This past weekend I had the pleasure of visiting a large art museum with my wife, and I saw some very famous pieces up close and personal. And I saw some real “pieces”, too.
One piece in the Modern wing was a polished fiberglass plank approximately seven feet long leaned up against the wall and painted bright red. Next to the plank was a small card detailing the name of the artist, when he painted it, the name of the piece, and a brief description of what stood before me. I’m not making this next part up: the card told me that this piece of art was “the archetypal example of the blurring of the line between traditional art and utility.” As I read this bit of hot air, I pictured a cravat-wearing balding man with a monocle and aristocratic English accent looking down his nose at me. And just as soon as that image vaporized, I had another materialize of a guy in a black leather trenchcoat and a porkpie hat with a toothpick cocked to the side of his mouth. “I swiped this from the bleachers at the high school football stadium, painted it red, and sold it to a snobby Brit for five large. Now that’s what I call art! I’m no Van Gogh, but I sure am good at shellacking, if you know what I mean.”
In the Early American wing, I noticed that all of the paintings of women looked like men in really bad wigs and ill-fitting dresses. I wouldn’t go so far as to say they looked like drag queens because drag queens try much harder to look like women. Either there was a movement afoot in those days to seek out and only paint extremely homely women, or cross-dressing had much earlier (and uglier) beginnings than I had originally thought. Failing those theories, the artists must have been much more talented at painting a picture with words than with oils: “My lord, I believe I have captured the strength of my lady’s character through the dominant and handsome lantern jaw. And if you will notice, I subdued my lady’s bosom to assure you do not attract the attention of ungentlemanly oglers.” Perhaps in that exchange, the patron might say, “Fine. But could you ‘subdue’ the Adam’s apple on her neck?”
Sculptures was another area that had me scratching my head. More than one of the female statues was dressed in a traditional robe slipping off one shoulder and exposing a breast. This isn’t like the Super Bowl and Janet Jackson’s split-second “wardrobe malfunction.” To the best of my knowledge, an artist will spend weeks if not months transforming a chunk of marble into a lifelike representation of the model – during that length of time, don’t you think the young lass is going to notice a draft and do a little adjusting?
As I was walking out the door of that revered institution, I felt inspired to go home and see if I have anything that I could, perhaps, blur the line between someone’s checking account and my own. Do you think there would be a market for a lawn chair painted black – I’d be willing to model in it . . . and let my bathrobe wander.