Saturday, January 24, 2009

"You look like a brown popsicle in that picture" -Marie

These are the times that try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country, but he that stands it now deserves the love and thanks of man and woman (and, I would add, God). Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly.

-The immortal words of Thomas Paine, repeated by Sheri Dew in my roommate's book that I picked up last night and started reading. (Sigh... life in an apartment without a TV requires me to constantly "improve my mind by extensive reading." wahoo.)
I can't think of a better string of words to describe my experiences right now than old T. Paine's. I have had several requests to spin you the story of what it was like to actually BE on the Mall during the Inaguration this week. Well, I'll tell you:

It was the one time in my life where I could really say there were people "as far as the eye could see." Millions! The biggest crowd I've ever run amok in! And most of them were wearing Obama hats and pins and carrying Obama totes and snapping pictures of their man Obama up on the jumbotron screens, and they were all just so... happy. Jubilant, even, to be there to witness such a historic moment. I borrowed this picture from my friend Adrienne's facebook album to illustrate my vantage point of the occasion. Lots and lots of FREEZING people. Oh brr it was so miserably cold. We turned around and booked it home across the river the second that lady stood up to give her horrible poem (I feel bad saying that, being a contemporary art historian, but that really was a load-of-junk poem. Terrible. Especially compared to the melodious sounds of Barack Obama's honey-covered speechifying.)

I normally refuse to talk about politics ever, even among friends, but this is my (shudder) blog (STILL hate that word), so I'll just state my simple, personal opinion now that the whole shebang is over, and be done with it: Obama has a God-given talent for oratory. We can all feel it. By the end of his speech I was even cheering for him (though not as loudly as I did for Bush... everyone else in the crowd boo'd and hissed-- not cool-- and then laughed when the four Mormon girls kept cheering amidst total silence). Everyone really was very generous to us, though, more than I expected. Like I said, they were so happy. Willing, for once, to join in bipartisan celebration. Yes, Obama can talk the talk. But I left his speech with the uneasy feeling that I will trust him about as far as I can throw him. He's acting in the way he thinks is right, though, that's the last thing I'll say.

And now it's time for me and all my other faithful conservative friends to prove our mettle. We will not esteem lightly the blessings of this country's government and freedom, and it is time to commit to not being summer soldiers. To fight the fight.

And now, ON TO THE ART! I'm so excited to show you something:

Sanctuary, 1988

Isn't it GORGEOUS??? The Hirshhorn's own painting by Gerhard Richter, an artist I can't yet seem to wrap my head around. I stumbled across an image of this painting on the Hirshhorn's website, and its harmonious colors, and somber, ridiculously professional control of paint and line just drew me in. I mentioned earlier that certain artworks just exhibit this strange pull over me; well, from the very first glance, Gerhard Richter had me hook, line, and sinker. Finally. I've been worried for two weeks now that contemporary art is not for me. I haven't seen much that I think is beautiful or valuable, and it's been enraging to have to keep reading reviews and essays from intellectuals who take this supremely absurd joy in affirming that EVERYTHING is art. No, people, it's not! Art, whatever them hippies want to call it, is a business. Someone still calls the shots. If I work hard enough, maybe that'll be me.
In my thesis class last winter I kept noticing that I gravitated towards the so-called Marxist theoreticians, meaning that I liked studying not just the paintings but also the nitty gritty history of artworks' and artists' levels of fame across history. I liked learning about the real, hidden reasons why they painted and why certain movements and works shot to stardom (money, patronage, inspiration, intrigue, etc. These help add blockbuster-ness to a work, have you noticed? Or maybe I just like hearing stories, whereas others are content just to see pictures... who knows. I'm new at this.)
Ok, so I'll give you an example of a Marxist reading of a painting. The world's most famous smile. You know it: the Mona Lisa. Why is she famous? It's a simple combination of being a very good painting by a very intruiging artist, and having an equally fantastic life AFTER she was painted. The Mona Lisa came into this world around 1503. She was carried by her maker, Leonardo da Vinci, from Italy to France, which was weird. Despite copious amounts of first-person writings by da Vinci, he never said a word as to why he kept Miss Mona instead of giving her to her commissioner. Like I said, weird. After her brief tenure with Monsieur da Vinci, she bounced from wealthy royal owner to wealthy royal owner, through the line of French leadership. Her actual identity remained an enigma because, as I said, she hadn't gone home with whoever originally bought her (although they now have enough evidence to suggest that Lisa Gherardini, wife of a wealthy Florentine merchant, was the lovely subject). The painting has travelled down through the centuries inspiring whispers, wonder, and theories, really reaching acclaim in the second half of the nineteenth century as the Symbolists began to praise her as the ultimate depiction of femininity. Fame continued to grow when she was stolen right out of the Louvre in 1911. She was found two years later hidden in the false bottom of a trunk. And so on and so forth until today, when Mona Lisa is still making waves, starring, as I'm sure you have all read, in Dan Brown's acclaimed book and all of the attendant conspiracy theories since.
Gerhard Richter's paintings are quickly forming the type of story I can get behind. I said he was professional, I could see that before I even knew the name of the artist, in the masterful way he layered (squee-gee'd) lines of paint over and through each other, much like the precise inking process of a printmaker. A painting like Sancutary would take hours and hours, having to know precisely when it would be ok to blend and layer certain colors and not have them turn into a murky wet mush.
By art history's standards, Gerhard Richter is a chameleon, bouncing from ingenious abstraction to grey-toned conceptual canvases to his signature "fuzzy photorealisitc" paintings (see below). I really want to read more on him. So many of his paintings look nothing alike. He's a German artist who grew up as a little Nazi, and has subsequently hated all forms of ideology since he saw what terror and havoc it wreaked on his country. Said he,
"Strange though this may sound, not knowing where one is going, being lost, being a loser, reveals the greatest possible faith and optimism, as against collective security and collective significance. To believe, one must have lost God; to paint, one must have lost art."
That's a perfect illustration of where I'm at today, as I round up week three of my DC adventure. I'm on earth, away from my Maker, trying to pass the test of mortality and come home to him. And I'm lost in a big huge art world. And step by step, finding my way out.
Reading, Gerhard Richter, 1994. (yep, it's an oil painting. Photorealism, baby... I can't believe anyone can paint that well!)


DFB said...

Hey, it's me again. Nice to hear from someone on the ground at the Mall. I take it you won't be committing the poem to memory? I liked the quartet playing "Simple Gifts."

Enjoyed your commentary on Richter, The Sactuary and Reading. The Reading is pretty amazing. I like the history and what drives them too, so your effort to put it on "paper" is much appreciated.

Don't freeze out there while you're having all that fun!

Uncle David

Ann Christesen said...

Hey it worked! Yeah...Here's for anyone else that wants to post a comment, but could only get so far as reading someone elses. Go down to "Leave your comment", write your comment in the box, then go down and "choose an identity": click on Name/URL, and then enter your name and hit Publish My Comment. If you're reading this, it worked.

And my comment Lindsey? Richter is so diverse! The two paintings come from two different worlds (I loved Reading as well David). No wonder you look forward to studying him more. Keep the fun stories and art education coming! We love you! MOM

Jayci said...

Gerhard Richter, I've seen some of his artwork, but would love to look into him more. That painting DOES really draw you in. It almost looks like a pond to me, with cloud-colors in it as a reflection. :) I love art. I LOVE that I learn so much from your blog. Very nice. Keep it up.

Jayci said...

what you said about politics and Mr. President - spot on. Thank you. :)