The Museum of Craft and Folk Art is tucked between restaurants and hotels near Yerba Buena. It's not a big place; more gallery- than museum-sized, and it's dwarfed by its neighbor, the Contemporary Jewish Museum. The gallery itself is small, but luckily it feels more intimate than cramped.
That sense of intimacy is put to good use in the museum's current exhibition of artists' spaces. Inside/Outside introduces places -- for the most part artists' homes -- that have been transformed into complete, enveloping experiences. They all have the feel of beloved life-long projects.
The focal point of the show is Bolinas surfer Mike Shine's home, reproduced in full size in the gallery. It's pretty convincing. In the video documenting Shine's work and the creation of this installation, I wasn't always sure which was his real home and which one the reproduction. It's not just the look of the place that works, but also the feel. When I first walked in, there were museum-goers sitting around the kitchen table, chatting with each other. The installation is all about welcoming visitors into an artist's environment, so I gave in to my first impulse and checked out the record collection (Rolling Stones, Kiss, recordings of whale songs).
The cabin sets the bar high for the rest of the show, and I was disappointed to find that the rest was, for the most part, photos of other spaces and biographies of their creators. Given the space limitations, the museum obviously couldn't have recreated the Watts Towers in the gallery, but on the other hand, one needn't pay museum admission to see photographs of the Towers and read about the man who built them. I was left with the feeling that I was looking at the pages of a well-curated coffee table book hung on the walls.
But the exhibition does show a vibrant array of artists' homes and environments in California. I fantasized about a road trip to those places until I realized most of them are no longer intact. The artists -- the majority were adults during the Depression -- have passed away, and their relatives and communities either lacked the money or the interest to preserve their eccentric collections of hubcaps, wooden dolls, fake flowers, and layers of paintings that made up the worlds those artists created. The photographs and bios serve as memorials to those people, outsider artists who poured their time and energy into creating their own worlds.
Inside/Outside is up for one more week; it closes on May 24, 2009. For more information visit the Museum of Craft and Folk Art's website.