Friday, September 12, 2008

Accomplishment # 12: Look Closely at a Work of Art (#7)

Yesterday we had "Team Building" day for our department, aka a thinly veiled excuse to get away from our desks and have lunch on the company. I don't really think teams were built; after all, we didn't do any of that "fall and let the person behind you catch you" or even group together to build a house or plant a tree. No, our department, sans our boss and his right hand man (the only two men in the department, go figure), went to lunch and then to the SF MOMA.

What I have found is that going on field trips as an adult is even worse than going as a kid. When you're a kid, you're pretty much at the mercy of doing what the teachers and adults tell you to do, and that's that. You don't like the sandwich in the brown bag lunch? Too bad -- eat it or starve. You don't like the Monterey Bay Aquarium? Well, suck it up or sit on the bus.

But as an adult, everyone has their opinions and tastes and don't like being told what to do, and then some people hate this kind of food or can't eat that kind of food or determine when and where to meet and how long it should all take... and it's kind of this quiet chaos where some seethe and some just go with it, but in the end it's all fine, and we all say, "that was fun!" (Most likely because 8 out of 9 of us agreed that happy hour cocktails are a fantastic idea.) And yesterday was.

Not only did we have lunch, the big day was actually a trip to the museum, for the Frida Kahlo exhibit. My coworker Amy had that idea, and it was an excellent one. Not only did we just release a Mexico travel guide so the timing was apropos (as far as field trip excuses go), but our rep was kind enough to get us passes to the museum so it was perfect for the budget. And, well, it was one of 97 things, so I was all for it.

Of course I went through a big Frida Kahlo phase in the late 80's early 90's -- I read that most excellent biography by Hayden Herrera, and was utterly fascinated by her and her culture.

Read this book.

It was all so dramatic and colorful... I wished that I had beautiful long, dark hair through which I could weave flowers and ribbons. I felt her anguish at her accident and miscarriages. And wondered why she was addicted to Diego Rivera. (He was, like, so not cute! Tsk!) But I was especially interested at her imagination -- bed bound because of pain, she painted self portraits and surrounded her own image with exotic plants and monkeys, and thorn necklaces and her heart and body ripped open. (Don't worry, I won't go into a Frida Kahlo lecture here, because I can't do her justice. And I didn't even see the movie. Some fan I turned out to be.)

But I was thrilled to have the chance see her artwork, after having postcards and magnets for so many years. I had seen some in person before, but not really up close, and honestly I don't remember where or what. And besides, back then I didn't have it as a BLOG assignment, so I didn't take such careful consideration. But thinking about what painting I would like to study on the way over, I thought about my favorites: the self portrait with the monkeys (those crazy imps!) or the one with the hummingbird and thorny necklace. Both iconic, and I would welcome the chance to take a while and ponder, to stand as close as I could get and actually see the brush strokes.

Well, it didn't quite happen the way I thought. (Duh. When does ANYTHING happen the way I think it's going to, unless it's a tragic worst case scenario? I should know better.) For one thing, the museum was packed. PACKED. (And it wasn't even free day.) And there just happened to be this obnoxious woman on a Li'l Rascal scooter that would just roll right up to the paintings, and then back away -- and her SCOOTER WOULD BEEP LIKE A TRUCK IN REVERSE. So we could hear that everywhere. And then, of course, it was so packed you couldn't help but hear everyone else sharing their knowledge about The Famous Frida Kahlo -- from older men with wispy ponytails ("she portrayed herself symbolically to be behind Diego to show her submission") to docents leading tours ("Now, why do you think she painted herself with two hearts? Anyone?") and then my favorite -- a grumpy old French woman with a cane who was HELL BENT ON SEEING EVERYTHING UP CLOSE AND IT DIDN'T MATTER THAT ANYONE WAS STANDING IN HER PATH. She just stomped around the walls' perimeters, and I'm sure there were some toe injuries.

And while I did stand in front of my two favorites, a different one struck me and I lingered:

The Suicide of Dorothy Hale, 1939

The story behind this painting is that Dorothy Hale, an actress and Ziegfeld showgirl, committed suicide by jumping from her apartment window on Central Park South. Clare Booth Luce commissioned a posthumous portrait for Miss Hale's mother, and this is what Frida painted. (Not quite the commemoration anyone was looking for.) And, as my booklet said, the horror of the scene could not be contained by the frame -- sure enough, it reaches beyond.

I just stared at it. Her face is so sharp and her socialite's body is broken, and the blood on the signature and the frame looks eerie and childlike. But what really felt like a punch is that it reminded me of the bodies from 9/11, falling from the Twin Towers as we all sat there and watched it on TV, crying, and our lives as we knew them changed forever.

And yesterday was 9/11.

