Originally created 06/29/01

Not everybody appreciates modern art

Recently, I was in London with my quite-English wife and her also-quite-English family.

I love England's capital city. I love the way it looks toward the future while embracing the past. I love the energy of the city. I love that there is a pub on every corner. I actually love that a lot.

But mostly I love the art museums. I'm a sucker for them. I could spend days, maybe weeks strolling the quiet galleries.

That can be a problem, because neither my wife nor her family share my passion. But I don't care, I drag them along anyway. That's what family is for.

This last trip, I dragged our little invasion force to the Tate Modern, a hulking power station gutted and transformed into a museum of 20th century art. I was interested in seeing the museum, which opened in May 2000 and has become one of the hotter tickets in town, and in gauging the response of an average family (my wife's family) to the sometimes challenging world of modern art.

We passed through the first galleries without comment. It seems the paintings there, cubists works a la Picasso and strictly-ordered modernists like Miro, have become a common part of the visual lexicon, accepted by even the youngest viewer. (Our youngest was a precocious six-year-old.) But as we continued on, eyebrows began to raise.

In one gallery, my brother-in-law Steven quietly pulled me aside and pointed out Fountain, the signed urinal Marcel Duchamp first declared art in 1917.

"Have you seen that," he asked. "I think someone pulled a fast one there, don't you?"

Perhaps, Steven.

The next gallery featured 0 through 9, a painting by Augusta's native son, Jasper Johns. A somewhat challenging work, it consists of the numbers zero through nine hidden in geometric angles and shapes.Standing in front of that painting, I discovered something of an art savant in our midst. Young Shaun, who at age 9 values soccer (Sorry, I meant football) above all else, with only the smallest amount of prompting, began to pull the hidden numerical shapes out of the canvas. Soon he was asking about the use of color and line and why the artist felt the need to paint numbers.

After that there was no stopping him. Shaun raced from gallery to gallery, pointing out various works and explaining, in fairly lucid terms, why he liked them. In one gallery, his uncle pointed out a sculpture that incorporated some, er, suggestive imagery. I asked Shaun what he saw.

"A brain, a finger and another brain," he replied nonchalantly.

Well, who was I to argue.

His father and grandfather remained harder sells. Coming across an elongated Jackson Pollock canvas, both men agreed they knew what the paint splashed canvas should be called, and I can assure you it wasn't art.

In the end, even my brother-in-law, the most skeptical member of the party, found a piece he could respond to. Standing beneath a piano suspended upside-down from the ceiling, he wore an expression on his face that clearly stated he had endured about all he was willing to endure. The piano, which bore the mysterious title Concert for Anarchy, began to creak ominously and then, without warning, all but exploded with its top banging open, its keys shooting out of their black lacquered coffin. Steven regained his composure and, pointing above his head at the suddenly deconstructed instrument, grinned.

"That one I like."

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or suhles@hotmail.com.


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