I’m not sure how to start this post. I spent a lot of last week in tears and I am still pretty fragile. But, despair is defeat, so I’ve picked myself up and am working on being a proactive helper to those I know the new President and his supporters either don’t care about or actively hate. But in the meantime I have to take care of myself too. And for me that means movies (I saw Loving on Friday), books (I’m reading a great one about Yeats right now), and art. So this Saturday I pulled myself out of bed and used my museum employee free admission to see some art.
Kerry James Marshall – “Mastry” at the Met Breuer
Still Life with Wedding Portrait, 2015
What sadly serendipitous timing for this large exhibition of work by this African American political artist. A little boy in the elevator with me told his mom that he found the paintings on the exhibition’s first floor “scary,” I had accidentally walked through the show backwards (a mistake I make a lot somehow) but was surprised. The work on the second floor was powerful & (especially given our current political moment) sad at times, but not graphically violent. (Even his portrait of Nat Turner with his master’s head was remarkably restrained in my mind.) I’m not a child obviously, but I think we all need to be willing to be scared and disturbed by the injustices that work like Marshall’s depicts.
Our Town, 1995
Art of Hanging Pictures, 2002
This is part of a 2002 installation depicting life where Marshall lived on the South Side of Chicago. The depictions hit me hard as a proud Chicagoan in exile. I’ve been grappling with what it means that the places I love are so segregated and only safe for some people. Just like this piece. I don’t have answers for this, but the representation helped me to articulate it.
Agnes Martin at The Guggenheim
I struggle a lot with minimalism, especially in contrast to the vibrancy and emotion of the Marshall show. (Yes, I know the irony of working in the Noguchi archive and having a hard time connecting to minimalism.) But I always want to support institutions that give single artist exhibitions to female artists. So, Agnes Martin. Her work is technically astounding – all those tiny straight lines! – but most of it did strike me personally as cold.
It fit really well with the Guggenheim’s architecture though! And I very much enjoyed reading about Martin’s life. A Canadian immigrant who traveled between NYC & Taos, NM she worked to create and maintain a style separate form, as one wall panel put it, “the visual and rhetorical bravado” of the Abstract Expressionists. She endeavored to create “innocent” and “happy” work that she felt was life affirming, which is an inspiring project on its own. Especially given her place as a female artist who suffered from schizophrenia in a male dominated, abelist art world.
Vigil for Hope & Human Kindness – Not art I know, but certainly therapeutic
I haven’t taken to the streets since the election, I have so much love and respect for my friends & family members who have and I’m sure I will join the soon. But I, as a person, don’t do rage well. (I think most people are anger-leading people or sadness-leading people and I am the latter.) But that doesn’t mean I haven’t been craving collective action and catharsis. So I was really glad to see this event in Brooklyn pop up on my Facebook.
I didn’t know just how much needed to cry and sing and plan with other people until I got there. On my way home I kept thinking about how we make fun of 60s activists for “singing Kumbuya” in the face of oppression. And sure, that song is silly, but the need to be quiet and still and take solace together is just as real as the need to yell and stomp. (And I really mean that, we need both.)
So, here’s the way we closed the vigil (well this followed by hugs from strangers, because cliche hippie stuff actually feels really good in the darkness.):
And now that I trust we are all going to try to take to care of each other – I’ll see you at the barricades.