So I stood there and looked at the brush strokes, and how delicate the technique was and how indelicate Frida Kahlo was, but my mind wandered back to when I was woken up by my sister's phone call, telling me to turn on the TV, that the US was being attacked, and I hung up and we ran and turned on the TV, and the World Trade Center was on fire. And we sat and we watched and we couldn't believe it -- how could this happen? -- and we watched until the towers collapsed and then we went to my mom's house, because we didn't know if San Francisco was going to be next and I wanted to be with her, and we sat there and watched and listened to piped in "God Bless America" over the image of the WTC and the flag and felt patriotic because we were the United States of America and we wondered with sinking hearts what the president would do. And then we made dinner and went back home, because what else could we do at that point? And a month later we went to New York and Ground Zero was still burning and we got used to the smell, and Grand Central Station was covered in "MISSING" posters and there were shrines in doorways and everyone was just a little bit kinder than usual. And like we've done for seven years now, I shook myself out of it and moved to the next frame.

I looked at the rest of the exhibit and then saw my favorite part: home movies -- in extraordinary color -- of Frida and Diego. She nuzzles the palm of his hand with her cheek like a deer. I watched it loop about six times.

And then we went downstairs and looked at the Lee Miller exhibit (amazing, of course, and I won't even go into it) and then happy hour drinks where I appreciated another work of art:


That one I looked at really closely, and I could feel it inside me. Isn't that what the best artwork will do to you?

Twelve down, 85 to go.


Dane said...

I really enjoy your writing, Karen. You've inspired me to look into Frida Kahlo's work.

Also, I despise team building anything, but your day sounds like it was lots of fun.

Sparkleneely said...

Dania -- thank you, honey. That means a lot to me, and that you read this. Blogging is a weird, weird thing.

And yes, DO check out her work! The biography is excellent, as she was so flamboyant and fascinating. But her paintings are extraordinary, and even just photographs of her... she was walking art and so beautiful.

I also saw the Lee Miller exhibit, who was amazing as well. (You probably know all this, but in case you don't you should check her out, too.) She started off as a model in the 1920's, and then appointed herself Man Ray's assistant in 29, so she experimented with solarization, which I love. Then she went on to become a war correspondent and photographer for British Vogue during WWII, and took absolutely astounding photographs of not only Paris, but the bombing of St. Malo and the liberation of Dachau. There's even a photograph of her in Hitler's bathtub -- after they had been without food and soap and hot water, they came to his bunker (after he was dead, of course) and found all the amenities and comforts. And in front of the tub are her boots that she had worn at Dachau, so it's especially moving and strange. Ultimately she became an an alcoholic and gave up photography, but she left a huge legacy.

oh blah, blah blah... :)

Yeah, I hate team building, too. We were laughing about "The Office" yesterday.

Dane said...

Well, now you've also got me interested in Lee Miller. I hadn't heard of her, but now she's on my radar. Thanks, doll!

Anonymous said...

You are Amazing Karen! I am hooked on your blog! Every couple of days I check it out and if I don't have time then, I print it out (sorry, not very green of me, but I do print double-sided!) to read on the bus home.
So cool you are doing this and I hope that after a year or two of blogging you will compile all of the entries into a book!

Elizabeth said...

Oh, I hate those jam-packed extravaganza art exhibits! Still, to be able to have some one-on-one time with Frida would be worth it. The painting you show is amazing! I've never seen it before. And I'll bet the clients were stunned by it. Do you know if they took the painting? (One of my favorite Mary Cassatt paintings is a portrait she was commissioned to do which was then rejected by the client.)

Sparkleneely said...

Dane -- oh, DO check out Lee Miller! Utterly fascinating. I'm so glad I could put something on your radar -- that's so cool!

Oh Nina, you're making me blush. And I LIKE it that you print these out -- it makes me feel like an unofficial writer or something. Thank you so much... your comment and that fact that you read this means a lot to me.

Elizabeth -- I know! Every time I go to one of those things, I always toy with the idea of volunteering or something, so I could see the exhibits alone... what a dream that would be.

Clare Booth Luce, who commissioned the painting, almost destroyed it because it was so disturbing. I'm glad she didn't. I'm not sure who owns it now, but I know I have that information somewhere... And I love Mary Cassatt. My mom still has a print hanging in our living room. I wish I had seen the Women Impressionist exhibit years ago -- talk about mobbed! :)

Anonymous said...

Obviously I LOVED this exhibit. It was totally crowded the day Lily & I went also. PACKED. To a ridiculous degree. People were so rude, plowing right into my stroller, which I felt guilty for bringing, but whatever. If people with scooters get to hog up space in line to look at the artwork, then why shouldn't I be allowed to bring my baby? She likes Frida too.