Tuesday, February 22, 2011

One Nice Thing

I drove to D.C. for the weekend with Jonathan, and before I left my mother told me to be sure to check for a box that was scheduled to arrive. “It’s your Valentine,” she said, “and it’s kind of a big box.” I immediately assumed she meant she was sending a painting—a watercolor of three girls playing in the surf—that my grandmother painted before I was born. I thought about sending the painting to myself the last time I was home, but it was too expensive to ship.

My mother isn’t a very good gift giver. For Christmas, my family pulled names and decided to get their person one nice thing, no more than forty dollars. Instead of buying me a nice leather address book or a sweater or something, my mom went to Staples and bought a bunch of little journals and notebooks, a pedometer that didn’t work, a pair of sparkly dress socks. At first I just opened them and thanked her, but then a few days later I realized that there was no reason why I couldn’t return those things, so I did. Mom didn’t seem too hurt. “I’d rather have one nice thing,” I explained. She nodded her head.

When I got back from D.C., my roommate was sitting on the couch reading, and she gave me a hurt expression. “Your box came,” she said, looking at the floor. I looked down to see a big, square cardboard box whose top had been smashed. “I’m a little worried,” my roommate said, “because the box says fragile.” Trying to ignore my slight feeling of disappointment--inside this square could not possibly be a painting--I cut open the flaps, moved the tissue paper aside, and lifted out a long cylinder. Pieces of glass fell from the paper and onto the floor. “Oh no,” I moaned, “it’s broken.” My mom had attached a note inside. “These candlesticks are from Egypt,” she said, “and they’re glass (I had to ask the clerk) so be careful.”

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Ad Reinhardt, "Abstract Painting"

Right now, in the MOMA, there is a painting by Ad Reinhardt from 1963 called “Abstract Painting.” To the people shuffling through the rooms on a January Sunday, it is a black square. They turn their heads to glance at it briefly as they walk by, probably thinking of the red and black Pollack in the next room, or thinking nothing.

They have to look closer. They have to stop shuffling. They have to stop talking.

They have to stare.

They have to take off their glasses, even. They have to stop thinking about their stomachs and the restaurants serving discounted buffalo wings in Times Square. They have to be quiet.

Be quiet. Be quiet. Be quiet. Be QUIET!

This painting is not so hard to get, really. I point it out to a heavy-set woman in red glasses and a blue striped shirt. She’s Midwestern. She’s here for the day. She’s here to see Pollack.

“Do you see it?” I ask.

She waits. “Oh, yes.”

“Yes, you see,” I point with my finger. She follows my finger with her eyes. “There, and there,” I say, shifting my weight, changing my gaze from one corner of the painting to another. “This one is especially purple.”

“Thank you,” she says.

I smile. She walks away.

I sit down on the black, rectangular bench, and then he comes and sits down next to me. Silently, he studies my face. I wonder, can he see them? Can he see the purple squares?