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.
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.
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.”
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.
I love our museum.
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?