“History is a gallery of pictures in which there are few originals and many copies.”Alexis de Tocqueville
I was lucky enough to see Picasso in Fontainebleau during my last visit to New York. The exhibit featured Three Women at the Spring and Three Musicians – both enormous canvases each composed within a few weeks of one another. And, frankly, that could have been the lot of it – two canvases hung on either side of an otherwise empty room.
Instead, there were five rooms full of smaller works by Picasso during his time in the makeshift studio in France. For the weeks, if not months, in advance he studied and drew the handful of ideas that would work into the paintings we know. Etchings, sketches, pastels from the roughly drawn to the finely finished – all of them speaking upward to the main event.
Without the rough sketches, would I have appreciated the finished work?
Maybe, likely. Elsewhere in the museum hung a 20-foot Pollack next to a Cy Twombly, these two masterworks hanging near one another was enough for one to shed context to the other.
I took the above photo when we were first getting moved into the Asheville house. The benefit of moving was that we could afford double the square footage and the requisite wall space. Dozens of professionally framed prints and concert posters survived the move, and looking at all of them had me wondering if we needed even more wall space? (a thought that leaves me a bit sick, as there are those who have no walls at all, and here I’m worried if these concert posters have enough of a home.) This image hardly includes a fraction of the various items in smaller frames or archived in folios, nor the hundreds of prints, paintings, photos, and posters we have acquired since the last move.
I could feel saddened that some of these works have no home, but I have to remind myself from time to time: there is no home. Nothing has to stay. There is no such thing as a “permanent exhibit” when you hold the keys to the front door. For as often as we rearrange the furniture in the house, I really ought to change up what hangs on the walls.
It was in a Tiffany’s campaign that the art world saw Basquiat’s “Equals Pi” for the first time in a long time (Oh! That’s where that went to!) as it had been hanging out Jay-Z and Beyonce’s private collection. The whole thing brought about all kinds of controversy about the connection between the hues in the painting and the notorious trademark Tiffany blue. All I could think about is how it’s a shame that it probably hangs in an odd hallway that connects the sixth and seventh bedrooms of their house.
Last year I spent a lot of time in hotel rooms and Airbnb rentals. They all had, generally, the same type of art. The kind of stuff that can be purchased cheaply and in bulk from the IKEAs and Pier Ones of the world. All of it the same kind of neutral “live laugh love” that is barely a step above just having a blank wall. Worse than motel art. Safe art. I was also certain that within a thousand feet of any direction of wherever I was staying was an artist who would love to have their work hanging there instead. Of course, this got me thinking about how I rarely go into someone else’s home anymore – I think the pandemic sort of weirded folks out, or the general lack of “entertaining space” in most homes where the main attraction in the biggest room is, usually, a gigantic television screen.
Give Me Your Messy Walls
“Curator” is a loaded word. On one hand you might think of the professional curators of the museum world who are tasked with collecting on a theme, artist, period, region. It’s not just “Picasso” but “Picasso in Fontainebleau.” In the heydays of Tumblr, everyone was a curator. You didn’t need to create original work if you could remix and combine what others had done. (This inspired me to create an entire section on remixes and hip-hop within Own Your Distortion).
“The whole world is an art gallery when you’re mindful. There are beautiful things everywhere and they’re free,” writes Charles Tart. And by this measure, curation is merely observation. Taking note, making a copy, snapping a photo. The weird stuff you can stock your Cabinet of Curiosities is *everywhere* if you know what to look for.
The old joke is how you avoided going over to the neighbor’s house for dinner when they got back from vacation because you might be subjected to seeing every single image in their recently developed slideshow. Was it interesting? Probably not, at least not to you. In most cases, they wanted to justify the expense of their trip to someone, and a slideshow seemed like the most tactful way to do it. Now, these slideshows appear on social media and we’ve wised up to only showing the best, like-worthy images.
What would you show someone who comes over to your place? At parties with mixed company, I am drawn to the bookshelf that is always in the living area. The selections reflect either the front table of most bookshops – the brightly colored bestsellers and new releases – or the fantasy serials with dozens of volumes of something I haven’t gotten around to figuring out how to get into just yet. Hey, at least people are reading.
But I’m looking for the oddities, the curiosities. Show me the wall of framed family photos featuring people who have been dead for generations! Let me look at the magnetized mess that is the door of your refrigerator! It’s OK! You can trust me to flip through your little crate of vinyl records to see what I can connect with. But you see this less and less in the homes of others. The interesting stuff is on their phone and behind a passcode. The music is a randomization from Spotify. The last ten things they read are articles or memes.
Walls, blank. Minimalist. Dreadfully boring.
I guess what I’m saying: give me the conversation starter. Show me what you are. Don’t wait to pick up on a clue of something you think I might like – I’d rather you show me what you’re into. Let it be strange, let it be weird, let it be normal, just let it be.
Find the stuff that speaks for you and collect every bit of it. Arrange it just so. Let it be the first thing I see.
Good lord, give me a gallery. Show me the gallery of you.
In every good bar is a gallery of dogs. As it should be.