Saturday, September 3, 2011

Day 11 - Eleventh Heaven

Always good to be in the double digits! :)

I mentioned that going to places you don't usually associate with alcohol is a great thing to do on a cleanse. I can tell you that visiting art galleries is one of those pleasures.

Yesterday I went to see the Abstract Expressionist exhibit at the AGO. I walked through the new Frank Gehry addition, up pale wood stairs, to an exhibition of rambling rooms featuring Jackson Pollack, Robert Motherwell, Mark Rothko, et al. The American "AbEx" artists of the mid 20th Century.

Until World War II, New York was considered a backwater in the international art world. Paris was the hub of all things cultured and everyone ignored the painters and sculptors slaving in obscurity in Manhattan.

But the war changed all of that. Paris was cut off from the world and the art movement, almost by default, shifted to New York. The painters working there had great disdain for the establishment and it showed in their work.

They refused to title works, only giving them numbers, so as not to interfere with the true emotional experience of painting and viewer. They didn't work in literal figures. They didn't even necessarily use brushes or easels, often setting up large canvases on the floor. Their modern works of stripes and drips and color blocks resembled nothing that had ever been done before. It was a revolution in the art world - and in modern culture.

The Rothko room was exceptionally breathtaking. It was a large room, very dimly lit, like a discreet cocktail party. There were eight of his large paintings in the room, two to each wall, all of them lit from above, the only light in the room.

It was busy, but not crowded, and the silhouettes of the other patrons shifted in front of these enormous unfocused stripes of color. Rothko has always been one of my favorite painters - but after being in a room of his work, he moves to the front of the line.

Rothko wanted his paintings not just to be experienced - but to be an experience in themselves. And that they are. The transfer of pure emotion. In the more somber-colored ones, there was this feeling of despair or doom, and yet such strength and hope and originality. His paintings literally seemed to hum at me. I didn't want to leave. I actually had to sit on the black leather benches in the center of the room and just stare at the wonders around me. The most beautiful room I've ever been in that did not contain one iota of the natural world. Other than our shifting silhouettes.

So, yes, visiting art galleries is a wonderful thing to do on a cleanse. You're not hankering for your next drink, so you can really focus. And even if you are craving, it's not in the cards. You can just feel proud of the fact that unlike many of the artists working in the AbEx movement in the last century, you won't end up dead of alcoholism or a drunk driving accident.


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