My friend, Paulette Moore, and I gaze up at Finch's "My Business, with the Cloud." Paulette communicated articulately with her hands. Photo by Steven David Johnson.
Yesterday I rode a charter bus with Steven’s art students to Washington, DC, to visit art galleries. Sun shone and the air was perfect for a long sweater. I’ve learned, through decades of looking at art, that the best way is to choose only a couple of exhibitions to savor slowly, rather than trying to take in too much at one time. Good art is like dark chocolate–a little bit satisfies more than ingesting too much.
In the National Gallery, The Pre-Raphaelite Lens: British Photography and Painting, 1848–1875–an exhibition of both painting and photography–appealed to the romantic in me. Henry Peach Robinson constructed some of his photographs from multiple negatives, carefully selected to create a compelling narrative, and sometimes mixing media by hand-coloring the resulting image. They’re the equivalent of today’s digitally manipulated photographs. Over a hundred years later, these feel contemporary to me, almost like a movie still image. I like the stagey-ness, the carefully researched period costumes in which Lady Clementina dressed up her daughters. This art era drew heavily from literature, history, mythology and religion. Follow the link below and you can see some highlights from the exhibition, including photographs of Alice Liddell, Lewis Carroll’s muse for Alice in Wonderland.
In a completely different vein, in the Corcoran, Spencer Finch’s exhibition My Business, with a Cloud, fascinated me, although in some cases I found the concepts more appealing than the finished art pieces. He took a scientific/artistic approach to cloud studies, exploring cloud shapes and other weather-related forms in a variety of media: fluorescent light tubes, watercolor sketches, ceramic tiles, plastic. For instance, a series of cloud studies was made with pieces of Scotch tape to build layers of whiteness that resembled different cloud shapes. Who knew Scotch tape could be so beautiful? Or a big blue cellophane “cloud” held together with clothespins, suspended from the ceiling. Four brown watercolor drawings depicted the water stain he sees on the ceiling above his bed. Most of this exhibition, especially the blue cellophane cloud, felt ephemeral–not something likely to be found in galleries a hundred years from now, but pieces that stand, for now, as fleeting moments of nature’s awe and beauty. Like clouds.
Also stopped in at the Natural History Museum, and recalled a line from Myles’ book that I’m reading. Writing of Robert Smithson (you know, Spiral Jetty guy?):
The true ground of all of Smithson’s art and thought is the dialectic between the art in the mind and the art in the world, the work drawing the viewer along a path of creation and destruction and calm. This man was a kid who, way back when, was far more delighted by the Museum of Natural History than the Met” (The Importance of Being Iceland 82).
My painter-friend Paula once told me she secretly preferred Natural History museums to art museums, and I’m inclined to agree–at least these days, when natural history exhibitions have gotten so beautiful. How fun when art and science converge in The Hyperbolic Crochet of Coral Reefs, a community-based project currently on display at the Natural History Museum.
And the human origins exhibition is a wonder beyond words. I have no words, so will simply post an image of the moment of silence I experienced there.
Sharing a contemplative moment with a human ancestor. Photo by Steven David Johnson.