It has been a remarkably chilly week for mid-July: the coldest July since 1980-something, according to local meterologists. I don’t exactly mind, really, except for the whole global climate change things, which is admittedly pretty apocalyptic-inspiring. My world is full of ups and downs, peaceful meadows and tumult, and I’m sort of in a very “WHERE IS EVERYBODY/GET AWAY FROM ME” headspace. And since I can’t really figure out the middle ground between the two, I’m kind of just being a recluse. But a glamorous one!
Anyway, there are some bright spots on the horizon: Eleanor Whitney, author of Grow, which I big-upped earlier, gave my book a great write-up at her blog, which made me so happy. As a writer, it is always so wonderful to know your work makes some kind of impact in the hearts and minds of the people who read it. Thank you, Eleanor! And academic superstar, fellow punk expat and feminist of color firebrand Mimi Thi Nguyen gave props to my old fashion blog nogoodforme.com in her recent interview at The Feminist Wire, which made me feel so proud. Anyway: this edition of Sparks & Beauties is devoted to one giant gorgeous firecracker of an art exhibition. I hope you enjoy it!
One beautiful thing possible when living in a city like New York: you get to have up-close and personal relationships to museums. And when I lived in NYC and was going to Columbia, I got to have lots of them, because one advantage of paying nosebleeds of tuition was free admission to places like the Metropolitan Museum and MOMA. After my two years of intensive coursework, I tried to go as often as possible — and I noticed I had very specific relationships to each museum. For me, MOMA was a bit like that person you date who looks good on paper — you think it aligns perfectly with everyone you ever thought you wanted in someone, but there is something missing. Some human eccentricity, some hidden dork factor that makes them genuinely fun to be around.
The Metropolitan, though, was my true love in museum form. For one thing, it was just so immense — I went almost weekly and there were still rooms I’d stumble into, having never seen them, so there was a constant sense of discovery. I had particularly favorite rooms and galleries: I loved the 19th-century American and European painting sections, for example: I’d sit for an afternoon in one of the galleries and just write or read. (I graded a whole sheaf of papers there once, much to the amusement of the guards.) I loved the decorative arts wings, and marveled at Marie Antoinette’s furniture. When I needed to think, I sat in the Temple of Dendur and the immense echo of the large room often soothed me.
I don’t really have a steady relationship with a museum anymore, and that’s a pity. So, in some major respect, my whole take on the “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity” exhibition currently at the Art Institute of Chicago feels incomplete — it doesn’t quite benefit from the feeling of having lived with and experienced the work in a way that intimacy and familiarity grant it. I also feel as if, since leaving NYC, I’ve lost the “art muscle” that comes from seeing, hearing about and discussing art on a regular basis. It used to be easy for me to “keep up” with modern art, but since being isolated in the Midwestern semi-countryside, this kind of thinking doesn’t come easy to me anymore. Still, I gave it a try on my recent trip into Chicago: I spent almost three hours at the exhibition, as a result, felt like I was cramming in all the beauty and insight that it offered — because it’s truly an astonishing exhibition on aesthetic, intellectual and historical levels. It did its job, though: I walked out of it feeling thoughtful, inspired and energized — appreciative of how the past shapes the present moment, and full of a kind of serene lightness that only spending time with such wondrous art can give you.