Why go to galleries, I ask my husband? I accompany him to sports events because I love him, not them- although every once in awhile I am raised to my feet in ecstatic jubilation, surging with a crowd astounded by a great baseball play. He responded that he likes to see the famous pieces he has read about.
Back in art history class forty years ago, that was my reason to hitchhike throughout Europe, desirous to see the originals paraded in the dark in my university classes at U of T. I sat with my friends, devouring those honey buns sold outside of Sydney Smith, knitting, chortling ,having a blast. But somehow these works – by Gauguin or Titian or Rembrandt worked their magic and my quest was to see them- for real- in their European homes.
I always drew, and maybe it was my aunt -who gifted me with oil paints that I wasted because I had no idea how to use them- who stimulated my interest. But every June, having worked two jobs to pay for my trips, I would set off in search of the originals I had glimpsed on the screen in those darkened halls, one quick flash one after another.And at night after class, during the school year I found my way to a life drawing class in pursuit of understanding line, colour” form and shape.
But recently even I ponder, as I asked my husband, why do I come ?
I look at art differently now, not trying to ingest an entire gallery. I look and choose. For me, it is years of study, but more importantly looking. So I see connections, chronologies, resonances, echoes, symbolism, trends, themes. Maybe as Albert Barnes did in trying to educate his students so many years ago. But when I had sat in the dark, scribbling madly to record the dates of paintings to regurgitate on tests, a kid in the 60’s, one studied the slides by looking within the frame, identifying those formal elements of line, colour, shape… Years later my daughter at Queens University explained how her art profs placed the painting within the context- of a society, a movement, a place. Making so much more sense.
In Chicago, we stand before La Grande Jatte, and all the critics flow into my head. I’m thinking about the women in Les Poseurs, the hard working models accompanied by their umbrellas and hats exhausted after a long day of posing. Now I see them in La Grande Jatte reproduced in the cylindrical figures here. There’s an exotic pet, a monkey on a leash, a dog. And in my head from parts unknown I ‘m drawn to the comment that men in the painting are not really interested in fishing for fish but finding a prostitute along the Seine. In the background the huffing industries, in the foreground the workers in their finery seeking a Sunday repose . Seurat the champion of democracy painting in dots, pointillism, each one an identical dab. Talk about form and content coalescing.I’m admiring and noting the frame made especially by Seurat for the painting. It is huge. But I also notice some very large and beautiful Maurice Denis’s and wonder about the over sized canvases. Wondering if there is a story here. So much eye candy.
And too many people taking selfies in front of the masterpieces. Been here. Done that:they must be thinking. Collecting selfies like so many baseball cards. Maybe to document a vague notion of something famous.
Later I wander over to The Museum of Contemporary art. A guide says there is a huge Tiffany lamp on the second floor, but I’m too embarrassed to ask: maybe I’vemisread or in the wrong museum. First there’s an exhibit on fugitives highlighting Angela Davis and Patty Hearst, from my past. Interesting challenging ideas, some captured in photos.Then there’s a room focusing on the theme of witness, prurient, hidden, taboo topics that include hands mangled and cut, a Parisian woman stripping in an elevator, victims of race riots…a Cindy Sherman dressup and photographer Walker Evans people watching people. So many questions to reflect upon that span time, place, gender and society
But the tickle for me is a travelling show by Los Angeles artist, Marilyn Thater in her exhibit Sympathetic Imagination that spans several halls: projected images on the wall create mini ephemeral scenes. There are daffodils, grassy molls , bee hives and I can walk into the scenes , become part of the art. Or disrupt them, creating new shapes.
Two monkeys chatter and scratch as someone leaves her seat and the theatre. Are we also the observers, or participants within someone else’s movie house. I love the temple that reminds me of Spain’s Elhambra. I notice I can be like Alice as tall as the arches or small enough to fit through the keyhole. I stretch my arms and eclipse several walls. I tuck my purse behind me and create a new boundary or barrier. I am part of this piece, changing it-just as the other viewers who stroll into the room.
I laugh out loud. I had not expected to be part of the artist’s oeuvre that day.
Maybe that is why I love art: it can demand or elicit or evoke a response, creating something unexpected , a new way of seeing or experiencing life.I’m an adult playing like a child. Serious play.