“Art is an experience, not an object.” —Robert Motherwell
I visited one of my favorite museums today: the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art (LACMA). The sweet thing was that I was there with my museum buddy of 25 years, Nicole, and her son Julian. Julian and Justine are like cousins, very close. She was happy to be with him at yet another museum, but she moaned a little that “museums are boring.” I told her that museum-going was an acquired taste, and that it was my job to help her acquire it. 🙂
Nicole took the kids to the courtyard to make one of the for-kids projects, while I was free to quickly go through the permanent Modern Art gallery that I’ve seen so many times before. There were a couple that jumped out at me this time, Robert Motherwell and Franz Klein. Do you see what they have in common? They are stark black and white abstracts, modernist, and “of a time.”
When I see this kind of painting (and its not the first time since his death that I have) I think of Vernon. I think of what he loved about 50s era art, his knowledge of it, his appreciation for abstracts, his own personal style. Whatever he was most influenced by in art school influenced him for life. There were times in various museums in England that he would stand in front of one of these stark pieces in a sort of understanding awe. Alone without the responsibility for a child for a moment, I was sideswiped by grief. I couldn’t send him a text, but I could let the nudge of his memory wash over me. I cried…but I also laughed, recalling when we went to the Tate in St. Ives once upon a time. There, he was so mesmerized by a painting of a simple black shape on a white background that he stood in front of it for ten minutes and bought the book of the exhibit. He had studied this artist before and was so impressed that Myron Stout had taken 20 years to paint this one piece ‘perfectly.’ I remember rolling my inner-eye at such obsession but being secretly impressed that he was so impressed by something that seemed so simple to the rest of us.
It was on that same trip that he also bought a very large framed and expensive-to-us print in a similar modernist vein. I just saw it (sad to say) in the garage the other day, collecting dust —it was never my favorite, though I loved that he loved it. Funny to think of it again so soon now.
Back at the LACMA today, there was another exhibit that we were able to see: Lazlo Maholy-Nagy. It wasn’t until I saw the name in glorious plexiglass outside the gallery that it rang a bell. I think Vernon had texted me the name once, I’d checked out a book in the library to learn more about him, but I couldn’t remember why he’d sent the name to me in the first place. I assume it was to inspire some photography ideas. But that was the only time the name had come up for me. When we entered the show, I felt showered with connection. I thought: “Oh, I get it!” I got why Vernon liked him, though he had never told me himself. He must have been incredibly influenced by this artist—someone who was extremely prolific in his design/photography/illustration work. And there was so much of it, rooms and rooms of it. Again, I had the sense of connection to the work in front of me, wishing I could text Vernon a picture at least to say “I get it now.” It was a very moving experience, but this time there were no tears. Instead, I decided I need to let Maki know about the artist, whom I can already see aligning in Maki’s design-y style. I’m hoping he can get up to the show himself. Note to me: make it happen.
Incidentally, Maholy-Nagy was very prolific, mixing up all sorts of media ahead of his time, but like Vernon, he died at 49. What he left behind is a great treasure for the rest of us.
In closing, I’ll leave you with this:
“Painting that does not radiate feeling is not worth looking at. The deepest and rarest of grown-up pleasures is true feeling.” —Robert Motherwell