10 January 2015

Sometimes Being Alone Is the Best

I can't recall the last time I went to a museum alone. The last time I aimlessly wandered, lingering when I wanted to, sitting and contemplating when I didn't feel like standing and looking. I can't remember the last time I walked through a museum with my headphones in, listening to the soundtrack of my life, taking time reading each and every didactic plate, savoring my newfound knowledge. Some experiences beg to be experienced alone while others make the most sense in groups. Attending performing arts: best in a group. Reading a book in a cafe: best alone. But there are those experiences that toe the line of best alone and best in company that I tend to relish the most. Wandering museums, taking long walks, dining.

It's the new year, a time when we resolve to be our "best selves," a time pregnant with possibility. I really will read more, we say. I'm going to try that new diet, we say. No more Netflix, we say. In these sub-zero temperatures it's immensely easy to catch a case of the we says, and hit next on our queue. Much easier than putting on the three layers of socks, the two pairs of gloves, the hat, the coat, and the mentality that going outside isn't the worst possible thing.

On Tuesday, I was called off from work at the gallery. With that unexpected extra time, I focused on one of my goals: to attend more exhibitions, be mindful of what I see and what I experience, and to turn those thoughts into something tangible - writing. I remember Lori Waxman visiting my writing class last semester, and how she said with clear conviction that when she is visiting an exhibition for a piece she is writing, she goes alone, she takes her time, she takes notes, and she writes down all of her initial reactions. A word, a moment, a memory, a visceral reaction felt in her gut, her head, her heart. She goes it alone, much like her writing practice, but the results invite, entice, and excite. Her career with its prospects and interests is something I admire, maybe aspire to. So I too must go it alone every now and then. To experience something without the usual distractions of keeping an eye out for my companion, of wondering if they like or dislike it too, of being wary of how much time "the royal we" wants to spend in an exhibit, an experience, a moment before wondering what's next to eat, to drink, to do.

I made a list of all of the exhibits I want to see in Chicago in the next few months, and some I will attend alone. Armed with my little yellow Moleskine, a pen (or maybe a pencil), curious, inquisitive, with rapt attention to my own reactions, memories, and moments.

Shiraga Kazuo, Chikatsusei Manukinski (Golden Wings Brushing the Clouds Incarnated from Earthly Wide Star), 1960
This painting is a recent acquisition to the Art Institute of Chicago. It is in the Ab/Ex room, sharing its air with Pollock, Krasner, Calder, and Twombly - as far as I can tell, this is one of the only non-Western painters in the room, which strikes me as oddly unfortunate. This painting moved me to tears, reminding me that sometimes there are feelings that can be expressed and felt without words. This painting is thick, I imagine big and generous sticky brush strokes, marred by slightly violent paint splashes and splatters. The red droplets on the lower left reminiscent of bloodshed and spatter patterns on par with gunshot wounds. That rich blue, dare I say Universal Blue, is my saving grace. I wanted to touch this canvas. I was excited to learn that Kazuo painted entirely with his feet.

Christina Ramberg, Loose Beauty, 1973
After viewing the Hairy Who and the Chicago Imagists film last month, I have a newfound appreciation of work I often would have glided past. I took this picture initially because it reminded me of the constant T&A (of the female persuasion) lining the walls and pedestals of fine art museums. Upon reflection, there's something wonderfully off-putting about Ramberg's portrayal of the female form. The curves are imperfect, there's a grit to it, only made more noticeable by the sheen on the underside of the brazier and on the side of the undergarments. The angles are sharp and puncturing, the lace is soft but barely present. While this woman might have no face, she is big and bold, like a raven or a shining gun, a force to be reckoned with.

It would appear that I just missed one of my favorite paintings, Alex Katz's Vincent and Tony. Is it strange that I really enjoy stumbling upon these institutional slips hanging on the walls? A reminder that a museum is a living breathing organism, one that has many layers of employees and worker bees with various tasks and duties. 

A snapshot from James Welling: A Diary of Elizabeth and James Dixon, 1840-1841 / Connecticut Landscapes, 1977-86
I began my solo exploration in the basement of the museum, a space that photography has unfortunately been relegated to. I didn't quite know what I was looking for, and in my moment of grasping for something familiar, I stumbled upon this snapshot of the Sex Pistols' album God Save the Queen.

And last but not least, a mesmerizing, dare I say fun, installation of Jesús Rafael Soto's Pénétrable de Chicago. This work has been in storage since 1986, longer than I've been alive. A round of applause for its welcome introduction to the world of 2014.

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