Jon sat on the bench in the Marc Swanson installation A Memorial to Ice At The Dead Deer Disco, at MASS MoCA. I walked around looking closely at each sculpture. They pulled at me. Not all equally, but all together they created a power and emotion that made me want to look at them. Made me want to be near them.
Jon and I were each experiencing the installation in our own way.
As we left, Jon said he liked to watch me look at art because he could see how much I enjoyed it. Then he said he didn’t understand or experience it the same way I did. That sometimes he didn’t know what to make of what he was seeing. Jon said he used to feel that art was for snobs, like it was made for only certain people.
I know what Jon means. I’ve been visiting museums and galleries for a long time. The way I enjoy museums now is very different than when I first started going to them.
I was in High school the first time I went to The Guggenheim Museum in NYC. I was thrilled just to see the paintings and sculptures that I’d so often seen reproduced in books.
When I was in my twenties in art school I learned that I could walk into any gallery in Soho (that’s when galleries were in New York City then) and spend as much time as I wanted looking at the art without anyone expecting me to buy it.
It was during that time that I felt like I had to know every artist and be able to talk intelligently about their work. That took away the wonder for me.
A few years after I got out of art school, I started to relax and enjoy art in a way I hadn’t before.
Now when I go to a museum, I walk slowly through the galleries. I look at what is in front of me and if there is something there that makes me want to look at it longer whether it’s a color, texture, image, sound or feeling. Then I spend as much time with it as I want. Sometimes I’ll look at the title or read what the artist or curator has written about it.
If a piece of art doesn’t have something about it that grabs me, I’ll walk by it, moving on to the next piece.
When I saw Marc Swanson’s Pieta, I was struck by the drama of it. It’s steeped in art history from the imagery of Mary holding the dead Christ, to the plaster-soaked cheesecloth.
But it was another sculpture in the installation that touched me more personally. It was a kind of shelf made of 2x4s crudely screwed together and painted white. Pieces of cut glass hung from the shelves. On the shelves were an egret and a snake. The snake was made of the same material as the deer in the pieta. I’m not sure what the egret was made from.
This piece didn’t reference anything art historical that I’m aware of. It was rough and oddly beautiful. I have no idea intellectually what it was about, although it fit in with the rest of the installation as a part of the story of things that are or have vanished.
It felt strangely personal and sentimental but not in a sappy way. Looking at it brought up a particular and meaningful time in my life. Like a memory from a dream. One that I am not able to articulate.
I didn’t take a picture of it because I knew I wouldn’t have been able to capture what I was feeling in a photo.
This is why I love to go to museums and look at art.
Because it takes me to places I can’t get to in any other way. It makes me think and feel things I wouldn’t otherwise. And it’s a connection to another human being that I will never know except through their art.
I bring my years of making art and my knowledge of art history to museums and galleries. But neither of them is necessary to look at, enjoy and get something meaningful from art.
Really all a person has to bring to a museum or gallery is curiosity, an open mind, and an open heart.
It’s the same thing I bring into the woods when I go for a walk. That sense of wonder and acceptance that what I’m seeing was meant to be as it is.
I was taken with this video by Armando Guadalupe Cortes. Click here to see it.
I had my own interpretation of it that made sense to me. In it, I saw the destruction of a culture. But when I read about it, I found the video was inspired by a story the artist’s mother passed down to him about endurance and the ritual of the mundane.
Learning that only gave the video more meaning for me.