Wednesday, December 08, 2010

We had tickets for the 6:30 show at the de Young this evening (Post-Impressionist Masterpieces from the Musée d' Orsay).

It was raining outside and the museum smelled musty down on the first floor where paintings were. There was a maze of roped-off aisles like at airport security to get into the show. Since most of the 6:30 group were already inside, the maze was kind of silly. Along with another couple we didn't know we walked up and back and back and forth and up and back trying to get to the entrance. Finally the woman and I looked at each other and took off running down the center, limbo-ing underneath the ropes.

I had had two glasses of Prosecco before we left for the show. It's Norma's 90th birthday and we'd been talking to her on the phone and I wanted to celebrate. If I can be like Norma at 90 when I'm 60, I'll be happy.

To give you an idea of what she's like, it was 13 degrees outside in Fall Branch and she was getting ready to go pick up Tom's dad at at a meeting in her jeep; and was planning to accompany her granddaughter to the hospital tomorrow morning at 7:00, where her granddaughter was scheduled for heart surgery.

So it may have been because of the Prosecco, or maybe the musty smell, but I didn't feel much until I entered the room with the Van Goghs. Starry Night over the Rhone (above) woke me up.

When I was 2/3's of the way through the show Tom walked up and asked if I had found a favorite yet. I took him back into the Van Gogh room and we stood in fromt of the Starry Night painting. There's a man and woman at the bottom of the painting. I said, "That's you and me at the Outer Banks."

I asked him what he had found and followed him to a room that had 2 Rousseaus. The one below, called The Snake Charmer, was positively haunting. I could imagine the museum people at the de Young opening the crate it came in and all kinds of charms and spirits seeping out into the air.

The funny thing is that I'm reading Steve Martin's book, An Object of Beauty. I wouldn't be reading it at all if there hadn't been such a big deal made of his talk at the Y last week–so maybe that debacle will turn out to be a good thing for him.

In his book there's a mischievous girl named Lacey who works at Sotheby's. I'm not a quarter of the way through the book yet, and I'm getting the feeling she may turn out to be more than mischievous.

But I read a most wonderful piece of the book when I got back from the show:

...Lacey crawled into her apartment at ten p.m., still lugging the picture. Her tired body longed for a Scotch, which she poured over ice. She lay back on her bed. Light from the street lamps, diffused by summer leaves, gave her room movement. The idea of the Scotch hit her even before the alcohol did, so she was relaxed at just the taste. Her window was cracked open enough to let in the light summer breeze, and her eyes meandered around the dim room, moving slowly, high and low, from a vase of flowers, across her half kitchen, to a photograph, to a lamp. Her eyes drifted toward a closet door and the Avery that leaned against it. It's here, she thought. Why not hang it?

She unwrapped the Avery with care, more care, she felt, than was given it at the National Gallery, and hung it on the wall. She took a lamp off her chest of drawers and put it on a low stool in front of the Avery, so that light was thrown upward on the picture from below. Then she lay back again. Without looking, she reached out and her hand landed perfectly on the glass of Scotch.

Would Leonardo's Annunciation be as beautiful hanging crooked in a messy college dorm at a party school in Florida? No, not as beautiful as it is in the Uffizi, framed, lit, and protected as the prize it is, while two thousand years of history flow by in the Arno outside. Context matters, but in Lacey's apartment, where nothing exquisite had ever been, where just the two of them looked back at each other, the Avery was the most beautiful thing she had ever seen. This moment was a secret among the Avery, the Scotch, and Lacey, and she saw clearly something that had eluded her in her two years in the art business. In a few minutes of unexpected communion, she understood why people wanted to own these things.

She rescanned the room. Where before she saw a photograph, a kitchen, a vase, she now added an adjective: she saw a student's photograph, a student's kitchen, a student's vase. The painting was an adult object, by and for people with grown-up eyes. This apartment, these things, were instantly in Lacey's past. They were on the way out, ready to be sold or boxed. The Avery had dipped her in an elixer. She wanted fine things, beautiful things, like the Avery. She wanted to grow up, no longer to live like a student. Lacey knew that what she needed was an amount of money that could support her rapidly evolving taste. This need repainted moral issues that were formerly black-and-white into a vague gray, and a dark idea that she had formed in her head as hypothesis now had to become actual....