I was not able to attend to visit to the LACMA this Saturday, so I am choosing to write about an experience I had at the High Museum of Art, in Atlanta (my hometown). The Forty Part Motet was a sound installation the High Museum had a few years ago. I had no idea that this work was going to be at the museum the day I went, and I just stumbled upon it while visiting. It is a little hard to explain, but the instillation was comprised of forty separate free standing speakers, each with a different members of a choir singing a hymn composed in the 1500’s. You could walk the circumference of the speaker circle and hear each voice individually and when you stood in the middle, you could hear the full choir. It was by far the coolest piece of art I have ever experienced, and it fits really well into what we’ve studied because its such a perfect combination of the “modern” (technology) and the old (a 600 year old hymn.) Experiencing it in person was central to being able to fully enjoy the work, as there would not really be any other way to truly experience it. At risk of being overly effusive, experiencing it was one of the most memorable parts of my life thus far.
Although extremely different sounding from most other “classical” expressions of music, these works make a lot of sense in terms of examining them through a expressionist lens. Most modern pieces of art were met with a negative reaction, in the same way the reviews of these works were largely negative, although the second review was able to recognize the overall intention of the works. Like other expressionist works, these two works use the power of sound (rather than visual art) to make a point about the human experience as a whole. I’m particularly reminded of the work “The Scream.” Both “The Scream” as well as these two works express the brutality of human existence, however, one is just expressed through a tonal music. The digression from the more typical appealing works marks a belief in the degradation of human society, and it expressed musically.
I was particularly attracted to Stein’s poem “A Red Stamp.” As a reader, and this tends to go for all Stein’s poems for me, I find them to be something that is kind of absorbed in a way. I like to let them just kind of flow at me, and I just try to allow whatever senses or images I have in response just flow over me. This doesn’t really take any kind of background knowledge, because I think its more important for the reader to create their own sort of sensory interpretation rather than look for some kind of concrete meaning. For me, “A Red Stamp” reminds me of the tension between contrasts, in this case red and lily white, and dirt and purity. It seems like its a kind of mediation on things getting “dirty” and images of pure things being soiled. I am particularly fond of the first line of them poem, as it combines the idea of the purity (lily white) and pollution (dust and dirt) and makes a kind of comparison of the two, without Stein ever asserting any kind judgement, allowing the reader to experience whatever comes up for them.
L.H.O.O.Q is a particularly subversive work, from a particularly subversive movement, dada-ism. In purposefully “desecrating” a the Mona Lisa, a work that is considered the pinnacle of traditional Western art, Duchamp makes a very strong commentary on the ridiculousness of traditional art, which is very reflective of some of the core values stated in the Dada Manifesto. L.H.O.O.Q rebels against the strict confines of Western art by making a parody of it, in the same way that the Dada Manifesto can be read as a call to arms against the strict codes of Western society. These two ideas go hand in hand with one another, making L.H.O.O.Q particularly symbolic of the Dada movement itself. Personally, as difficult as it can be to digest at times, I like the Dada movement. I like that it forces me to think in a way that most traditional art does not. That being said, I do believe traditional art does carry value, but that does not mean that I don’t think there is room to rebel against it. I also think Dadaism when viewed as a historical reaction to the senseless carnage of WW1 makes a lot of sense. I like the ways in which Dada confronts us and forces us to question some of our most deeply held beliefs.
The object that I found to be the most interesting (not an easy pick by any means!) was the small blue book of e.e cummings’ poetry. I choose this object because of my love of his poetry, which made being able to personally hold a very early copy of his work particularly meaningful. The book itself was beautiful, the cover was very simplistic, however it was a really rich shade of blue. Cummings’ poetry is poetry that is very much meant to be seen visually, as a lot of the meaning of the poetry is found in the way he chooses to display the poems on the page. I have many books of his works, so although it was not my first time seeing the poetry in person, it did make it particularly meaningful to be able to psychically interact with something that I consider extremely important to me. Not to overstate it, but it really remind me of the concept of transcendence, in the way that I was able to derive such personal meaning from an object that was originally created decades ago. By physically interacting with the object I had a real sense of connection with all of those who were impacted by his poetry, even though we might be separated by decades. I found this to be really comforting, and really liked our visit to the special collections.
Upon my first time seeing Picasso’s Portrait of Igor Stravinsky, I was struck by how well Picasso seemed to capture the essence of the subject he was depicting. Although in the policy of full disclosure, I do not know much about Stravinsky’s personality, Picasso’s portraits depicts a man who feels a little larger than life, which is most likely due to the kind of cartoonish manner the portrait is created in, but also displays a sense of quiet thoughtfulness. This portrait was done during Picasso’s surrealist phase, and the very strange proportions (large hands smaller face etc.) seem suggestive of this. I really like portraits, as they seem to be a really interesting mix of both subjective as well as objective art. I really liked that I was able to guess what kind of man Stravinsky might have been, based on Picasso’s rendering of him. As I continue to look at it, I begin to notice the finer details of it, such as the way his cuff link look vaguely like the details of a musical instrument, which I know is a really big component of Stravinsky’s life. I really like this idea of fusing an artist with their work. There is also something special about an artist portraying another artist, as it suggest a very special kind of kinship. This portrait doesn’t really seem like the rest of Picasso’s works, whichis part of the reason it stood out to me. I think I like the look of line drawing, which is why I think I find this portrait so appealing.