Last month I visited my sister, the New York City Culture Snob, for a week of Theatre. It was fun, but costly. Wanting to reciprocate, I called her with what I thought was a sure-thing invitation. Join me for a private tour of Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco.

Sis was less than impressed. Undaunted, I name dropped.

Me: “We can see the new Nan Kempner Fashion Collection at the de Young.”
Sis: “It opened in New York last month at the Met.
Me: “We can see the Rodin sculptures at the Legion of Honor.”
Sis: “Duh. It’s not like I can’t see them at MOMA.”

Fast-forward… Little Miss Negative shows up on my doorstep.

Since the sun was shining, I immediately whisked her over to the Legion of Honor for a visit. Sis falls in love with the museum’s spectacular setting. The mew is perched on a hill overlooking the entire city of San Francisco, with its picture perfect view of the Golden Gate. Before going in, I point out the haunting Holocaust memorial with its stark white figures. We have a moment of silence. We stroll round the Sculpture courtyard nodding “hello” to Rodin’s masterpiece, The Thinker.

Inside the magnificent Beaux Art building we see that in the museums’ foyer the roof is a canvas has been simulated to look like marble. Wow-clever.

In the European decorative Arts and Painting Gallery, while I’m waxing euphoric over a particularly detailed sculpture, Sis is staring intently at the wall (?) behind the works of art. She remarks that the soft bluey-gray would be just the perfect shade for her dining room!

We found out that the Legion of Honor has one of the largest collections of Prints and Drawings in the country and that once a month the curatorial staff holds an open house where anyone can bring in a work to learn about its’ authenticityand background. Sis can’t wait to have me bring in her mother-in-law’s Italian etching that might have real “value.”

Next, we mosey over to the strikingly new De Young Museum. Outside the imposing structure we get into some major talking points over architecture. I’m a huge fan of the minimal, modern building. I particularly like the way the custom designed copper will naturally oxidize (turn green, like the Statue of Liberty) to gently blend with the surrounding landscape. The angles and hard edges also appeal to my bigger city sis.

We hurry inside to join the private guided tour of the Nan Kempner: American Chic show, currently on display. Known for her personal style of eclectically mixing lux labels with informal pieces, such as throwing on a YSL jacket over a pair of boy’s Levi’s, Nan contributed greatly to turning fashion into an art form.

This lucky lady possessed a razor sharp eye, a rail thin body, and an adoring husband with endlessly deep pockets, which came in handy, since when this legendary clotheshorse died at the age of 74, she had amassed one of the world’s largest couture collections. Her “Fav-Five” consisted of Yves St. Laurent, Valentino, Chanel, Baleciaga and Balmai. Curator Harold Koda, on loan from N.Y.C’s Metropolitan Costume Institute, guided us through the exhibit, regaling us with fascinating stories about Nan.

Just to be different, when Nan was in New York she’d tell people she was from San Francisco, but when she was in S.F. she’d boast about being a New Yorker. Nonetheless, the fact that the De Young show featured 25 exclusive outfits, I’ll take as proof positive that in the end, Nan Kempler left both her heart and her wardrobe in San Francisco.

Back downstairs, we pick up a press release detailing some of the incredible exhibits coming to the Fine Arts Museum. Reading aloud, Sis exclaims, “Wow-Dale Chihuly is coming… I love his glass… wait, first Annie Leibovitz is showing her photography… oh, and I’d love come back to see Louis Nevelson’s sculptures.”

Sure you would, hitter.

For information on joining The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco (FAMSF) comprising the de Young Museum and the Legion of Honor, go to

Nan Kempner: American Chic
June 16, 2007 — November 11, 2007