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People Watching
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People Watching

Rothko Contemplation
Museum People: Rothko Contemplation

Frida-Loving Throngs
The Frida Kahlo-loving throngs / SFMoMA  

I like to watch people.  Even more so, I really like to watch people in museums.  I like to see how people respond to art.  What draws some people to take a closer look while others can’t stand to look at all? 

Last Thursday, I spent the entire evening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.  I was by myself with no particular agenda or time limits.  It was one of the few times when I can say that I went through the whole museum – all of the special exhibits as well as the permanent collection.  It was bliss.  I attended that particular night to catch the Frida Kahlo exhibition.  It has been running all summer, so I was pleasantly surprised to see the huge crowds in the galleries.  There were timed tickets, but it still took a little energy to get close enough to the artwork in order to actually read the placards.  [More SFMoMA photos here]

Frida Kahlo’s work clearly had a large following, but I also enjoyed some of the other ongoing exhibits. Those galleries were quieter and allowed more time for study and reflection: particularly that of Lee Miller, one of the first female war correspondents / photojournalists on the European front during WWII.   Her photography is quite haunting; a series of images that stays with me is her photographs from Hitler’s apartment, taken after his suicide in 1945.  Everyday items, but in the context of events, so much more. 

…perhaps this whole “people watching” thing is what lead me to enjoy photography so much…

Earlier in the week, I enjoyed watching and photographing my friends as they worked on their knitting projects.  As we sat in the small cafe, we each had a project in hand. 

Knitter's Hands
Rangsiwan’s finished hat  / BrooklynTweed’s Habitat Hat 

Knitter's Hands
Nova’s new square / Barn Raising Quilt 

I started a new project before I headed out west – a simple slip stitch scarf in a luscious yarn.

 Knitter's Hands

Much longer now and almost complete.  Once I finish, I will tell you more about it.


**Have you seen any good museum exhibitions lately? 
  Where is your favorite place to people watch?

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38 Responses

  1. Emily

    LOL–this is deja vu! In August I had a chance to visit the Art Institute of Chicago while there for a conference, and had the same experience watching people throng to see American Gothic. People just beelined for it–you could hear them in other parts of the museum trying to figure out how to find it! Thankfully I stumbled across a hidden Jackson Pollack painting as well–with no throng. Loved that museum–would go back in a heart beat!

  2. yaiAnn

    I can’t wait to get to see the Frida Exhibit.. we have half price tickets for Saturday.. I’m sure it will be a mad house, but I can’t wait to go!

  3. punk rock mom

    I went to the Frida exhibit last month and it was AMAZING!! i cried.

  4. Kirsten

    I went to the Frick a month or so ago. I love the Frick!
    My favorite people watching spot is in an outdoor cafe on 9th Ave., NYC. You hear snippets of conversation as people stoll past. Those little overheard bits are often even better than the “watching”.

  5. Tana

    Oh, I love the pictures of people knitting. I’m going to have to take some pictures like that myself.

  6. Hilary

    My favorite place to people-watch is actually Samovar, which you mentioned yesterday. Every time I go, there seem to be extremely interesting people with extremely interesting stories sitting next to me. Plus, being across the street from Imagiknit, there is often knitter-watching to be had there as well. I must go to the Frida exhibition before it leaves! Oh, and I love that Rothko…

    So glad you had a nice time in San Francisco!

  7. Margit

    I don’t have a favorite place to people watch, although I do like to do it from outdoor cafes. The best exhibit I’ve been to recently was the Olafur Eliasson exhibit titled ‘Take Your Time’ at the MOMA (NY) earlier this year. You can see/read more about it here. I hope I can make it to the Frida Kahlo exhibit before it’s over. So close, yet so far… I’ve been wanting to go ever since I heard about it.

  8. Julia

    I haven’t been to any good museum shows lately. One of the best I went to was at a little museum in Stockton, CA (the Haggin) where the Pulitzer Prize winning photographs were visiting. Wow, that was truly amazing. (Can photos win the Pulitzer Prize? maybe it was the Nobel, at any rate they were very special photos). Lots of photos of violence and historic moments, but also beautiful things. I really want to see the Frida exhibit in the city though.

