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It’s About the Light

I may get arrested for my habit someday, but until I do, it is going to remain my most guilty pleasure.

I do it – discreetly, of course – in public places: at commercial galleries, at fairs, in collectors’ homes, in front of public installations. Museums are my favorite places to indulge.

Unsuspecting visitors at art fair

I sidle up to couples or small groups of strangers; I’ll pretend to be preoccupied with my iPhone or reading a brochure, occasionally miscalculating my steps and clumsily brushing an arm or bumping a rump. No matter. I’m shameless in pursuit of the loot: I want their words.

People talking to other people, privately, candidly, honestly about their reactions to art is, to me, irresistible lucre.

Yesterday I went to the Portland Art Museum for a (terrific) lecture and afterwards wandered into the galleries that are showing Riches of a City, a brilliantly mounted  exhibition of works from local private collections.

Cast glass meets Chromogenic print at Portland Art Museum. Foreground: Whiteley's "Subvert". Background: Misrach's "Hale-Bopp Over Carson Sink"

Since Dan and I loaned a pair of Clifford Rainey sculptures from his Boyhood series and a recent Richard Whiteley work, I was  quickly overcome by the urge to lurk in the gallery where they were installed.

I quickly identified a 30-something couple inspecting the Whiteley. She seemed confused. He was confident (I hope their relationship moves to a different level if they continue). He was also clearly awe-struck by the work (I hope that this doesn’t change).

“It’s the light”., he explained to her.

For him it wasn’t about the glass, it wasn’t about the beauty of the material, it wasn’t about who owned it, or what it was worth, or what anyone else thought of it. His response was immediate and honest. And it had that semi-religious inflection of experiencing a miracle.

“It’s the light.”


Richard Whiteley, "Subvert", 2010. Cast glass. 11.5" x 23.5" x 4.25"

Placed adjacent to a Richard Misrach large-format time-lapse photo of stars moving across a night sky and the glow of the earth below, Whiteley’s “Subvert” is no longer about cast glass or intricate mold-making or brilliant finishing work. In this room “Subvert” is undermining the usual foundations of our field: that it’s primarily material-based.

In this gallery, wedged between a Richard Serra print, a Sam Francis painting and the Misrach photo, “Subvert” is not talking about just material or process.

I wanted to hug that guy. But I doubt his girlfriend would have understood.

Instead I tucked his three words into my mental loot-bag and skulked off to the other side of the gallery where a herd of unsuspecting souls would soon turn from Chairman Mao and run into our Rainey boys.  I would be there waiting for them.

Clifford Rainey, "Ghost Boy: Job No. 3A & 3B" 2005. Cast glass and found object on scorched wood plinths. 45.5" x 18" x 15" each.

I love our museum.

- Lani

PS. Photography of special exhibits is strictly prohibited at the Portland Art Museum. I got permission to take a picture of our own works. Could I help it if the Misrach and the Warhols got in the way?

6 Responses to It’s About the Light

  1. Thanks Lani, now I know where Emelia and I are going tomorrow!

  2. Lani says:

    I can’t WAIT to hear what Emelia thinks! Please post!

  3. I MISS my iPhone–envy you yours. My Droid has a focusing light that flares up and announces my intentions quite clearly, along with a nasty beep-click. Pretty much ended my undercover photography career.

    Lovely exhibit, BTW. Just curious–how much of the “Decorative Arts” exhibit in the new building came from you and Dan? Say, that Africano piece? Yum. ;-)

  4. Lani says:

    Cynthia: funny you mention the iPhone. I never use it as a camera, but I misplaced my Canon Powershot recently and just happened to think about you and the great shots you always got with your phone. So I pulled mine out. It really is THE tool du jour for the clandestinely-inclined! AND it’s better in low-light than my Canon.

    Yes, the Africano USED to belong to us. We gave her to PAM last year.

  5. Lani, I said the same thing over twenty years ago. It is about the light! You should have handed him a class list and said he too could discover the techniques of kilnforming.
    Maybe he is already being sucked into the cosmic wormhole of cast glass. Gloria

  6. Bonnie Gilchrist says:

    Hi Lani,
    I saw the exhibit last weekend and was thrilled to see those pieces from your collection. Even though I had seen them before, I really enjoyed seeing them again in that setting. You would have loved eavesdropping on me and my friend. She’s a former art teacher and has no experience with glass, so I was using my limited knowledge to fill her in. I’m sure you would have wanted to do a little editing.


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