Yesterday, I went to see an exhibition of paintings, drawings and etching by Giorgio Morandi at David Zwirner Gallery in Chelsea. It was so beautiful that I actually got a little teary-eyed. The paintings just shimmer with their subtle colour changes and simplicity. They are both confident and humble. Pure joy, really.
As a bonus (as if we needed one!), we discovered that there were two other shows at David Zwirner (the guys owns almost a city block of gallery space): one of paintings and drawings by Bridget Riley and one of sculpture by Donald Judd. Three home runs, if you will excuse the sports metaphor on an artist blog.
I went to see these shows with my art school pal, Patrick Glover, who is, himself, an amazing painter and someone who it is great fun to talk about art with, although we were pretty silent in the Morandi show. It is beyond words - you just have to feel it.
Patrick had arrived on the block where the Zwirner real estate empire resides before me and had looked into a gallery across the street. He didn't have a very high opinion of the work on view there - photoshopped landscapes that were manipulated, enlarged and then painted over - but he invited me to go look just in case he had missed something or sold them short. To be honest, I already knew what I thought even before we got inside - the paintings visible through the window from the street told me all I needed to know. But, we went in and looked more closely.
In a good story about redemption, we would have looked more closely and discovered their hidden beauty and realized how our short-sighted, knee-jerk reaction was causing us to miss out on so much of the nuances and beauty available to us in life. But it didn't happen that way. The more I looked, the snarkier I became, first in my mind and then, out loud. I became irritated by what I perceived to be the fatuous attitude of the work - sickly sweet colours, the worst kind of cleverness in the technique, and meaningless content. I began to imagine this guy at parties, surrounded by glad-handers and being praised for his talent. And him smugly accepting this praise as his due. Indeed, I had a full picture of him, his life, even his clothes and the inevitable beard.
It must be nice to know so much from so little, right?
This is what struck me as I hissed sarcastic comments to Patrick and we sniggered in our own version of smug superiority - a feeling that was so familiar that it actually felt physically warm. And it felt old and worn out. I realized that I had not had this kind of snarky conversation in a long time, where I ripped apart someone's art with my words and my superior attitude. While it felt so, so comfortable - oh yes, I know this place so well! - it also felt kinda yucky. I thought about how reluctant we (I) are (am) to let go of the bars of the jail cell of our own making. I might be working very hard and very deliberately to let go of the many ways that I confine myself and make myself smaller, not to mention hurt people and cause suffering, but...can I just keep a bar or two of my cage? You know, for comfort's sake?
That's what it felt like - like I was carrying around one of my old bars of my jail cell. Pretty heavy and totally useless. Maybe I can loosen my grip on them now. And may I wish that guy - beard or no beard - my congratulations on his exhibition in that gallery across the street from David Zwirner.