearly marked “Naughty Art,” to warn visitors who have G-rated sensibilities.

The show includes a dramatic three-minute film showing the destruction of the ancient city from the quake, fires, and the blanket of ash. Pompeii, Herculaneum and the surrounding area were buried by Mount Vesuvius’ volcanic ash and pumice as thick as 20 feet in places.

Along with the ancient relics, the Legion is presenting something boldly contemporary: phantasmagoric sculptures of hybrid beings by Nairobi-born Wangechi Mutu, 48, which are scattered on museum’s first floor and flanking the iconic Rodin “The Thinker” in the Court of Honor.

Wangechi Mutu’s sculpture “MamaRay 2020” graces the courtyard at the Legion of Honor. (Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels/Image courtesy Gary Sexton/FAMSF)

Wangechi Mutu’s sculpture “MamaRay 2020” graces the courtyard at the Legion of Honor. (Courtesy the artist, Gladstone Gallery, New York and Brussels/Image courtesy Gary Sexton/FAMSF)

The juxtaposition of classic European art with Mutu’s powerful African figures is a “critique of colonial legacies, patriarchal and racist power structures,” according to a statement from the museum. What the viewer may experience, however, is a remarkable admixture of powerful expressions of art, whatever the source.

Explaining her bronzes of hybrid goddesses that are part animal, part woman and part alien, Mutu has said: “Relationships and juxtapositions of different materials and symbolic languages, between human behavior and the natural world that have empowered us, describe the long history of creation and self-representation that has differentiated us from other creatures and from one another. It has also been the reason man has justified the rape, dominion and destruction of all he has encountered.”

IF YOU GO

Legion of Honor

Where: 100 34th Avenue, S.F.

When: 9:30 a.m. to 5:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays

Tickets: $6 to $15 general; $15 to $30 for special exhibitions

Contact: (415) 750-3600, https://legionofhonor.famsf.org/

Note: Visitors must purchase tickets for timed entry to the museum, where COVID safety measures will be in place.

Museums and GalleriesVisual Arts

Just Posted

ose Pak and Willie Brown at an event in 2014. 
Rose Pak and Willie Brown at an event in 2014.
Willie and Rose: An alliance for the ages

How the Mayor and Chinatown activist shaped San Francisco, then and now

San Francisco supervisors are considering plans to replace trash cans — a “Renaissance” garbage can is pictured on Market Street — with pricey, unnecessary upgrades. (Kevin N. Hume/The Examiner)
San Francisco must end ridiculous and expensive quest for ‘pretty’ trash cans

SF’s unique and pricey garbage bins a dream of disgraced former Public Works director

Giants right fielder Mike Yastrzemski is pictured at bat on July 29 against the Dodgers at Oracle Park; the teams are in the top spots in their league as the season closes. (Chris Victorio/Special to The Examiner)
With playoff positions on the line, old rivalries get new life

Giants cruised through season, Dodgers not far behind

Golden Gate Park visitors may take a survey about options regarding private car access on John F. Kennedy Drive, which has been the subject of controversy during the pandemic.<ins> (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)</ins>
Your chance to weigh in: Should JFK remain closed to cars?

Host of mobility improvements for Golden Gate Park proposed

Drivers gathered to urge voters to reject an initiative that would exempt Uber, Lyft, and other gig economy companies from state labor laws, in San Francisco in October 2020. (Jim Wilson/New York Times)
What’s the role of unions in the 21st century?

As membership declines in California, economic inequality increases

Most Read