Thursday, May 12, 2016

Examining a bit of life

"Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things." This quotation by Georgia O'Keeffe that accompanied one of her memorable minimalist paintings, Gray Wash Forms, was only one of many elements of my day at the Museum of Fine Arts that I wanted to think more about.

Abstraction is a different way of seeing, a clear contribution that art can provide to our figuring out why we are here and how we are connected. Her piece and accompanying quote were in a paired exhibit with the galleries focused on the work of Lawren Harris, each of whose paintings of the Arctic and northern Canada exemplifies O'Keeffe's statement. The one that held me the longest was Pic Island, an embodiment of eternal serenity and mystery.
But as I thought about the day I realized O'Keeffe missed an aspect of abstraction that can also contribute to getting at the real meaning of things. Repetition offers a way of focusing, of noticing that a single image cannot. Megacities, a new major exhibit at the MFA, includes the works of eleven artists responding to conditions in the major cities of Asia, and I kept saying Wow as I wondered through the main gallery of the exhibit. Here is Take Off Your Shoes and Wash Your Hands by Subodh Gupta of Delhi, a wall of stainless steel kitchenware so shiny that the light creates even more patterns. 

And pattern is the point here. The repetition of similarly set up squares reminded me of the history of my own medium--quilt blocks, and the fact that these dinnerware "blocks" are similar but not identical keeps your eye moving, changes the rhythm that it sets up just slightly enough to keep you looking and looking closely. But the overall feel is multitude, of closeness that can be comfortable or uncomfortable. 

My favorite piece was another wall:

For Build me a nest so I can rest, Hema Upadhyay painted commercially produced bird forms to capture an amazing variety of bird species. I found no duplicates while I was looking although perhaps there may have been some. Here again the similar but not identical repetition sets up a rhythm further emphasized by the strip of paper each bird holds in its beak with a small bit of a long quotation written on each strip. It begins: "They will never be the same again because you can never be the same again once you leave behind who and what you are, you just cannot be the same. How often have I lain beneath rain on a strange roof, thinking of home. What you end up remembering isn't the same as what you have witnessed. . . ." The strips suggest a wave uniting the individual elements. The theme here appears to be migration in all its forms but particularly of the move to an intensely urban area like Mumbai, where the artist lived.

In among all the seriousness was the pure fun of Tech Styles: how the fusion of technology and fashion can produce such pieces as the 3D printed spiral dress.

The day ended with an all too brief visit to the museum's Zen garden, a discovery that I made on this visit and that is open only during the warmer months of the year. The peace is palpable as you enter. Can what we see, can what we surround ourselves with make such a difference? Lawren Harris certainly thought so.

And peace to those of you who have been on this ramble with me. Thanks for the company!