While in NYC, Younger Son, his girlfriend, and I, visited the Museum of Modern Art. I had not visited, and it was high on the GF’s list, since she is an emerging photographer. The building itself, created to offer angles and perspectives and surprises and glimpses, as much a work of art as anything it houses.
I was only along for the ride, honestly. We had been on the go for several days by then, and I’d had a day of business conversations, plus the long trip out to Yankee Stadium for commencement (part 1). I trailed behind the young ones, admiring this, stopping to look at that. The Warhol soup cans are there, and delightful experiments with shadow and color and light where we lingered a long time, and GF took a thousand photos, especially of a little girl with curly hair who was enchanted by her shadow self dancing on the wall. It made me think of a fairy tale I loved in elementary school, Shadow Castle, by Marian Cockrell. (Anyone else love that book? It came in a Scholastic Edition, and I read it to tatters.)
The thing about a museum is that you never know what you’ll see. What will astonish or inspire or excite. The colors and shadows were somehow restful. Watching people watch themselves, seeing how much of a person is translated even in a shadow made me think of characters and how to make that into an exercise for students.
But when we got to the top floor, there was a surprise waiting. A lot of late 19th century-early 20th century French painters. There was a huge crowd against one wall, so we wandered over to see what it was. Miles vibrated next to me. “Starry Night!” he said in hushed awe.
He is much taller than I, so I wandered away, deciding to wait while the crowd thinned, taking in some other works along the same wall. The people around me ebbed and then washed away, like a tide, leaving me standing in front of a painting so astonishing that I felt it had reached out with strong ghostly fingers and captured me, freezing me where I stood. Stunned. Staring. So moved that tears sprang to my eyes. The reproductions I found on the web do it no justice, but I’ll put it here anyway:
It is a large painting, and drenched with light. The colors are both delicate and powerful. I could not stop staring, trying to eat it with my eyes. No words, just that huge swell of emotion, love and beauty and surprise–oh look what is in the world that I have never seen before! Miles came over and tugged my sleeve, urgently. “Mom. Starry NIGHT.” He was moved by it. As Steph was moved by the little girl dancing in the shifting violet and red and yellow lights.
I can’t remember the last time I felt so gobsmacked by a work of art. What a thrill it is! To come around a corner and see that, feel that.
As an artist myself, I most loved that there were so many different things in that building, and each of us were deeply moved by something different. Miles shot the architecture, the angles of the stairs and walls. He was snared by Van Gogh. Stephanie loved Warhol and the lights. That night, going to sleep in the tiny room in Chelsea, I closed my eyes and thought of Henri Rousseau in some Paris studio (maybe it wasn’t Paris, but in my mind, that night, it was) with fresh paint on his brush, bringing to life a painting that demolished me a century later, and I whispered up to the heavens, “thank you.”
Have you had that experience of being knocked out by a painting or a photo or other work of art? Where was it and what did you love? Tell me. Maybe I (or someone else here) will love it, too.