Week 48. Museums


This paper should last 100 years, the sales clerk thought I might want something a little more durable. But I can’t imagine beyond a 100 years.

I wanted to love the Uffizi in Florence. To be moved by the Birth of Venus, the iconic cherubs and profiles of aristocrats, all of it. But those images already have a life of their own, are out on bags and posters and in 1990s music videos.

In the museum infinity goes up on trial.” Bob Dylan said that.

Mammoth skeletons in lake mud, ancient atmosphere held tight in glacial air bubbles, soil chemistry laminated in cave stalagmites, the secrets of the big bang zooming through space in an asteroid. All preservation, an exhibit waiting to be made accessible to the public.

As the jury at the Uffizi, two of the three of us got bored and started to race on the stairs. It was not brush strokes or themes or artist names I took away that day, but breathless giggles echoing up and down stone steps. Feet clip clopping up and down. Stone steps that breath moisture, the collective humidity of human bodies and mid October heat.

Medium: Sketching crayon, pencil, white pastel. 

In Boston, I visit the triceratops before checking in to my hotel. In Philly, I use my train fare to see the mummies. These are all love affairs, clandestine and foolish, twinning the joys of waiting and meeting.

The triceratops lives in the Harvard Museum of Natural History, which is the best kind of museum: a dearth of narrative (you weave your own), treasures sharing space with spiderwebs (where does natural history begin and end?), and curators secretly placing insects, crystals, and fossils into intricate arrangements. It’s my grandpa’s basement, a place to meet the ancestors in the silence of my imagination taking up what hands behind the scenes have made for me.

I move quickly through museums. Maybe my body collects signs that it will later piece into meaning, obsess over until a story is integrated.

When draw Harvard’s insects, I notice they’re the same morphologically and yet are individuals. Everything is so fragile, so willing to receive love under sustained gaze and touch. I feel sorry for their deaths, find the idea of “exhibit” heartless. But I can tell the curator had compassion in her hands. I know there are millions of love affairs under the surfaces of arranged and gazed-upon things.

Medium: ink and watercolor


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