whistler

It tries one’s patience, this kind of blockbuster exhibition. The crowds make it difficult to enjoy the art. Hell, it’s often difficult to see the art. And just when you find a spot to stand for a few moments without someone walking in front of you, you get bumped from behind. So much for getting lost in reverie in front of the masterpiece.

But I went prepared for this, and also tried to keep front of mind that I should spend more time looking at paintings than reading informational placards found in each section, in addition to the title cards next to the paintings, with further historical and biographical data. And yet they are so informative. I didn’t go for the headset this time, but this might be the very best way to see a show such as this one: block out the sound of the crowd while simultaneously looking at the picture and getting background information by audio.

My favorite pieces were the Degas paintings of horses at the racetrack and businessmen at the stock exchange, and most especially Whistler’s portrait of his mother. This piece is so graphical in its execution, and so absolutely modernist, with the 4 elements – curtain, picture on the wall, seated figure, second picture exiting stage left – all placed so carefully on the same plane. And then the fifth element of the face, the only thing not black or white or gray, drawing your attention like a laser. Still, strong, silent. One more brushstroke would have been too many. It contains everything it needs.

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