April 1, 2023

Modern Beauty! – An unexpected revelation from the Guggenheim, New York

Amidst furrowed brows of bandana wearing urban-philes I stand in wonder at how the appreciation of something so obviously applauded by the majority can escape me so completely! My peripherals are cuddled by nodding heads, sarongs and wispy moustache-goatee combos that would make Bonnie Prince Charlie cream his breeches. In front of me is a 4x2m canvass of speckled orange fading into white. I panic. Not noticeably but definitely forcibly. I desperately try to remember any advice I’d heard given to other unworthy troglodytes whose destiny just so happened to thrust them into an art gallery for better or worse. “Let the girl walk off on her own as you ponder a piece yourself.” Done. She buggered off twenty minutes ago as I was trying to ‘fix’ the headphone ‘guide’. What else? Blank. Great. The only advice I can think of is from Hitch to a portly pratt trying to wed a supermodel. Not applicable here in the slightest. And I’m pretty sure I can feel the waist-coated behemoth behind me reading my mind with disgust because the film I’m recalling is not a ‘Darren Aronovsky’ one.


“Next, we see Ufan’s continuation of ‘movement’”


Words like ‘unmistakeable’ and ‘clear’ pour buckets of inadequacy from the cushioned headphones into my ears as I’m being spoon fed opinions and descriptions of “what I’m seeing.” Confusion strikes. “Why is it that ‘motion’ to the Guggenheim, to me, looks like he’s let his paint-roller run dry and then left it? Why is it that a ‘concentration of space’ to Lee Ufan just looks, to me, like an empty room with some steelworks’ castaway in the middle of it? Am I really so dense as to be the only person who doesn’t get this?”


I start to feel all manner of inadequacies fill the void left by my spiralling sense of self worth. I’m walking past rocks on bits of gravel. Cotton wool on pieces of steel. Rocks on glass on metal which I hazarded a guess at it being a chronological representation of man’s plummeting “progression” from bare nature to corrupted modernism. Only, however, to be told that it was in fact a representation of the isolation we all feel being modern beings in an ancient world … right. Swing and a miss.


Then I got lost. Really lost. Not just mentally but physically too. This was the final straw. Convinced I’d seen that particular red block on a white wall twice before, I lost it! I swallowed my pride and asked for directions. The “ask me about the art” guru thankfully retained his American sense of customer service and stifled a snigger as he pointed towards another non-descript curve which was invisible to all but the initiate’s eye. Curioser and Curioser this ‘Alice’ had lost her gold locks but not her sense of absolute confusion.


Trauma often leads to treasure


Feet and mind aching I turned another curve onto the winding gallery ramp which is the Guggenheim’s modern take on the staircase and here I find revelatory rapture. With my progression through curiosity, confusion, cynicism and coquettish sycophantism I had actually been taught something about myself. Aside from loathing modern day ‘anti-conformant conformists’ I learned what I liked. People! I saw beehive bathed in natural illumination pouring from a glass skylight and it was stunning! I exulted over my discovery! Not one million-dollar piece of failed plastering, not one ‘award winning’ bunch of used dollar bills stuck to a wall nor any amount of berating bollocks from a headset could compare with a simple congregation of people flowing up and down.


In fact, the only pictures of note, to me, in the entire building were those which caught my eye because of the name typed beneath them: Picasso. I enjoyed what ‘Guernica’ did to Colin Powel when he was butchering morality so I figured I’d give the post-modern ‘jigsaw master’ the time of day. Only to be surprised. Two paintings with the eye balls near-enough in the right place! Arms a little ‘Tim Burton’ long but, all in all, depictions of humans that looked … well … human. Melancholic women: one in mourning, the other toiling but both equally beautiful. Leaning against the white-washed wall of my new favourite piece of architecture I see the best piece of ‘modern’ art I’ve ever seen.


This got me thinking. Every piece of art in this entire building is representative of ‘nature’ or so they say. An ‘expression’ of the beauty seen there or the emotion invoked by it; and people have a thirst for this ‘expression’ more than they do of the people and things it represents. So much so that people have paid the only enforced ticket amount (a tidy sum at that for this shoe-stringer) for a ‘museum’ in New York City. Yet these same people wouldn’t drop ten cents into a Starbucks cup for a man on the street because they’re not sure if he’ll spend it on drugs, alcohol or any other morally unfavourable vice of the day. On top of that, each person expounding on the merits of post-modernism as opposed to vicissitudes of cubism wouldn’t spit out a sorry syllable to a stranger they met on the subway. When, after all, it was one of their own who esoterically mimicked a Buddhist mantra in saying that “nature could not be actually be expressed, as it is”, itself, the “only perfect depiction of itself.” Astounding!


I feel myself ready to hurl up abuse to the nearest fop telling him to appreciate exactly that! “The flecks of orange in somebody’s eye. The tortuously toiled-over tassels of hair which ‘effortlessly’ brush the soft cheek of a woman on a staircase. Voices. Laughs. Witty quips about pointless crap because those, my dear fop, are the woods and the trees. They are the encapsulation of beauty in life. They are the bedrock of all that we hold aesthetic and that’s something I’ll be damned if I’m going to miss.”

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