Sunday, April 23, 2017

This Slightly Different Barbara

Why do I do this? Why do I pick a city and find my way around it for a month? It’s for Art! Capital-A Art. (Okay, Capital-C Culture, too.) Art that blows my mind with creative thinking and new ways of looking at the world and human existence. Art that, at the end of my month, still lives inside me and has changed the Barbara that is. It may be my Third Third, but my world expands to feel as if I have six or seven Thirds to go!

Right away, I signed up to experience two hours of Slow Art Day at the National Gallery. On April 8, hundreds of museums around the world celebrate what Thoreau described: “It’s not what you look at that matters, it’s what you see.” After a brief introduction about mindfulness, focusing ourselves, and removing distractions, we were taken to a quiet gallery to sit in front of a painting. I picked Monet’s Water Lily Pond. I looked at it. It’s a bridge over a pond, lots of water lilies. I looked.

Our museum guide asked, “What does the air feel like in your painting?” Oh, wow! That air was a bit muggy, humid, but there was a breeze. Suddenly, I’d entered the painting. I kept looking, and then the painting turned liquid, turned into water. I realized that all of it wasn’t junk and leaves in the water, it was just light reflecting in it! Monet had found the light and the liquid and made water!

Mostly, she was silent, but then the guide asked, “Where are you in the painting?” and I was on the bridge. She asked, “Are you moving?” and I was in a kayak sliding through the pond, and the lilies were separating and there was so much liquid water. Sometimes I’d lose Monet’s liquid, but then – after looking again – it would come back. It would turn into water. Paint into water.

So it wasn’t that I’d found new Art; it was that I found a new way into the Art. They called the day “Relax with Paintings,” and it was all about taking the time and quiet to just look.
To find new Art, I go to the Tate Modern. Free tours of specific galleries are offered hourly, and I take a different one each time. Grace took us to Lee Ufan’s Relatum, 100 flat bands of 2-meters-long stainless steel. She said they didn’t come arranged or numbered; the museum curator had to lay them out. It was a way of making the art relate to its new environment, that the art wasn’t pre-determined and self-contained. It lived, and I liked it.
I’d managed to score a ticket to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. Yes, I went because Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) was in it, but I’d read Tom Stoppard plays and was curious to see if they could be comprehended in performance. They’re so loaded with philosophical inquiry and lines of thought, I just couldn’t imagine being able to process them thrown out on stage.

Oh, wow, I shouldn’t have worried. The play was extraordinary … and devastating. In Stoppard’s play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (only minor characters in Hamlet who end up dying for no real reason) immerse themselves in existential questioning about meaning, about dying, about living. It’s brutal … but you laugh OUT LOUD. It’s brilliant.

So then, I’m back at the Tate Modern. In A Pot of Boiling Water, Song Dong of China started way back in an alley with a kettle of boiling water. As he walked, he poured it out in a stream. A line of water appeared until it evaporated and was gone. Only 12 photographs – from back in the alley to right up front – record the event. Our marks in the world are temporary. It was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern again!

The following week, the free “Listen and Learn” talk at the National Gallery was on Monet’s painting, and I was excited to hear what the curator had to say. But when I arrived, I was told there’d been a switch; now they were going to talk about some guy named Constable. Who’s he?

A couple hundred people were in chairs around a big, gloomy, jig saw puzzle painting. Yuck! The curator asked if everyone loved it, and everyone else said yes. He explained that the painting, The Hay Wain, was engraved in their DNA. He joked that after Brexit, that painting would be a test of whether you were British or not. Not-British Barbara learned to appreciate that painting. To appreciate it. I even got up to look at it close up.

I could go on and on. To not describe Marina Abromavic’s Rhythm 0 is to leave out a piece of art (performance?) that will haunt me forever. I’d seen Picasso’s Guernica in Spain, but his Weeping Woman – and the guide’s information about it – broke my heart.

Back to the National Gallery for the free “Look and Draw.” Forty of us were seated in front of Holbein’s The Ambassadors. First, a man told us what to look for in the painting (including the secret of the skull!). Then a woman passed out boards, paper, and pencils (but no erasers). She told us to look for the shapes in the painting, to map out the visible circles on our paper. Only after that, should we try to add detail and shading to specific images. The goal, she said, was to look. Mapping out the shapes first would help us see the painting in a new way. She’s absolutely right; I never would have thought to look for circles in that painting, but it worked!

Every piece deserves its own quiet Slow Art experience. I can’t crowd them all in here and do them justice. But they have all enriched me, changed me, made me this slightly different Barbara in my Third Third, and I am grateful.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting blog and paintings. I always find it hard to understand concept behind the paintings. Good blog, thank you for sharing it with others


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