I Thought I Knew You…

November 17, 2013 § Leave a comment


As you know, I am a big art lover, as is Mr. H. There is little that I enjoy more than being moved by a piece that is brand new to me, and I find it extremely comforting to visit the “old friends” that I never tire of seeing, even after two decades or more. But one of the most interesting experiences for an art nerd such as myself  to have is seeing a piece in person for the first time after spending years seeing images of it in classes or other reading. Sometimes, it can be be a non-event but in the best of circumstances, it kind of blows you away. 

This week the latter happened: Mr. H and I were at the New York Historical Society’s exhibit that was meant to recreate 1913’s  famous Armory Show (actually called the “International Exhibition of Modern Art”100 years after it was first mounted.* The show was meant to promote modern paintings and sculpture to U.S. audiences, and while it had a profound impact on modern painting in this country, it was considered quite audacious at the time. Seeing parts of it today makes that last statement sound odd, but 100 years ago, it was simply not. 

There were many terrific paintings by artists with whom I was not very familiar and several that I had seen before or knew a little about. And most of them were really very lovely. Alas the one piece that knocked me off my feet was one that I had seen countless times, and it is possibly one of the most debated paintings of the last century: Marcel Duchamp’s Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2, from 1912. In college, I had studied this painting in depth. I memorized its creation date, why it was important and all the other details that an art history student must remember. But I was never especially moved by it, although I like Duchamp’s work tremendously.

Ah…but to see it in person is another matter entirely. Sometimes when you get caught up in the academics of a thing, you lose the best part: its beauty. This, my friends, is a truly beautiful painting. And I was completely unprepared for that to be the case. I saw things in it that I’d never noticed before and was completely taken with its line and color and purpose — things I thought I’d “seen” before, but I hadn’t really experienced it. I was genuinely moved and delightfully surprised.

One could draw a line between this kind of moment and how important it is that we live as much of our lives “in person” as possible, but I’ll focus on something else instead…even if it is slightly related:

Last night, Mr. H and I were at a dinner party and the show itself came up in conversation with a friend we won’t see very often. He’d seen it as well, and I brought up the Duchamp. Our friend replied that he, too, found it rather amazing that in spite of it being such a familiar image — but one that he’d never seen in person — he was also surprised to find it to be so beautiful. “Yes…it it really a beautiful painting…” was how the conversation ended. But in a way, the end of that conversation was perhaps the beginning of our getting to know this person a little bit better. Maybe that is the final fantastic part of art: sharing with others and how it allows you to share more of yourself with them.  



(Image of Nude Descending a Staircase, No. 2: Via Fair use/Art; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Duchamp_-_Nude_Descending_a_Staircase.jpg#filelinks; Marchel Duchamp, 1887 – 1968; Painted in Paris, France; 1912, Oil on Canvas; 55 7/8″ H X 35 1/8″ W; part of the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, PA, United States.)


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