    My favorite place to people watch is at restaurants and coffee shops! Anywhere you can sit down and relax while staring at people. :o )

  9. winnie

    Beautiful photography! I like museums, but probably not as much as you do for people watching. My favorite place to people watch are sunday brunch spots where there are outdoor seating near the beach. That and outdoor concert venues. For some reason, people smile alot at outdoor concerts. :)

  10. jillian

    What timing :) I just had major museum time in NYC. MOMA, Met, Natural History, and the outside of Guggenheim. As for people watching, I like sitting in a place I can see crowds going by on the street, sidewalk, park, just outside going about their business, rather than in a particular place. Have no idea why.

  11. Jenna

    It’s been too long since I’ve been to a museum, mostly because I enjoy spending nice weekend days outdoors. I think the last thing I was was an exhibit of R. Crumb comics, which were very funny and intricate.

    I think I most enjoy people watching on public transportation. There are just some strange dynamics that come out there.

  12. a simple yarn

    Having just moved to Alexandria from Ireland, I’m enjoying watching people on the streets of Old Town! And generally, watching shoppers in the throes of Christmas fervour (once my own purchases are made) is always a favourite.

    Haven’t been there in a little while but some of my favourite museums have to be in Dublin—National Gallery, Archaeology Museum and National Museum for Decorative Arts and History.

    Guess the last museum I ‘went’ to, though, was watching ‘Night at the Museum’ with the kiddies. Does that count?

  13. margaux

    I actually have!! When I was in Amsterdam we had the opportunity to go to the Van Gogh museum, it was just so fantastic! It was also funny to see people just shuffling from one painting to the next … I feel like I rushed it and can’t wait to go back

  14. Sarah G

    I used to people watch all the time at the National Gallery – I would take notes on random people and then use them as writing prompts.

    People watching in Las Vegas is unparalleled!

  15. Dee

    A friend and I went to see The Quilts of Gee’s Bend . The exhibit was okay. But I really enjoyed going through the main hall where they have a huge glass sculpture by Dale Chihully.

    I would love to see it lit at night, but sadly, except for special occasions, the museum is never open at night.

  16. tiennie

    People watching = fun pastime!

  17. Phoe

    I love Rothko. :)

  18. Mome-rath

    Ah, I’m so glad you got to see the Frida show—I was fortunate to catch it in Minneapolis at its previous stop. Right now in my neck of the woods is another Minnesota show, the St. John’s Bible (maybe it followed me here to welcome me to Puget Sound)—a modern, totally handmade illuminated manuscript. If you ever, ever get a chance to see the show, do it. It’ll knock your lovely hand-knitted socks off!

  19. kae

    Love the first photo!!

    .. and i have been known to people watch on more than one occasion ;)

  20. cici

    I can’t wait to see the Frida show. People knitting is a great theme for pictures, as usual your photos are awesome:D

  21. Aunt Kathy

    I too am a people watcher.

    And a hopeful one day photographer.

    My son is an art student, he takes awesome pictures, he paints and sculpts etc, his art is currently my favorite “museum” experience.

  22. Lolly (llr in Ravelry)

    Not much lately; but I’ll never forget the exhibit I saw several years ago of photographer Annie Leibovitz, entitled “Women.” Truly memorable!

  23. kate

    I like the microfilm room at our National Library for people watching. Despite the dank, stuffy basement setting, i always enjoy making a trip down there and watching people walk around with reels and reels. I always wonder what they are looking for..

  24. Nicole

    I don’t think it will surprise you if I say NYC is my favourite place to people-watch. Just the variety of characters, the freedom that people seem to have to really be themselves, I find it so stimulating and inspiring. And my favourite exhibit of late? Louise Bourgeois at the Gugg. Lucien Freud at MoMA would be a close second.

