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Five Museum Shows To See Before School Starts

If you’re looking for something to do with the kids between the end of camp and the beginning of the school year, these exhibits are a great way to pass a few hours (and bypass the Disney Channel and the Xbox). 

Coit Tower mural of a newsstand.  

1. If the Olympics are still fresh in your minds (along with Ryan Lochte’s wince-inducing tweets), check out the Legion of Honor’s timely exhibition on Olympians, Gifts from the Gods: Art and the Olympic Ideal. Chronicling the transformation of the Olympics since its inception in ancient Greece, the exhibit features coins that passed hands during the first games to contemporary pieces by Diane Arbus, Robert Mapplethorpe, and local luminaries such as J. Robert Anderson. (Palace of Fine Arts Museum; adults $10; youths $6; kids under 12, free).

2. On August 18th, get acquainted with physicist and Exploratorium founder Frank Oppenheimer as the museum celebrates his 100th birthday. Famous (and infamous) for his role in the Manhattan Project, which gave birth to the atomic bomb, Oppenheimer was also a Communist who taught at UC Berkeley and later became an outspoken opponent of nuclear arms proliferation who was blacklisted during the McCarthy era. The exhibit features photographs, quotes, presentations, and documentary footage from Oppenheimer’s career, along with screenings of his favorite movies (such as Eames’ Power of Ten). Cake will be served. (Exploratorium, August 18, starting at 10 a.m. Adults $25; youths $19; children under 5, free).

3. With two wars winding down and a brutal presidential campaign kicking into high gear, 2012 is still nowhere near as exciting as 1968. The Oakland Museum of California’s exhibit takes visitors back to the year Martin Luther King and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, the Democratic National Convention exploded in riots, Black Power demonstrators rebelled at the Summer Olympics, and San Francisco dealt with the cultural hangover from the Summer of Love. (Oakland Museum of California; adults $12; youths $6; children under 8, free.)

4. The much-hyped Cindy Sherman exhibition is not for kids, but Jim Campbell’s Exploded Views in will excite and delight them. San Francisco artist programmed thousands of flashing LED spheres to synchronize with the movements of dancers, boxers, and birds he filmed to create four eerie films of ghostly silhouettes at play. A master of his peculiar form, Campbell is slated to receive the 2012 Bay Area Treasure Award for lifetime achievement from the SFMOMA this fall. (Exhibition runs until October 23rd, 2012 in the public viewing space of the Haas Atrium at SFMOMA. General admittance to the museum’s other exhibitions is $18 for adults, $11 for students, free for children under twelve).

5. For a look at some of San Francisco’s most impressive works of art, Coit Tower has free guided tours every week (art appreciation + encouraging kids to climb some of San Francisco’s most brutal hills = parent happiness). With murals by 25 California artists from the 1930s, the tower is a time capsule preserving the hopes, dreams, fears, and goals of the San Franciscans who built the Golden Gate Bridge and transformed the city into its modern form. (Next tour 11a.m., August 15, at the main entrance of Coit Tower. Free for all).