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San Quentin, Hudson River Style

May 28, 2011

I went to the de Young Museum in Golden Gate Park yesterday after going to Park Chow for lunch. Both are well worth a visit.

The painting I found most interesting was “San Quentin in the Fog,” a work by contemporary American painter Sandow Birk. The piece was inspired by “Beach at Beverly” by 18th-century artist John Frederick Kensett and is part of Birk’s series “Prisonation,” which depicts American prisons set in famous Hudson River School paintings. Hudson River School paintings celebrated the American frontier and the freedom and opportunity inherent in it, and, by placing prisons within beautiful landscapes, Birk creates a tension between those ideals and the contemporary reality of our country: America incarcerates 751 people per 100,00 compared to 151 in Britain and 88 in Germany.

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