  25. Harpa J

    I once lived in a big house near the center of Ísafjörður ( a town in the north west of Iceland). In the summer both the locals and a lot of tourists ( a lot of them from huge cruiser ships)walked past my garden. That is still the my favorite people watching spot.

  26. astrid

    amazing: rothko AND Kahlo and as a bonus: Lee Miller. Lucky you. My favourite:
    textile museum in Tilburg, the Netherlands and ofcourse the Louvre.

  27. Anna

    I spent a fabulous day at SFMOMA with my boys a couple of years ago – reading your post brought some great memories of that back to me. It’s been interesting to me watching how adults sometimes react to children in museums (mine have spent a lot of time in them over their lives!) A couple of my examples:

    Once, when my oldest son was 18 months old, we were in the Cleveland Museum of Art. We came upon a fantastic, huge, colourful abstract painting; he burst out laughing, and continued to laugh with delight at it for ages. I found it amusing, and yet rather sad, how horrified some people were by this small child’s laughter.

    Another time, at Tate Modern in London, my kids were listening to an excellent audio guide for kids. It told them to get right up close to a sculpture, then to lie down on the floor and look up at it from that angle. Again, some adults were disgusted by their ‘irreverent’ behaviour.

    Anyway, I love the people you’ve chosen to highlight here – love Rothko, love Lee Miller, love Frieda Kahlo. Great post.

  28. ulli

    love mark rothko! and your yarns color fits right in there…

  29. Evelyn

    Love your photos Lollly…..Did you have to get permission to take pictures in the Gallery? It is strictly forbidden in most galleries.

  30. Lin

    I people watch all the time, its fun trying to imagine where they are going etc!
    I love the Rothko, I would like to go and see the Seagram murals sometime.

  31. Nell

    I like to people watch at the beach or Union Square. Even the Farmer’s market. It’s fun to see how people pick out produce.

  32. Lisa

    Hi there

    There are two exhibits I’ve seen in the last couple of years that completely blew me away. Richard Serra’s retrospective at MoMA last summer had me dizzy with delight.
    I’ve always been a huge fan, but the sculptures they installed inside the large gallery blew my mind. The garden area at MoMA is also wonderful for people watching!

    The other amazing exhibit was Walton Ford at The Brooklyn Museum of Art, late 2006. His paintings are so wonderful I could look at them every day.

    Thanks for asking!

  33. chocolatetrudi

    Airports. Great spot for people-watching. You get people from such a wide range of ages, races, cultures and classes. The greeting, the farewells, the old hands, the first trippers. Travelling for work, for holidays, to meet someone, for a special event. I love spotting what books people are reading, and noting what they are wearing and if it’s a clue to where they’re going or just came from.

  34. Nadia

    Man, I looooove the SFMOMA! I actually have a picture of my boyfriend standing in front of that same Rothko! I haven’t had a chance to see the Frida exhibit, but it sounds amazing!

  35. Josiane

    Last year, I saw the Ron Mueck exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada (http://www.national.gallery.ca/mueck/) – it was amazing! His sculptures truly are something else! It was also a great occasion for people watching, as Mueck’s work elicits extremely varied reactions.

  36. misscurious

    We went up to Quebec City this past August and saw several amazing exhibitions, many of the them related to the 400th anniversary of Quebec City. There was one exhibit entitled Passengers that told the story of the immigrants to Quebec City by putting the visitor in the role of passenger. Each visitor was given a yellow suitcase at the beginning of the exhibit that represented all the package, stories, etc. that immigrants bring with them to a new place. This yellow suitcase was used to activate the audio and film clips of Quebec residents telling their stories. It was amazing. In fact, the whole city felt like an exhibit and it was hard to believe that we were in North America and not in Europe.

  37. Busykitty

    Why, yes, I have. I am KBrow’s sister, and just got back from the National Gallery in DC, where I saw an exhibit of treasures and artifacts from Afghanistan. Long story short, they were long-forgotten, feared-lost trinkets from centuries ago that have emerged from such a tragic tale. In light of my recent reading/cinema phase of all things Afghani, it was a real treat! Found some real bauble beauties there as well, earrings…

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