Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Three Stories From An Afternoon At The Art Museum

1. Reading the Fine Print

When I walked into the first gallery space at the Columbus Museum of Art, I was seriously underwhelmed.
Day by Day Good Day by Peter Dreher

To my right, I saw six small canvases painted in monochromatic tones, each one much the same as the next in its snoozing simplicity.
zip: 10.01.03...12.31.03by Yuji Agematau

And on my left, I saw three rectangles, each with five rows of narrow Lucite shelves, on which were neatly arranged small packets of what looked like junk. 

These were not the sort of objects d'art I was hoping to encounter. And I was disappointed. 

Until I read the information posted on the wall nearby.
No. 2631 (Night)

On each one of the canvases was painted a glass of water. In his studio, the artist had painted this same mostly half-full glass of water over and over, day after day, until he had painted it over five thousand times. He's been at it since 1974 and apparently still going strong.

Through this filter of discipline and practice, I now saw the beauty in the work. Whereas before the paintings had all looked more or less the same, I now could see the differences. I noticed the subtle gradations in color, the ever so slightly varying amount of water, and the range of reflection offered in each composition. What had once seemed dead now came alive for me, and I imagined the range of emotions the artist must have experienced on different days, sometimes happy to greet his glass of water, other times bored to tears, maybe even furious with himself for starting this experiment that he now couldn't' bring himself to stop.

And yes, I fell in love with the glass of water paintings.
The grey shape at the top of the image is the shadow of the packet standing on the shelf above. 

"Come read this," my daughter's voice broke through my reverie. She pointed at the information card posted on the opposite wall 

And so I stepped back across the gallery to revisit the weird little things on the Lucite shelves. 

Well. It seems that each rectangle represents a monthly calendar, the shelves defining the rows of the weeks. And each clear plastic packet - which was actually the cellophane wrapping from a package of cigarettes - contained the findings of the artist's daily walk around his New York City neighborhood. What looked like trash had became this man's treasure, and in my mind's eye, I could see our artist picking up each brightly colored bit or bob, turning it over in his probably grubby fingers, and deciding Yes! This one's a keeper.

The ingenuity and stark beauty of his display method simply blew me away. 

Grateful for the fine print that helped me understand these first two pieces and buoyed with newfound enthusiasm, I walked into the next gallery.
The architecture of the building - part old and part new - lent excitement and drama to my visit.

2. Don't Make Me Choose

As we wandered through the heart of the contemporary art collection, my eye was delightfully entertained. 

An exhibit of pieces from the Vietnam War era
A room full of soaring portraits
Each space edited with a firm aesthetic and playful touch. 

I took a million photos and sat for long stretches on the thoughtfully positioned benches, contemplating just what it was that made me love each work of art. And I played the game that I often use to amuse myself in art museums, I decided to choose my favorite piece. 

Near the back of the penultimate room, I came across this piece and in a heartbeat, declared it my favorite.
I'm still looking for the name of this piece and her creator. She's awful cute.

Vivid color,  sharp geometric shape, three-dimensionality - this little baby made my heart sing the moment I laid eyes on it. Surely nothing could top this. She was definitely my favorite. 

But just when I thought my choice was certain, I turned around and stumbled into this.
Topographic Landscape by Maya Lin

Filling half the room, this rollicking ocean of fiberboard waves was inspired by the rolling Ohio landscape where the artist grew up. It's a huge piece, and I walked round and round it, mesmerized by the fresh perspective I gained with each step. 

Perfect in every way. 
And completely different from my other favorite.

Well. I sat down in a spot where I could look at both, and I stewed over this quandary for quite some time. 

And in the end, I decided that my game was silly. There's no need to pick a favorite after all.
We were very happy to be inside with the art and not out there in the raindrops and blustery wind.

3. Hat Trick

I'd been wandering for hours, soaking up the beautiful intensity of the art, and now I were nearly wrung out of emotion and energy. Just one room at the end of the wing to go, and then it was time for a snack. Expecting to find just a few quiet pieces to wrap up what had already been a splendid tour, my daughter and I dutifully stepped into the last gallery space. 

And we were blown away.
Freefall II by Antony Gormley

Imagine a giant bundle of shiny looping wire suspended from the ceiling. Looks pretty cool. Now notice that the entire contraption is slowly rotating, and as the angles change, suddenly a human form materializes. And get this - the person is upside down, apparently trapped in the midst of the wiry trap. And if that isn't wild enough, he is greeting us with a wave.
La Vecchia Dell'Orto by Frank Stella

Now envision, if you dare, a giant confabulation of magnesium, aluminum, canvas, and fiberglass. A riot of colors splash across the surfaces of crazy geometric cut-outs, sometimes applies with robotic precision, other times apparently straight from the spray can of a harried graffiti artist. The separate elements seem to be tossed together willy-nilly, overlapping here, gapping there. There seems to be mostly chaos and very little order in this three-dimensional montage of wild. And the piece is huge - almost 14 x 16 feet. But if you sit down in the red chairs positioned right in front of this invention, it will eventually begin to purr like a kitten and calm you. It may even put you right to sleep.
The side view of the Stella and a glimpse the upside down man.
Marias by Deborah Butterfield

Look, this one seems easy. It's a horse made out of driftwood. Granted, she has a crazy long neck and the legs are a little slim but this one seems pretty straightforward. Until you go up and read that card on the wall that says "cast bronze." What? No. That can't be right. I can see with my own two eyes that it's driftwood. And then a docent floats by and you hear her explain that the piece was originally crafted from driftwood, but then a mold was made and yes, filled with bronze in some crazy complicated process that bronzing requires. So the finished effect looks like driftwood, but is actually bronze. How amazing is that?

And then the same docent explained that back in the day, not too many years ago, before dear Marias was cordoned off, children used to flock to her and run in happy circles in and out underneath her and between her legs. How I wish I could have seen that.

We stayed in this magical place for a long, long time.  Other patrons came and went as my daughter and I sat on the red couch and drank in the rarefied air of this trio. 

Then we went to the cafe and I ate the biggest club sandwich I have ever seen. What a perfect way to wrap up our afternoon at the art museum. 

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