Sunday, January 03, 2016

Art in the Jazz Age

 The plan for my birthday was to go to the Whitney museum with the New Yorker. Since I have a pass to the Art Institute in Chicago I get reciprocal privileges to the Whitney, which means I and a friend can go together for free. This is a nice perk when most of the museums these days politely ask for a twenty dollar donation that is totally optional, but not really. The last time I was in Chicago I got my card updated as well and the new AIC card has a lovely Warhol rendition of Elizibeth Taylor that I'm rather fond of.

"So what are we in for seeing at the Whitney?"

"Well, I really want to see this Rachel Rose video exhibit and there are some other things going on. What are you up for?"

"Whatever I get to see. This is my first time here."

It turns out what I would get to see that particular night was a great Archibald Motley exhibit of paintings done during the 1920's, of mostly very strong and beautifully constructed multicultural scenes of jazz, dancing and dining. The colors were so rich and vibrant and the scenes were so expressive and so lush that it was hard to walk through the show quickly. Fortunately we were there before the building went open to the public so we had plenty of time to look without feeling rushed, which made me happy.

"What do you see, when you look at these?" The New Yorker looks and moves on watching me standing for a long time in front of paintings.

"There are a couple of things I look for when I see a piece for the first time. I like to get close to it, I look for fingerprints and pieces of the brush left behind in the oils. It makes me feel close to the artist, to think of how they touched the canvas in a way that didn't mar the finished piece, but lets you see where they needed to handle the work themselves. I look at the brush strokes and the composition and the color. The colors in the end tell a lot of a story and I like to spend time with these most of all."

"What do you mean?"

"This is Prussian blue. It's my favorite blue. Balancing between red and purple, a very virbrant blue to choose to use, and one that works so well with the greens and purples and even the cardinal red."

"You know the names of the colors?"

"I paint. It's been awhile but I paint."

And I think it has been awhile, but I do paint and I will paint again. I love looking at the pieces in the exhibit, Motley's pallet is so full of wonderful colors making the characters dance off the page to music that you can imagine hearing in old New Orleans, while men and women dance at parties drinking free flowing booze while playing well worn instruments to make music that is completely and totally free.

It's refreshing and beautiful and, while only really a handful of pieces, it is a powerful collection that takes us almost an hour to get through.  Afterwards we step outside onto the balcony. It's November but on this night it is warm enough that a light jacket provides plenty of coverage. I look at the lights that flash across the city, watching people move in buildings, seeing the colors come through the windows vibrant reds with hints of purple and think to myself that some things do no change.

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