Let’s see. I arrived on Thursday and found my way to Birchbark Books, the bookstore owned by Native American author and fellow North Dakotan Louise Erdrich. On Saturday, Ann and I met Janet and Dave at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and bought our tickets for the Georgia O’Keeffe abstractions exhibition there. Then, with time on our hands, we went to the
The Native American art really caught surprised me (in a good way). I have personally been in so many museums featuring old Indian artifacts that I did not ever really wonder what artists were doing today. This exhibit showed me. They are beading stiletto pumps instead of moccasins. They are hanging tiny metal fish on metal drying racks instead of real fish. They are carving traditional symbols into non-traditional material and in non-traditional shapes. They are satirizing society’s foibles by reproducing giant butter boxes and changing the wording to reflect disapproval so that Land o’Lakes butter becomes Land o’Fakes butter and Land o’Bucks butter. The pieces in the show were extremely diverse and entirely engaging. I wish I had had more time to spend there.
We left the Weisman to see the Georgia O’Keeffe show. This Minneapolis Institute of Art exhibition focused on her abstract paintings and sculpture. I had never seen most of the paintings, having been previously exposed to her flower and cattle skull paintings. In this exhibit, O’Keeffe had pulled in so close to her subjects that they lost meaning as objects and became abstractions. Interestingly, this is what Michael has done in his photography in recent years – photographed large objects (like buildings) so intimately that they cannot be recognized as such any longer. Needless to say, I think his photographs are remarkable. The O’Keeffe paintings would have really resonated for him.
Aside: One of the O’Keefe paintings in the exhibit came from the Menil Collection right here in
The time with Janet and Dave was terrific. They spent most of Saturday with me and Sunday morning, too. We all went to the two museums together, then Ann and I attended Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion radio show at the State Theatre in downtown
Basket sat on a table in the lobby with slips of paper and pencils for people to write dedications Garrison would read on air. I had one planned for Michael, but seeing the people crowded around and the two piled up baskets of notes, I realized that I would likely be disappointed. I wrote my dedication anyway: “Here’s a great big
After the show finished, Ann and I joined Janet and Dave for dinner. We weren’t exactly sure where we wanted to eat, particularly since we went out in an area Ann is less familiar with. Fortunately, and with the help of a dining guide, we found our way to an Indian restaurant that proved to be just excellent. Janet and I ate curried prawns while Ann and Dave had a chicken dish that had been praised in the review. We shared appetizers and cheese bread Indian style, had our meals, and then shared rice pudding desserts. Every bite tasted wonderful.
Sunday morning, I met Janet and Dave for breakfast and we had almost three hours to talk together before they had to leave for home. I enjoyed having time with them for myself and the chance to catch up.
Sunday afternoon, I met Ann and her father at the
The paintings took up four rooms which opened up onto each other in a seamless fashion so that it did not seem as if you were moving from one room to another. The walls were painted white, a rather stark background for her vibrant paintings. A few paintings were quite large canvases, others were tiny miniatures, but most were the retablo-size that Frida liked to work with. I delighted in seeing favorites of mine and I developed a special affection for some paintings that I had not felt only seeing them in book plates.
Frida’s self-portrait from 1926, informally called by her La Botticelli, because of the painting style she used for it, presided over the entrance to the show. It stands out as one of my personal favorites. I also liked – much to my surprise – the painting Diego and Me. One of the largest paintings in the exhibit, it had a vibrancy never matched in any of its reproductions that I have seen. Another surprising favorite of mine – Dorothy Hale’s Suicide. It should have been morbid, but did not strike me that way. The way she depicted Dorothy Hale showed a wonderful sensitivity on her part, despite the fact that the American viewpoint did not understand the Mexican retablo tradition and therefore registered shock at the painting’s literalness.
I have always like The Broken Column more than any other Kahlo painting. It resonates with me because I have felt the kind of pain that she is feeling in that painting. Pain that is unremitting; pain that has pushed its way into your bed like a rapist who refuses to leave afterwards; pain that you can almost come to love because you get to know it so well. I heard a senior museum staff member talking to a group about how Frida’s pain underscored her paintings. In contrast, Rosely, the teacher for Ann’s class, vehemently objected to people over-emphasizing the effect of Frida’s health and pain on her work. As a person very familiar with chronic illness, physical limitations, and the frustrations of invalidism, I see it differently from either of them.
I see Frida as a woman who painted her way around her pain, who refused to surrender herself to it. The kind of pain that can’t be remediated, that you can’t escape, must be circumvented by force of will. In a way, one must embrace it; hold it so close it can’t move, in order to move one's self beyond it. I remember another trip to
I did not want to awaken Ann, so I got up and went into the bathroom. I took my pain medication knowing from experience that it would not help. I sat on the edge of the tub and did the only thing I could do at that moment – rock back and forth, back and forth, trying to keep my moans of pain quiet. Not quiet enough, though, because towards morning, Ann heard me and came in to me. I believe the depth of my pain shocked her. We had discussed it, but she had never seen a full blown attack like this. Ann wanted to take me immediately to the Emergency Room. I refused. She may have been more shocked by that than by my condition. She could not understand why I wouldn’t go to the hospital and I could not really explain it to her coherently because I had the pain itself to cope with.
My misery lasted for several hours. After it lessened, I went back to bed to catch a couple of hours sleep before we had to be on our way to the seminar. When I got up, I felt much better and actually pain-free. Walking to the workshop, I tried to explain to Ann my rationale for refusing to go to the hospital. That kind of lupus pain can’t be remediated except with the strongest narcotic drugs, which hospital ERs are hesitant to give out to strangers. The visit to the ER would have taken a lot of time, been paperwork heavy, cost a lot of money, and when I left I would still have been in pain. The only antidote to my pain consisted of waiting it out, being stronger than it was, and living my life as if it wouldn’t keep happening to me.
That is why I adopted a child while I was so ill with lupus. That is why I went to Breadloaf and other writers’ conferences despite my physical limitations. That is why I continued to write through it all, if only in journals. And that is why Frida is my hero: she did it first and showed me how. All this is to say, The Broken Column is for me Frida’s most perfect painting. In it, she tells the viewer that she refuses to be broken by pain that she will gird herself against it by whatever means she can. Frida does not deny her pain, but she denies its power over her. She stands bloodied and victorious; her tears are tears of joy, I think, for staying in the game, not tears of pain. She never stopped creating even when the most she could do was paint her feet reflected in a mirror hung over her bed. Frida Kahlo should be the patron saint of hopeless causes, of artistic blocks, and of barriers. She certainly is my patron saint.
There is more to tell about my trip to
I am too tired to do that now. Perhaps I will tell you more in another post, perhaps not. So many wonderful events transpire in life that I will be on to the next any minute and I’ll want to tell you about that instead.