Friday, June 4, 2010

A Higher Power.

Click-Clack, Click-Clack, Click-Clack, Click-Clack, Click-Clack, click-clack...

It's the sound my heels make on the marble floors when I walk into the High Museum.
Don't be deceived- those click-clacks aren't dissipating into nothingness.
They're off on a treasure hunt, flying at the speed of sound through the new galleries and the old, hunting for something new to discover, and saying hello to old friends.

When you walk into a museum that has been Your Museum since before you could talk, things are different. Yes, the Met is magnificent- its lungs filled to bursting with beauties untold. Yes, the PMA, too, holds Ghosts and Opera Singers, is home to Madonnas and goddesses.
But for me, the High is like coming home.

At the High, I met a dignified Native American Indian Delegate. He told me about the pride of being a Warrior, and the pride of being a Diplomat. He wore his feathers in his hair, his bone jewelry, his weathered face; He wore fine clothes of a White-Man's cut. He taught me about Culture Shock, long before I left home.
At the High, I learned that Degas turned a brush around a horse's flank as magnificently as he did around a dancer's leg.
At the High, I met a Roman God, and learned all about the advantages of having wings on your feet and wings on your headdress. There are messages to be imparted to mortals, heroes to be warned, just in the nick of time; there are stories to be told.*
At the High, I contemplated Campbell's Soup Cans, on repeat. Tomato soup had a glamorous side. It wasn't just the comfort lunch of my youth. Tomato soup had an ego. Tomato soup was a star. Tomato soup had a message: commercialism reaches it's grasping fingers even into the warmest memories of your childhood.
At the High, I ran into an old acquaintance, David. I had met him in Florence, but he was visiting America. I introduced him to my family. With my mother, I examined the lines of a master, the subtleties of an artist's craft. With my father, I spoke of legends and histories. With my older brother, an engineer, I spoke of the alchemy of bronze, of casting and restoring. With my younger brother, I spoke of gore and battle and victory.
At the High, I met Whistler's Mother, years before I wrote a paper on the glorious nocturnes of her brilliant and expressive expat son.
At the High, I walked into a Passing Storm, to hear the distant rolling rumble, to feel the darkness and the electricity in the air slowly dissolve, to smell the moisture in the air, and bid farewell to the receding maelstrom.*
At the High, I smiled at Alexander Calder, 20 years before I ever looked up in the PMA gallery and met his Ghost.
At the High, I had a conversation with Howard Finster about God. Finster was a little kooky. Finster was a lot expressive. Finster was Southern. Finster loved God, and I loved Finster. I loved him so much, I introduced him to my Modern Art History professor in college, who had never met him before, never having been exposed to the glories of Southern Eccentricity.
At the High, I was introduced to a Lady in Black Velvet: Mrs. Eulabee Dix Becker; as a girl, I wondered what it was like to wear such rich clothes, to be so stately and elegant. As a young woman, I wondered what she was thinking, and if she was happy, and if her heart was whole or broken.
At the High, I learned that a woman's writing desk in the 19th century was like a rocketship that could take you to distant places, to travel the globe in a friendly salutation, or even skip through time, like Jane Austen or the Bronte sisters, disappearing into flights of fancy. A writing desk was where a woman was allowed to think, and it was a sacred place.

At the High, Sol LeWitt taught me about the color palette. Long before I ever knew what conceptual painting was, I learned red, blue, orange.*
A museum isn't just a repository for artwork. It's a building full of connections waiting, striving, yearning to be made. It's a storehouse of realizations and epiphanies, of humanity and deity, of presence and meaning.

At the High, I learned not just to look, but to see.

* Mercury statue, Inness painting, and LeWitt lithograph are not replicas of the actual pieces in the High Collection, or seen as visiting exhibits at the High. Lacking the actual artwork, I used something similar to the pieces referenced.
Images: High Museum of Art, Atlanta, No-Tin by Henry Inman, Race Horses in a Field by Edgar Degas, Mercurio by Giambologna, Campbell's Soup Cans by Andy Warhol, David by Verrochio, Whistler's Mother or Portrait of the Artist's Mother by James McNeill Whistler, Gathering Storm by George Inness, Three Up, Three Down, by Alexander Calder, Angel by Howard Finster, Lady in Black Velvet (Mrs. Eulabee Dix Becker by Robert Henri, Untitled Lithograph by Sol DeWitt.

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