Thursday, November 17, 2016

May I Recommend....Art

Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks From The Paul G. Allen Family Collection, NOMA

And the Collection at the New Orleans Museum of Art

Count me among the heartsick. On Tuesday, a week after election day, thinking it was Wednesday, which is to say the free day at NOMA, I went to see the exhibition Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks From The Paul G. Allen Family Collection. When I handed over my Louisiana ID, the admissions lady told me "That's tomorrow. but for what it's worth, tomorrow will be crowded; today you'll almost have the galleries to yourself." Sold. As it turned out the quiet of near-empty galleries alone was worth the price of admission. But there was something else–

I went directly to the landscape exhibit*. On my right was a large painting by April Gornik flanked by two Richters. Gornik's paintings have always annoyed me. While something about her work resonates, maybe subject or scale, I find her palette and surface lack insight. Her paintings often remind me of one of those school folders from the 1980s or a poster in a college dorm room. But seeing her painting in this show was like seeing a high school acquaintance in an unexpected place, grievances all but forgotten with the simple pleasure of familiarity. At NOMA, in the middle of a national/personal crisis, I found myself surrounded by old friends. 

I am a painter and these are my people. I have known all of these painters for much of my life. Some I loved in my youth. There was Maxfield Parish, painter of my preteen romantic self. David Hockney reminds me of the college days with the club kids and ravers; the acid palette in his painting of the Grand Canyon brought this back. I liked Hopper when I was young...Hopper the  draftsman, the poet, not really a painter's painter...still, it was still so good to see him there. Avery, Monet. It was like meeting old friends at a disaster relief shelter where philosophical or stylistic differences suddenly seem inconsequential. I am not a fan of the Surrealists but I was so happy to see Max Ernst, that weirdo. Gerhard Richter! Many years ago I had an impossible crush on Richter's work, big, handsome, a bit aloof, paintings I could never really get to know beyond formalities. Cezanne's Mont Sainte Victoire painting brought on a spell of homesickness –I once lived near Saint Victoire–the dual recognition of brushstroke and place.  And Klimt, whose landscapes feel like nostalgia for places never been but have always longed to see. And Caneletto. Caneletto, always so buttoned up and void of humidity. And Turner, Oh, Turner...where would I be without you? This show filled me with, oddly, affection and such gratitude as if they had all come here for me.

On a less personal note, the show is full of B sides of  A-listers, which was part of the value of the show. It felt both fresh and familiar.

I left the landscape show and went up to the third floor. There, in the quiet galleries full of old things, the faces of thousands of years looked back at me. We have been here a long, long time, they said. If walking among the paintings downstairs was like being among old friends, this was like standing among the Ancestors, the ghosts of civilization. 
Faces and also objects, the evidence that we have lived, that we were here. Objects I have seen dozens of times before on previous visits came into focus. And words: a Japanese poem about a plum. Maybe it was that all that silence that stood in contrast to the past week, but I felt like I could breathe again. The air in a museum is unique.

On the second floor--I was heading for the exit--I just sort of drifted through the European paintings: a garden in Paris, a woman with sad eyes, winter at Giverny, a small plate of peaches. 

I thought of a poem I have memorized in English and Polish. I may have mentioned it before because it enters my thoughts frequently. It is by WisÅ‚awa Szymborska and is called, in English, Notes on a Himalayan Expedition Not Made.** In the poem the speaker is calling out to Yeti, listing the redeemable qualities of humanity: 

Yeti, we have Shakespeare.
Yeti, we play the violin.
Yeti, at dusk
we turn on the light.

All week I had consumed an excess of news, wine, and leftover Halloween candy, tonics and exacerbators to my nerves. Seven days after election day I still felt not only bruised, but doubled over and unable to catch my breath, each news cycle like more blows. I caught my breath at the museum. This visit to NOMA did not erase the reality beyond its cloister, but it did feel something like a disaster shelter of the spirit. We have Shakespeare. We play the violin. 

Here is a link to many of the paintings in Seeing Nature. No photos allowed but I didn't have a camera anyway. 

**Translation by Magnus J. Krynski and Robert A. Maguire


  1. Such a wonderful, thoughtful reflection.

  2. always love to visit those relics

  3. Thanks for sharing your beautiful writing and inspiring thoughts!