And What Do We Know Of What Isn’t There?

Warning: it’s about to get a little academic in here, don’t fall asleep.

History and memory share events; that is, they share time and space. Every moment is two moments.

Anne Michaels

It’s nice to have a museum on campus; it’s a quiet place, it houses art, symbolism and a certain eloquence that doesn’t quite pull in the average college student. But I like it. I’m not in museums all that often because I get very tired of moving around and I wonder what other people think about how long I take to look at art works and how little I know about art movements and technique.

Also, I don’t really get modern art the way modern artists do, but I do get that it’s quite alright to see it as some kind of precious grail filled with gemstones disguised as coal. It’s also quite alright to pretend and pretending gets you very far.

Having a museum on campus means going there quite a bit in your class/group to explore the other things in life that matter (the professional schools beg to differ). For a very specifically-focused seminar class (on the topic of race and memory), we got to be personally introduced to an exhibit titled Past Presence— if you had asked me, I would have said our instructor 100% came up with the name. There really is nothing more obvious than a passionate teacher-figure. But I love it, I do.

Anyway, Past Presence.

Past Presence explores the ways in which artists from all over the world interacted with past events in their work around and up to the 1970s.

I was particularly drawn to this one picture and not because it’s a German word I can pronounce. Bahnhof (Hannover) by Gerhard Richter features a blurry image of the main train station in Hannover; which was almost completely destroyed (like almost every building in Germany) in the Second World War. The picture expresses the grief and societal mourning that comes with the loss of a cultural figure, be it a person or a building. It happened with that church in France. And many years down the line, when we start birthing a whole generation of children who don’t understand the impact of the deaths of the like of Nipsey Hussle, Kobe Bryant and Mac Miller, it will happen again. Even though they won’t fully comprehend the weight of the emotional baggage, they’ll feel it. They’ll feel it without even knowing how these events transpired.

I mean I can’t speak for the church, I feel like everyone who will still care in a couple of years may be dead by then.

Bahnhof (Hannover) by Gerhard Richter (1967)

The first thing I noticed about the picture was the sadness it possessed. Maybe it’s because of the concept of muddled up memories, but the emotional baggage really bears the weight of this picture.

Clockwise from top left: El Lugar y El Tiempo (The Place and The Time) by Juan Genovés (1930), Lil’ Patch of Woods by Kara Walker (1997), Bahnhof (Hannover) by Gerhard Richter (1967)

I also really enjoyed the fact that the art work was all arranged by what kinds of pasts the artists were interacting with; be it family, historical occasions, great tragedies, etc.

All in all, the Spencer Museum is very good at preparing very relevant and thoughtful curations and is also very thorough with regards to proving additional information and resources for research and for those looking for more fuel for their fire. You can read more about the exhibition here.

The last thing I have to comment on is the ways in which relevant and eye-opening bits of informations find their way to our minds and surprise us. In our little activity, I learned about the style and creative appetite of Kara Walker. I’ve been over some of her famous works since then and I definitely like the consistency with which she goes about exploring the themes of her art. I like her consistency in the aesthetic qualities and her willingness to provoke. I like that she says things I find myself screaming inside my head. You can should read more about her work here.

I would say though, as much as you may read through the descriptions and interpretations of her work and just move on, I encourage you to form your own opinions of it, becayse art exists forever in that little grey area between life and death, between this and that.

If you’ve come to the end of this post and you’re not asleep, good job! I wrote this while re-watching The Duchess, so I want you to know I was far more invested in Georgiana and Charles and fuming over the disgusting patriarchy than in recounting my thoughts on this picture for what would be the second time but– oop! Georgiana and Charles JUST kissed!!

xx

Naomi.

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