Recently we visited the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. The heavily patterned red brick building was completed in 1995 and designed by the Swiss architect Mario Botta. At this point the Botta building is a bit of an embarrassment. A very late example of his post modern work it is a poster child for everything we now hate about that era. The building is replete with the cultural tics of the time - like banded black and white granite and elaborate ziggurat-like stairs that every architecture student of the 1980's attempted to include in their designs. Away from the decorated core of the building, however, the galleries, roof top garden and cafe show a stylistic evolution towards his later, more purely modernist work.

Architects now under consideration for a planned 100,000 sq. ft. addition include Renzo Piano, Rem Koolhaas, Peter Zumthor, David Adjaye, Steven Holl, TEN Arquitectos, Foster and Partners; Norway's Snohetta; and Diller, Scofidio & Renfro. No real outliers here - although I had to remind myself of the work of Snohetta.

After the despicable Broad addition to LACMA Piano should be excluded from any consideration, and having made the mistake of choosing an architect the first time round who epitomised the (fading) zeitgeist of the time, the Museum might be well advised to choose one of the less usual suspects like Adjaye or Snohetta.

The current Galleries work well and we began on the top floor with the Luc Tuymans retrospective. His work combines blurry abstraction with what David Shields' calls 'reality hunger' - he lards his almost monochromatic canvases with images from World War II, the Belgian Congo and contemporary politics and culture. The result is unnerving primarily because of his skill as a painter - Condaleeza Rice (the emblematic image of the exhibit) is entirely subsumed by the subtlety of his brush and color work.

Nazi war criminals are literally neutered when surrounded by Tuyman's neutral palette. He embraces the current zeitgeist - in my experience pioneered by W.G. Sebald in his stunning series of novels in the 90's - characterized by the notion of sampling or pastiching fragments of reality into a work of art, and ironically, since he uses the greys and whites of a printed page, his work almost looks like a page torn from a Sebald novel. Like the novelist's, his technique produced in me a somber, almost elegiac reflection on the nature of our small lives and their connection to the larger historical record of our times.

His limited palette of whites and greys bending seemlessly into the yellow and violet parts of the spectrum produces an effect that is both romantic and naturalistic. It is a palette that can be experienced in nature under certain circumstances. I am reminded of those white-outs on grey days of sitting in the surf line-up at Topanga moving gently with the greasy swell and watching as the yellow sunshine tried to creep under the ghostly mantle. Or, just last Saturday, on a scramble up Bear Creek.

Lorrie's cousin Ellary, partner Ethan and her daughter Odile were visiting and I was in charge of providing a local hike. On a previous occasion I had taken them to the look-out a few miles up Sisar. This time,we all drove up to the Greenburgh's avocado ranch at the top of Koenigstein in Griffin's white 1977 C-10 Chevy truck, and then walked alongside the ranch by the pomegranate hedge past the turn off to Leo Lockwood's avocado farm and then up through the sage and across Bear Creek. The creek was flowing and at its muddy edges we saw bear tracks.

Power lines and mostly broken irrigation pipes accompanied us to a point where the track again crosses the creek and where, reputedly, the Greenburgh's had considered erecting another house for, a half mile or so into the walk, we were still on their in-holding. It is here that the tangle of white 4" abs terminates and the creek widens to a gravelly wash before turning sharply south at the foot of a near vertical cliff face that rises a couple of hundred feet out of the chaparral. The path continues to the north but Griffin was intrigued by the possibilities of following the creek.

Thus it was that despite my dark warnings about poison oak we began bouldering our way up Bear Creek. Heads down, calibrating every step against the lie of the next foothold and the gravitational penalty of achieving it, we were enveloped, as ZZ Top once sang, in 'A World of Swirl'.

The sky was mostly absent. But hints of its blue were provided by overhanging bowers of ceanothus (Ceonothus oliganthus?). Underfoot the yellow, gray and white gravel, mostly yellow to cream sedimentary rocks and the occasional basalt-like black igneous boulder echoed Tuyman's palette.

Where the stream ran there was an orange cast to the iron-rich water. But often the water disappeared - running underground - and then would remerge in its rusty channel higher up the canyon. Everywhere were the bleached trunks and branches of trees up-rooted and hurled down the canyon when the winter rains engorged the creek.

Along the way mugwort (Artemesia douglasiana), lupine and chaparral pea, blackberry and yes, poison oak but entwined by the beautiful native clematis called Virgin's Bower (Clematis lasiantha) its creamy blossoms (fringed with yellow stamens) on long axilliary stems. 

Higher up Bear Canyon the creek becomes more truly a gorge - more pale rock, gravel and to the left as one ascends, dark rust colored shale that lies at its angle of repose and threatens with every footfall to slide into the creek. Here the spring fed water course heads off to the west in a narrow channel while the gorge heads on up and becomes more dramatic in its rock-strewn topography.

On the right there is an opportunity to climb up the bank and re-enter the chaparral above the creek and, with buckwheat beneath our feet and with sage, yerba santa and ceonothus at our side, we returned.

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