Thursday, April 1, 2010

Art Therapy

Not knowing where I will be living in four and half months is making me edgy. Dan has applied for dozens of teaching jobs and though I'm excited for each new prospect and interview, I find it freaky that the foggy horizon is surprisingly near.

I'm eager to know what opportunities await me wherever our future home is. I'm a pretty smart person and if I were normal, I would have a college degree or two and an established career in something or other and would seek a job that matches my "skill set" (that's the correct term, right?), but that's not the kind of person I am. Instead, I have this weird combination of both non-profit arts and food-related service experience that doesn't lead me in any specific direction, and that's fine. I've figured out that my MO is finding an organization or business I like, getting in at the highest level I can, and establishing myself in that place - unless I discover that I hate it and then I go crazy and then I quit. Hopefully I can avoid that alternative.

I'd love to get back into the arts world, because I miss the daily inspiration that comes with that sort of job. I mean, I really miss it, in an aching way. And since I don't know where I'm going to be living, or what sort sort of cultural institutions will exist in that place (if any), I'm keeping myself sane in the meantime by taking advantage of what I have around me right now. So when I found myself with an unexpected Tuesday off from work last week, I paid an overdue visit to the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

My last UMMA visit was a year ago, during the last half hour of the post-renovation grand opening weekend. Dan and I took a quick whirl around the old and new facilities, which made a big impression on me. Finally getting back there last week, I was glad for a chance to savor the new space, and to appreciate the curatorial excellence that makes this museum so special. Maybe it was a function of my being alone and taking my time to observe and absorb, but I just feel like the placards next to their exhibits are way more interesting than those at most other art museums, including the DIA. Instead of just telling you who made the art and where that person was living at the time and what stage of their career the piece represents, the UMMA placards seem to speak more to the content of the piece. So when I read the story behind Randolph Rogers's Nydia, the Blind Flower Girl of Pompeii, I could better appreciate the sculptural depiction of the sightless young woman boldly leading her cherished man and his lover through the dark streets of their town. Poor Nydia!

I also came away with a deeper appreciation of what I consider to be the crown jewel of the UMMA collection - the Tiffany glass works that are now prominently displayed in the second level of the original building. I especially love the windows, doors and other fixtures from the Henry O. Havemeyer house in New York. Havemeyer was a late nineteenth century sugar baron who decided to have Louis Comfort Tiffany decorate his home. That decision perfectly represents my fantasies of wealth. What glorious excess! As if it weren't enough to have a brilliant stained glass window in every room, even the balustrades and air return vents were exquisite. Yes, the air return vent, with it's hand woven metal strips and milky glass rods, is something I could spend hours beholding. That house must have been a wonderful place to be bored.

But really, I think the Tiffany wisteria window is the most precious gem of the UMMA collection, so cleverly displayed beside a Frank Lloyd Wright wisteria window. Whereas Wright's window is a perfectly uniform, abstract geometric rendering, the Tiffany version is more organic. Each piece of glass is a different thickness and is laid at just a slightly different angle, creating rich varieties of color and texture. It feels like you're looking at an actual flower, a gleaming, human-sized, glass flower.

It took a while for me to pull myself from that spot, and the longer I stood there, the more I felt compelled to touch the window (you totally could, it's right there in front of you!). Eventually, I moved down to a showcase display of vases, which would have been more impressive if I hadn't just been with the wisteria. That's when I noticed a placard at the base of the showcase that said, "Open drawers below for more art."

Sure enough, there were eight drawers beneath the showcase and each one held a different etching. Gorgeous etchings - we're talking Whistlers and Gaugins. I couldn't help laughing at the juxtaposition of peacock colored glass and tranquil pencil drawings. I felt like a kindergartner coming in from a raucous recess and heading straight to story/nap time. There was something particularly soothing about opening and closing the drawers at my own pace, deciding which ones I would spend the most time viewing.

Once I got through the drawers, I was pretty well exhausted but in a pleasant way, like the way I feel after a solid workout. That visit was very good for my soul. And as long as I'm living in suspense, I think more of these visits are in order.

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