Today my sweetheart and her friend and I visited an art museum. The last time I’d been to one of these places was so long ago that this felt like my first time. I’m used to viewing artworks in library books; I have my favorite artists and movements and pieces, but I’ve seen almost none of them “in the wild.”
Actually, museums are far from a wilderness of art. To view a work in its maker’s studio or out in a field or near a dumpster would be equally authentic.
The atmosphere at this museum was like a hospital in a land where no one is ill. Quentin Dupieux wrote his movie Wrong Cops (2013) with the idea that in the near future, the crime rate is so low that all the police officers are bored.
Art museums. They have guards patrolling the premises. They have two cafes, or rather one snack bar near the gift shop on the ground-floor level, and another upscale restaurant, which keeps weekend hours only, at mid level. You can buy a twelve-ounce bottle of soda for four U.S. dollars.
A lot of chairs, a lot of pretty vases. (I’m giving you the highlights: if you just imagine, it’s as if you went there with me.) The best way to improve art museums is to convert them into warehouses that sell furniture. You could still display the paintings on the walls, but all the art would serve as accents for the other stuff: sofas, beds, drapes, desks, table runners. The place we visited did in fact have a couple of full-room sets; I wonder whose job is to clean all those old-fashioned windows. When I worked at a fast food franchise, I had to wash the glass entryway door with a spray bottle of chemical cleaner and a crumpled newspaper – take care not to leave streaks!
To review: both carbonated sugar-water and blue windshield washer fluid are stored in bottles.
I’m obviously trying to avoid talking about the artworks themselves. There were paintings & sculptures displayed all around the museum. You (the patron) scrutinize each piece for a lengthy instant and then declare either “I like it,” or “I’m not sure about this one.” You also read the plaques that list the title of each piece, the creator’s name and date of birth (plus death, if the fool got lucky), as well as the year that this particular work was finished, which is to say, abandoned.
Patron ‘A’ loves only so-called modern art and loathes older art from previous ages. Patron ‘B’ will only tolerate pictures of angels; but no nude scenes of Cupid and Psyche or bathers, on account of residual puritanism and the fact that her kids don’t know about that stuff yet.
Procreation is the most dangerous game in the world because it’s the means by which adults beget innocent children. The purpose of the trick is to see how long one can dupe one’s offspring into believing that they are here for any purpose other than bearing additional blanks that aim against blank but end up bringing back blank.
Like arrows that simply cannot miss the mark.
But back to the hospital. Or museum, rather. There was a group of children being led by a teacher-guardian through the various rooms, and often they would all be instructed to sit down in front of a canvas, and the teacher-guardian would give a tendentious speech. This group of children smelled like fried cuisine.
All of the art that we viewed was on the top floor. Now, in the area where balusters should prop the staircase’s handrail, there was one continuous sheet of transparent plastic; and I’m afraid of heights, so my impression of the institute’s collection was seasoned with terror.
I told my compeers that I didn’t love any single masterpiece enough to steal it off the wall; but, if the security guards were to offer me one painting as a gift, in lieu of apologizing for trailing me all day, I’d be pleased to accept Three Bathers (1907) by Henri Matisse.
But of course my choice will mean nothing unless one is privy to the assortment I am selecting from.
You ask: “What was the greatest letdown of your museum visit, and why?” During our tour, I espied only one work by Giorgio de Chirico; a couple by Picasso; one by Max Ernst; and zero, which is to say, NONE AT ALL by René Magritte, Edward Hopper, Francis Picabia, Jasper Johns, Francis Bacon, Roy Lichtenstein, Hieronymus Bosch, or Marcel Duchamp. This is an outrage because a church without the people is not worth the leaves that its god is booked by.
And nailed to every thesis is yet another door, offering its own perspective on the outer spaces, if one dare open it. (There was a Martin Luther exhibit at the institute, that’s why that’s on my mind.) I’m thinking of Hopper’s Rooms by the sea (1951), which was also missing in action (MIA).