Living across the way from the Detroit Institute of Arts isn’t easy. There’s the constant sensation that I’m missing something, even though the art is immobile, hanging there, not in any danger of leaving before I see it. That said, I’ve decided to visit the museum once a week, walk around with a fold out chair, and take down my observations. It’s a way for me to reenter the world of ekphrasis, and to take my mind away from all the god forsaken sports I have immersed myself in.
Note, the images used here are for educational purposes only, and they come from the online gallery at the DIA.org
Mask of Madame Rodin – Auguste Rodin
I’ll begin with the heads of Rodin. My, how silence is important in my memory. The long echoes of maintenance carts being pushed through halls, then silence again. Perhaps the creaking of a floor above, or the ding of an elevator arriving, then the vacuum of silence again. And, in the corner, these two black heads wait for me to accept them into my place of being.
I see everything beautiful in Madame Rodin, though I’ve only been in the presence of her bronze head. The depth of her nose and the care with which it is sculpted tells me Auguste and the lady were no less than hopelessly lost in each other.
It is unfortunate that I have come to ask these bronze heads for their penitence to silence so late in my life.
Beach at Long Branch: Sunrise – William Trost Richards – 1872
The sea is its own museum. A museum of the color blue. Don’t ask me to tell you what the sky is. Barely visible are the sails of schooners or skiffs, or maybe they’re not that. Perhaps they are blotches in the sky. They are so far away that it doesn’t matter.
How can it be that darkness and depth are so near the easy slope of sand, where one takes off his shoes and forgets about the history of death and its lapping blue.
Shinnecock Hills Landscape – William Merritt Chase – 1890-95
I have spent my life hammering myself flat like a penny. It is only appropriate that now I explain myself through dulled paints on a canvas too narrow to depict anything except a sparse array of buildings I’ve slept, eaten, screamed and drank myself to death in.
These are the days I’ll remember, when the sun is nowhere in the sky, the dust of the summer months stains the sky’s blue, the horizon’s relief only dramatic enough to catch the eye for a second before the mundanity of everyday life burgeons from within and the moment expands and we are left exposed to the eyes of the world. A man, capable only of painting his town from the worst possible angle and in the dullest light. Perhaps the most important angle. Perhaps the correct light.
Evangeline Discovering Her Affianced in the Hospital – Samuel Richards – 1887-89
Light is white when a loved person dies. It doesn’t require a window or the thin piece of cloth hung before it. As is known by reflecting sunlight through a prism, white is only the afterthought of color – the memory of art.
A lifetime of suppression beneath the nun’s garb in this last moment of shared breath. There is more than discomfort of the heart: a glimmer of desire. He, for his life. She, for a moment of sacrifice of the flesh in place of a lifetime of self-restraint.
Zodiacal Light – Sylvia Plimack Mangold
Everything isn’t required to be illuminated. What is left in darkness is what we smell and hear. It is by no means a sad thing to be blind. In addition to landscape, there are us who refuse to leave it alone, and us who are damaged by our incapability to be a part of it.
There are so many things we want to do before we die, but its for the best that we come to our crashing ends with enough questions to last us through all of eternity. Bury me with a picture of my lover standing with her back towards me, in the dark of a muggy August night.
Siskind – Franz Kline – 1958
Hi. What’s your name? Mine’s Tom. Tom Laverty, to be exact. I never much liked my vegetables either. In fact, the first thirty years of my life were scarred by an affinity for cheese and meat.
You and I have a lot in common, you say? How so? I get it. But you seem a bit more put together than myself, with your perfect edges. Luckily, your darkness doesn’t ask for translation. It’s just there. And, behind you, I sense there is more than what I can see.
What’s more, I imagine myself sitting in front of you, and how I must appear to others while sitting there. (This fucking painting is talking to me. The more I sit in front of it, the more I realize I must never leave. I’ll be back.)
Shadow Country – Yves Tanguy – 1927
I too, as humane as I can be, am constantly shifting myself from shade to sunlight. I too, assume that shadow is stranger than fiction. I too, suggest that primordial shapes are present.
Sometimes it’s necessary to speak loudly in order to hear one’s voice reverberate from the walls. In this case, the deliberate, simple line is necessary to inform us that where there is light, there is light’s dark, obstructed partner: shadow. Sometimes, we need only let nature make sense of itself.