As You Like It: PhilistinesBy Joan Florek Schottenfeld
Philistine: a person who is guided by materialism and is usually disdainful of intellectual or artistic values
It was a beautiful fall day, so we decided to go for a ride. I had read that a new exhibit had opened at the deCordova museum in Lincoln. Though Steve is not a great museum aficionado, he does appreciate interesting exhibits and outdoor art, and the deCordova had both.
So off we went, excited to be on the road again. I pretended that we were heading somewhere out west or down south or up north, to spend the week meandering. But though it was just a day trip, the ride was still lovely. The museum itself was tucked into a quiet neighborhood, hiding behind the twists of a country road.
As we entered the driveway I could see enormous sculptures surrounded by woods and could hear the soft sounds of chimes and children laughing. We parked and pored over the map trying to decide where to start.
We began outside since we don’t often get the chance to wander in sculpture gardens. Some were huge and overwhelming, others small and intimate, yet others downright weird. As we passed each one I would read its plaque to see if the name of the piece would give me a hint as to the creator’s intentions. Most of the time the title seemed to have nothing to do with the piece at all. Shatz told me that he was tempted to come to the museum at night and switch all the signs to see if anyone would notice.
Surrounding the sculptures were meandering trails through gardens and woods, and kids and dogs running through it all. It was wonderful. After a while we went to get some lunch before venturing into the indoor museum space.
After we ate I visited the restroom — that was my first mistake. I opened the door to a voice that seemed to be speaking to me. Confused, I looked around to see if someone was talking on a cell phone, but no, the voice was definitely talking to me. Suddenly I realized that it was a recording, but that didn’t make it any less strange. And let me tell you, being in a stall while hearing a voice say, “You can do it. You’re a magnet for success. Your existence matters. You’re fascinating and interesting. You’re a winner. People like you,” is not exactly conducive to the business at hand. I ran out of there.
It wasn’t until we entered the exhibit “How Deep is Your,” created by the artist Julianne Swartz, that we figured out what was going on.
“These whispered reassurances, emitting from invisible speakers, are audible from the comfort of a black couch situated in a lobby at the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. You can hear them, disconcertingly, in the bathrooms, too. They’re part of a work called ‘Affirmation,’” Sebastian Smee pointed out in his Boston Globe article, “Works as fragile as how we see ourselves.”
We walked into the main exhibit space and found ourselves surrounded by various configurations of tubing, wire, feathers, wooden blocks and prisms. Things hung from the ceiling and sat on the ground. They climbed up walls and went around corners. There was a blue line that seemed to travel along one room and into another. Pieces of wire dangled aimlessly; bits of string hung or were pasted on wires; little lights blinked on and off. There was a tube that bent into the wall and sat there. We were a bit confused.
Later I read Smee’s critique of the show and found out that most of Swartz’s work is about “forms in space and how we perceive them. It’s about materials and textures. It’s about gravity, air, light, shadow.”
Oh. Shatz and I stood there looking at a pile of the blocks scattered on the floor and began to laugh … uncontrollably. We both knew what the other was thinking,
“They call this art? They paid how much for all of this?”
I tried to hold in my laughter, but we all know how that works — the more you hold it in, the more it sneaks out. Suddenly I noticed one of the young security guards looking at us with a smile on her face. Our eyes met and then I quickly walked away. She was either laughing with us or at us art-ignoramuses who couldn’t tell a Picasso from a Monet, but I’d like to think that she was on our side.
The giggling continued to burst out of me, making me feel like an ignorant yahoo, until I reached a big white funnel. It was the exhibit’s main advertising image, so I already knew that I was supposed to stick my head into it. And so I did. I could hear the Bee Gees singing “How Deep is Your Love,” followed by John Lennon singing “All You Need is Love.”
I pulled my head quickly out of that funnel and ran out of the gallery with my laughter following me. Smee may have written that Swartz’s work is “ultimately about love,” but for us it was about disbelief and a bit of lunacy. What can I say? Having discovered that we’re basically artistic louts, we’ll probably end up buying one of those dogs-playing-poker pictures to hang over the fireplace, and we’ll make sure to include an Elvis on painted velvet as well. After all, as brand new Philistines we have reputations to establish.
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