i have been putting off writing this because, quite frankly, i’m a bit scared. It is not of my nature to write just for me. This is not a piece of writing i suspect many who read my usual stuff will enjoy. i try not judge how people react to my writing except when they attack me for the rare political comments i make because it doesn’t agree with their political position. As i told my friend Cyril Vaughn Fraser this past weekend, i am nearly always aware of who might be reading and tailor my writing based on my perception of how they will receive it. Not this one. This one was written by me for me. i hope you will go along for the ride.
Friday, March 10th, while whiling away the hours waiting for the 6:00 p.m. start of the Vanderbilt, UCLA baseball game at Jackie Robinson Stadium in Los Angeles, Alan Hicks and i suggested to Cy Fraser we should go to the Getty Center, John Paul Getty’s gift to LA and the world, a campus including the Getty Museum and the Getty Foundation dedicated to research and preservation of the arts. Alan and i had been to the Getty before. We knew Cy’s inquisitiveness would make the visit worthwhile.
When we got off of the tram from the parking facility and walked up those magnificent stairs to the entrance hall, before we reached it we saw the large hanging sign announcing “Museum of Obsessions,” the celebration of Harald Szeemann, the renowned and visionary Austrian, structured in “a surprising series of thematic interests: avant-gardes, utopias and visionaries, geographies, and grandfathers” (Thanks, Getty Center). Of course, being men we laughed at the title and said we had to go see the “Museum of Obsessions.”
We veered off to the research center where the Szeemann exhibit was located. And in we went.
Now i have not been a fan of modern art. i have tried. Especially since i learned Alan and Jim Hicks mother, “Becky” Tarwater was an item with Jackson Pollock until that smooth talking Tennessee doctor rode into the big city and swept his East Tennessee sweetheart away, did i attempt to understand…futilely. But i’v kept trying.
Alan (and i) are into the Impressionists. Alan had read on the program about the tour in the East Pavilion about Degas. He moved through the Szeemann exhibit quickly to get to the tour. i studied for a while. Cy was trailing. When i finished, Alan was anxiously (almost: i don’t think i’ve ever seen Alan anxious except watching Vanderbilt sports events). We sat looking out over the parapet to the magnificent garden below. He said he must leave. i said i would like to go, not for the tour, but to see the Impressionist art collection. We discussed how. He called Cy. No answer. We determined Cy must have left his mobile phone in the car. i said i’ll go back, find Cy, and tell him where we will be. Alan said so long and headed for the tour. i went back inside. Found Cy. Told him the plan. Then i realized it wouldn’t work. We would be too scattered. i decided to wait.
i returned to my seat underneath the arbor, breathed deeply, and watched the few visitors who had wandered down, mostly in curiosity, to check out the “Museum of Obsessions,” and the staff, seeming a bit too smotheringly (my word) academic in their conversations as they walked past in supposedly deep discussion when they were likely talking about where to eat a late lunch. The world seemed to go away, and i floated there for a while with the world gone and me in timelessness.
i rose from my floating and went back inside. Cy was sitting on a stool watching a video about one of Szeemann’s projects. Enraptured was the description that came to my mind. i asked him about a placard explaining that minute segment of Szeemann’s rapture. Cy confessed he had left his reading glasses (yes, we are getting older and it’s confirmed with the added contraptions to our lives, but we refuse to believe, or at least accept such restrictions, only wearing the contraptions, like my hearing aids, for convenience, not admitting defeat). i loaned him mine as he had loaned me his to read the menu the night before. i decided to stay as it only made sense to have a mobile phone with Alan and a mobile phone with Cy and me. While Cy watched the video with us interjecting, sharing our thoughts on the enormity of Szeemann’s passion, i walked around looking at the different presentations.
There on one large wall was a piece of modern art. It wasn’t particularly pretty. In fact, it looked like someone had wandered through an automobile junk yard — like the one on Murfreesboro Pike outside of Lebanon where Mike Dixon and i found the hose for his ’53 tank green Studebaker when his hose blew after a ball game in 1961 — collected bits of knowledge, recorded that bit of knowledge on the small pieces, and hung them on the wall. It was a big wall. i studied it and found brownish grey cardboard pieces of different sizes between the collection of strange stuff. The cardboard pieces contained typewritten notes. i determined the notes were about the person who had first hung these pieces somewhere, which had then been collected by the note writer.
i saw the bakelit explanation placard to the left of the exhibit, went back to Cy and borrowed my reading glasses, returning to the placard.
The artwork was created by Ingeborg Lüscher, Szeemann’s partner and eventual second wife. The word captured the essence of Armand Schulthess’s life long obsession. Armand retreated to his home in the woods in Auressio, Switzerland to gather “all human knowledge.” He began to collect knowledge, recording them on tops of tin cans and other small metal and fabric pieces and hanging them on trees, mounting them on rocks, and amassing them in his home along with hand written notes hand bound in bundles of text. On those small pieces of cardboard intertwined with Schultess’s collectibles, Ingeborg writes small sketches of Armand and his existence in his Gesamtkunstwerk (German for an “encyclopaedic” or comprehensive artwork (Thanks, http://www.spacesarchives.org/explore/collection/environment/der-garten-des-wissens-the-garden-of-knowledge/). Schultess called it all the garden of knowledge.
The art and Ingeborg Lüscher’s notes on the cardboard pieces struck me in a different way. i began to think more about the definition of art and admiring not just the works in Szeemann’s “Museum of Obessions,” but the artists who created these pieces and who not only saw their creations as art but devoted their very lives to creating them above all else. Just like Schultess. i went back through the gallery and studied more of the works there. i began to connect. i could see art. Meaningful art. A place i had never been.
i breathed deeply.
i told Cy such devotion to their art is something i’ve never achieved (except once in a long while when i went into a frenzy, a passion, and wrote without heed to punctuation or really even what i was writing but connecting to connections with things that said something to me but perhaps, no most likely did not connect to others, writing for me with no intention of sharing, which of course i did, am, and will: but those pieces and such experiences are rare in my life) because i nearly always had, have specific readers in mind when i put something on paper or a computer screen. It was not contrived but it was purposeful, and i still don’t know why i have this compulsion to write on any level nor why i want others to read my stuff…yeh, my stuff, whatever that piece of words may be, purposeful or from another realm, and that’s okay, and i found myself writing in my head as i went from artwork to artwork, marveling at these incredible, devoted people who ignored our cultural parameters, put aside the petty bickering humans seem intent on pursuing, and even experiencing rejection of the worst form: Schultess’s garden was mostly destroyed by his heirs after he died with only pieces, like Lüscher’s work in the Getty, remaining, and was even put in a mad house for the insane, or whatever we choose to call such abominations.
And then we left. We found Alan and headed to the ballgame, Vandy against UCLA, hotdogs, fan friends, dressed in black and gold: a different world, the one we live in.
And i promised myself i would return more often…to the Getty…to the spot i was in breathing deeply and writing for me, writing stuff deeply important to me, which may read like balderdash to others, writing to write to feel to create to breathe to live.
Like the sea. Like standing behind the centerline gyrocompass in a storm with green saltwater pummeling the bridge, ordering course changes and speed to accommodate the spirit of the sea, the majestic lady, which will never be completely understood but always awed.
And i will return to the world of concrete, HVAC stucco houses, belching automobiles promoting ill will, and golf, and baseball, and parks, and the beach, and the museums, and the diners, and cleaning the bathrooms, and shopping in the stockowner’s stores, and living okay, no well, enjoying it all, except missing where i was in the breathing, living, writing world those other folks like Szeemann, Lüscher, Schultess, and who knows how many others that breathed and lived in a different world.