Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Portland Art Museum Reverie

I don't mind rain at all when I have an art museum to duck into for a couple of hours.  Such was the case last Saturday when I was waiting for my travel buddy to finish a ten-mile hike with his Mazamas group.  I had been wanting to come here for months now; it was the perfect opportunity.
I found myself rushing through the galleries much too fast and I was not enjoying myself.  I couldn't even tell you what I was seeing.  Argh!  I had too little time.  There was too much to see.  My legs ached and my heart began to race.  What in the world was going on?

  I forced myself to sit down and study the Museum Map.  I had to stop this lunacy.  Pick only one or two galleries.  Slow down.  Study the art.  Read the descriptions.  Learn something, for crying out loud.

You are not on a ten-mile hike!
I chose three areas.  Three very very different areas, and because of it, I have been thinking about the art all week--what art means.  I started with the special exhibit:  Constructing Identity--the Petrucci Family Foundation's Collection of African-American Art.  It was beautifully curated, organized into themes:  Spirit, Gender, Abstraction, Community, Faces and Land.  There was an honesty here that made me reflect.  We can't really know what it means to be African-American or for that matter, Latino, Gay, Female(!) or Elderly unless we are one.  However, we can (and must) Stop, Look and Listen and I mean really listen in order to understand.  Art exhibits, such as this one, are bridges to empathy.  And dialogue.

I read:  In this exhibition and throughout history of African-American art, we illustrate mastery of what we've been mandated to learn--namely, European style of art-making, as a required sign of "visual intelligence."

And so I found myself walking quickly through the American art gallery to reach the European art.  The Portland Art Museum has a well-rounded collection with samples from the Baroque, Italian Renaissance, Flemish landscapes and interiors, French Rococo and Impressionism.  I lingered before each painting, admiring the technical mastery of these artists.  These were the painters that we all study in our art history classes.  Clearly, I would never hear, "Really?  But I could paint that!" in front of  a Pittoni or Van Dyck.

But I felt nothing.

Something was missing.


And in the Modern and Contemporary Art Galleries, I realized what that was:  Imagination.

As I walked through these rooms, I found myself actually smiling.  Okay, Portland is keeping itself Weird.  Where does this art spring from?  What secret recess of our brains comes up with these ideas?



When I met my travel buddy two hours later, I was gushing with enthusiasm.  Next time I would cover the decorative arts and Native American galleries.  Hopefully, there would be another profound special exhibit like the African-American one.  To summarize:  Art is about identity.  Art reveals the time and place and state of mind of its creator.  And in doing so, causes the viewer to step inside and share a world that is different, sometimes strange, but always worthy of our attention.

Do not ignore me, world.  I am here.  I am alive.  I deserve to be seen and to be heard.











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