Photo Credit: Jennie Anne Benigas



January 2007

"Saturation - to be soaked thoroughly or completely, to be filled to excess, to be filled, treated or charged with the maximum amount of another substance that can be absorbed or combined."
- based on the definition of "saturate/saturation" from The Random House Dictionary.


Is It Possible to Be "Arted-Out"?

Dear Reader,

A few weeks ago, the New York Times Travel section had a picture of last year's New Year's Eve fireworks along the Thames in London. The row of gigantic plumes of sparks shooting into the night must have been thrilling to see. As I looked at the photograph, I said to myself, "Am I so obsessed with art that I missed seeing this?" After spending a good part of the day at the Royal Academy of Arts and having an early dinner, my husband and I were asleep in our hotel room.

That day, we had seen "China: The Three Emperors," an exhibition of artifacts from 1662-1795. In my journal, I wrote about a large vase that was given to an emperor on his 80th birthday. I noticed it because it was covered with 10,000 symbols for "long life" and because it was also my birthday.

In our four days in London, we went to the Tate Modern, the National Gallery and the Tate Britain. Sure, we saw two plays and walked around a lot, but we missed the fireworks on the 31st because MY focus was on ART! At the time, I felt happy that we were able to begin 2006 by seeing that many museums in just a few days.

In March, I wrote about being underwhelmed by the David Hockney portrait exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. I complained about not being able to connect to portraiture. Even so, I dutifully studied each drawing and painting and wrote in my journal: "I need a major boost in attitude."

In April, I saw the paintings and mixed media in the "Art of Injustice" exhibition at the George C. Gordon Library at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, and it reenergized me. Yoshiro Sanbonmatsu presented his interpretations of Russian, Japanese, Chinese, American and German 20th century atrocities. At the artist's lecture, Sanbonmatsu said that there would be no human rights violations if we all had empathy. Such a simple and true insight stunned me as much as his work did.

In July we visited the Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburg with my sister Jennie and her husband, David. We saw their fine permanent art collection and the exhibition, "Pests," which showed how animals and insects were depicted in paintings. I complained in my journal that I thought the curators had stretched the concept by including Degas's pastel of "Race Horses" and a Chardin painting of a horse being frightened by lightning.

In August, spent a week in Washington, D.C., which could be the art capital of the United States. We toured the Hillwood Museum, and after seeing Margorie Merriweather Post's Russian collections, I wrote: "What money and a love of beauty can buy. And I think I'm obsessed!" We visited the Phillips Collection, the American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery, the Hirshhorn, and the Asian and Freer museums. Pages and pages in my journal are filled with insights, observations and complaints. For example, the American Art Museum visit resulted in this comment: "Because of this being an all-American museum, there was no competition from artists outside the United States. I did not know some of the artists whose work was shown. They must have been famous once, at least second-tier artists. It makes me question (once again) the concept of fame."

One October day, we visited the Russian Icon Museum, a new museum in Clinton, Massachusetts. Industrialist Gordon Lankton has refitted a factory located on the common in order to display over 200 pieces of his Russian icon collection from the Middle Ages through the present on three exquisite floors. There are magnifying glasses throughout the museum so that we were able to study the finest details.

At the end of the month, we went overnight to New York City for a tribute to poet Marie Ponsot at the 92nd St. Y, and we managed to see the Comic Book Art exhibit at the Jewish Museum, Ferdinand Botero's Abu Ghraib paintings at the Marlborough Gallery, the Folk Art Museum (bigger and more extensive than we imagined), and the International Photography Center before we got back on the bus the next day. In my journal, I complained, "October must be some kind of landmark: one month with no new painting done…Museums, yes. Reading about art, yes. Entering group exhibitions and having an exhibition, yes. Getting accepted and rejected, yes. Working on my poetry manuscript, yes." I dutifully recorded two painting ideas, one a revision and another a series (both of which I competed in December).

In November, we visited the Cleveland Museum of Art and saw the "Barcelona: Picasso, Gaudi, Miro, and Dali" exhibit, and the next day to Youngstown's Butler Museum of American Art and a trip to BMAA/Trumbell to look at Charles Hinman's 3D wall paintings. More evidence to support the known fact: "If you exhibit it, she will come."

We ended the year with another overnight in New York City, this time to attend the third evening of tributes to poet Frank O'Hara. One of the many great thrills on that warm night was going up to the archives on the 6th floor to hang out (literally) on the balcony overlooking the sculpture garden, and looking out at the glass walled museum opposite, seeing all that great art lit to perfection. We had spent the day inside MoMA, but this point of view was spectacular. The next morning, we went to the Neue Galerie to see rooms designed by Josef Hoffmann. The galleries were hung with paintings by Egon Schiele, Otto Dix and Gustav Klimt. Then, on to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where we saw "Glitter and Doom," an exhibit I will not soon forget because of its unflinching look at war torn Germany. We took in a lecture about Islamic art, given by an amazing docent named Josephine. Because of her, I will always remember the four features of Islamic art: calligraphy, vegetation, geometry and horror vacuo (filling in every bit of space with design). We also saw THE Christmas tree and crêche from Naples, with all its groups of people and animals.

Am I "arted out," as my journal entry from early December asks? I don't think so. Several years ago, I told someone this: "My life's ambition is to see every art museum in the world." I don't think I am "arted out," but only exhausted and saturated with the privilege of excess that was 2006.

Next month's journal will have a writing theme. You can contact me with any comments or questions about poetry or art: