Sunday, February 6, 2011

#329: The Wire

Tucson, Arizona

"You read this painting's composition from left to right. But you read the emotion from right to left."

There I stood, bleary-eyed and somewhat hungover, in the gallery of the Hugh Lane, an earnest voice off in the distance cravenly beseeching my attention. My head throbbing with an unnameable pain, I shuffled closer.

In search of the museum café, I had instead stumbled unwittingly onto a lecture in Post-Minimalism. I was not there for the Post-Minimalism; indeed I had not heard of Post-Minimalism until that very moment. Modern art inspires me and the Hugh Lane had been my destination before. I was not in totally uncharted waters here. But to be fair: this was a lazy Sunday. I had gone for the free Debussy concert and stayed on idly to wander the grounds. Craving a croissant and coffee after a stroll through Francis Bacon's paint-spattered, tornado-swept studio, I was ready to call it a day. Nevertheless, I found myself cocking my head like the RCA dog and bending down my ear.

"So what you see is something full of incident . . . up close!"

Full of incident? Indeed, the night before had been full of incident, spent in high spirits with a roomful of friends new and old at a pub in Stoneybatter. Consumed were several Belgian ales, dozens of conversations, and at least one homemade Rice Krispie treat. Cycling home along the quays at 2.00 a.m., a reflective belt over my overcoat, I received drunken come-ons from dim-witted lugs in speeding taxis and laughed as I failed at flipping them off, my mittens thwarting my best efforts to have the last word. Happy but decidedly worse for wear, I had dragged myself out of bed that next morning after a fitful sleep, reasoning that a bit of culture would have to be my hair of the dog.

"But backing up, we see that it becomes half atmosphere, half system."

I backed up and blinked, along with the silent majority, at the blotchy gray-white painting that hung on the far side of the room. I didn't see half system, though maybe, I thought, I could make out some atmosphere.

"Now as we move on," continued the erudite voice, "We must think in shadow."

I coughed and saw fireflies. My head was a masterpiece of ache in ten parts. Thinking in shadow was not going to be much of a problem. Still hungry for my croissant and coffee, I somehow found myself taken in by this pied piper of pithy proclamations and led out of the gallery. For reasons I couldn't fully understand -- maybe I liked big words, or maybe I really did need to see what this Post-Minimalist hubbub was all about -- I ignored my spinning head and followed the throng up the stairs. We entered an austere gallery with a single Waterford crystal chandelier where, affixed to the wall, we beheld the wire. Not a painting. Not a sculpture, not quite, and not merely a drawing. This was --

"Something so ineffable . . . so . . . semi-visible . . ." explained our fearless leader.

I squinted hard at the semi-visible. What I semi-saw was single mangled, tangled, ineffable wire, pinned to the wall, and a roomful of quirkily dressed, bespectacled spectators spectating it. All throughout Dublin, hungover revelers were edging sleepily toward their kettles and toasters, shuffling about in slippers, cracking open the Sunday paper.

I was staring at a wire.

"Richard Tuttle's wire sculptures are in stark contrast to Bacon's self-narratives. Here the artist has achieved his goal and left himself entirely out of the work. This wire is, in effect, an echo. It has undergone an entire journey from line to wire to shadow, arriving, at last, to its destination. It achieves a Zen-like evacuation of subjectivity."

As the words hung there in the air, quivering like the wire itself, I felt a sudden shock of recognition. Left himself out of the work. An echo. Thinking in shadow. A Zen-like evacuation of subjectivity. Why bejaysus, I had gone for modern art and ended up with the perfect explanation of a hangover. I suppose you could call that an epiphany.

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