Monday, February 20, 2012

I Heart You, Zoe Strauss

Ever have one of those days where you go in thinking you're going to do one thing, and what ends up happening is something totally different and yet utterly amazing?
That was my Sunday.
Initially my husband and I had planned a hot date at the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see the painfully popular Van Gogh exhibit. I adore Van Gogh, his sunflowers are one of my favorite things ever even though I run the risk of sounding uncultured and pedestrian in the speaking of it. So it was with great excitement that we parked the car (after sitting in Philly traffic for an hour out on the Schuylkill Expressway) and took the stairs up in to the daylight and the hill upon which the museum rests.
Except, you see, tickets were completely sold out. The exhibit had only been open one hour and they were GONE. The docent was at least apologetic about it and said that we could call up and make reservations for a time in the future whenever we wanted and that they would be free thanks to the membership my Dad gave us. So that was heartening, at least. Had I known my upcoming schedule we could have just rescheduled right there, but alas I did not. So we'll have to wait on that.
This left us with the looming fact that we had driven an hour to come to the museum to see something that we weren't going to be able to see.
Bob, being his ever-awesome self said "Okay, what other exhibits do we want to see, then?" immediately taking those lemons, squeezing them hard, and presenting me with lemonade. A quick look through the map -which we discovered, to our surprise, we had actually finally mostly all seen!- and we came across two exhibits.
The first and closest was an exhibit on Zoe Strauss entitled "Ten Years". The photographs were plain yet utterly amazing. As one who fell in love with the works of Ansel Adams, to see such untidy photography was initially a shock to the system. But as we continued through the exhibit, you began to see the thread of meaning in the images, how each one was utterly perfect in its lack of polish, in its every-day-ed-ness. I believe that every single image that was on those walls was the embodiment of wabi-sabi, perfection through imperfection.
I am, of course, struggling with every single word to describe what I saw because it was so visually striking and yet so utterly fucking ordinary that the only thing left in between is the emotional reaction I had. Try to describe wonder without resorting to describing what is physically happening in the body, and you'll understand what's going on. I'm a monkey slapping around at being an artiste with these thoughts and English is not my native tongue in these moments. Somehow she managed to sucker-punch me in the gut with a few shots around Philly and other locations and left me with a feeling of immense discovery. I loved it. I loved it so much that I bought her book, "America", on Amazon as soon as I got home. This woman has managed to do what I struggle with constantly in my own hobby photography and elevated it to a level I only hope to approach. The individual and imperfect moment as art, taken with an ordinary camera. God if I could only have such talent.
From there, with the assertion in my heart that I had found my new favorite photographer, we circled around to the museum store where I acquired the catalog book for the Van Gogh exhibit, just in case we never did actually make it back. Then from there we decided it would be nifty to go visit the Perelman building across the street since A.) It was a gorgeous sunny day and B.) there was another neat exhibit I was really hoping to see.
So we sidle on up to something that looks like an ancient stone with 20's federal building tendencies in the decoration and push through the glass and brass doors to find..... modern art. Once you get out of the lobby, the entire thing is plexiglass and aluminum and plastic. Fantastically beautiful, indeed.
We headed on in to the Zaha Hadid exhibit, "Form in Motion", where I was promptly nearly knocked flat from vertigo induced by the graphics on the floor. My brain insisted the floor was sloping to the right and my feet kept following that idea. I managed to make it out of the foyer and intensely focus on the sculptural designs beyond only by closing my eyes and hugging the wall.
You would normally think something like that would not make for a pleasant experience, but if an artist can manage to immediately throw me off balance, I can do nothing but give them credit.
Zaha Hadid is amazing. Her forms are a strange amalgam of organic and alien, leaving you with the sensation that you are familiar with all of these things, but knowing you have never seen them before in any form. I was staring in wonder at aluminum benched shaped like radiating flower petals, and necklaces that looked more like strange mathematical computations than jewelry. I fell in love with the lines of it all, and wished the floor were not so damned distracting so I could fully appreciate the few pieces being displayed.
We followed that up with panini sandwiches and the discovery that Snapple teas had switched from corn syrup to actual sugar in their drinks, so I could actually partake of peach tea again! Not so big a deal until you learn that I lived off of Snapple Peach iced tea my freshman and sophomore years of college! That, along with a few awesome photographs and the delicious paninis made for an excellent nomming.
While there we visited the 35mm Photo exhibit, which discussed the versatility of the 35mm film and cameras, and how it made the "snapshot" possible. Casual photography, street photography were all suddenly possible thanks to a thin little strip of celluloid with sprocket holes in it. They also discussed other film formats, and as i was sitting there chewing my panini and talking with the husband, I realized I could actually probably construct a massive pinhole box for large-format photography. The idea is still with me.
We then gathered ourselves up, headed back to the car and drove up to the comic book shop to grab my pull list, then home. This was followed by walking the dog, and me spinning up the last of my divided Jacob wool while we watched Alcatraz.
So here is the lesson I often forget... that just because the original plan doesn't work out, it doesn't mean that what's left to do next won't be just as awesome. I can't remember discovering anything quite so awesome or falling in love with art the way I did today. Getting to do so with the person who is most favorite to me in the world just elevated it to true memory status.

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