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QUINTESSENCE

Art Where You Are


Why not? Why not? Why should my poems not imitate my life?
Whose lesson is not the apotheosis but the pattern, whose meaning
is not in the gesture but in the inertia, the reverie.

Desire, loneliness, wind in the flowering almond -
surely these are the great, the inexhaustible subjects
to which my predecessors apprenticed themselves.
I hear them echo in my own heart, disguised as convention.

Balm of the summer night, balm of the ordinary,
imperial joy and sorrow of human existence,
the dreamed as well as the lived -
what could be dearer than this, given the closeness of death?

- from "Summer Night" by Louise Gluck

The Blanton Art Museum, located on the University of Texas campus in Austin, Texas, is a playground for the mind and spirit. Here, soaring open interior spaces lit by diffused skylights permit art to breathe, allow the mind to break formation, to wander and make stunning, exciting associations between paintings and sculpture, colors and form. Three specific pieces of art will be explored in upcoming blog essays that moved me in different ways. Pieces that somehow charged my sensibilities, as atoms ellipse around an idea whose time has yet to come.

I found myself longest in the Contemporary wing. The several large installations in this space shocked, astounded, and poked me fully awake. I had to look, walk around and then away, and then circle back once more. I stood immobilized by ideas that floated into my head as though the artists uncapped my skull and held a gravy boat of thoughts poured into my brain.

The photograph above is of a piece by El Anatsui, of Nigeria, called simply "City Plot 2010." The sculpture is a wall-sized installation; wholly composed of aluminum liquor bottle caps and copper wire. These crude components weave unexpected visual shapes of varied color mobile to the eye from a distance like the scales of river trout or flags whipping in wind. A woman's profile is suggested in yellow lashes, red lips, an exotic headdress. Or do we see a street dog? A flag form registers with the viewer as both anthem and political identification and irony. More sculptural shape-shifting might suggest tribal dress; look again and see the flap and tear of trash caught in fencing along city freeways.

Anatsui's work is deliberate; delicately formed of debris collected from the streets and empty city lots of Nigeria. The project components, simple yet lofty in association, prompt unfamiliar wonder. Obliquely we see even city garbage carries the rich stamp of civilization in unexpected ways. That the ordinary is the everyday extraordinary. Or can be...if we but look and see differently.

Take time to glance around your daily landscape. What do you see of an essential, hidden belongingness in human culture?
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