February 17th, 2011 | Glenda Rissman
I was at a dinner party recently and shared an art experience I had in 1980. I was 19 years old, it was late summer and I was ending a 2 month, budget trip in London. I had very little money so I walked a lot and spent what little I had on subways and museums. I went to the Tate Modern and found myself in a room that housed 3 huge Rothko paintings. There was no one else in the room so I sat down on the bench and allowed myself to take in the glorious reds and maroons of these exquisite canvases. Seeing them in books just didn’t do them justice. I sat there for twenty minutes and it was unforgettable.
Could that happen today? Would it be possible for me to have the same kind of experience if I were 19 today? Do we take the time to truly experience any more?
Museums are so crowded all the time now. It has become very difficult to take the time to reflect in these places without having someone jostle you or step in front of your line of sight. It has become all about recording – and then posting it to Facebook! An afternoon at the MOMA demonstrated that art is now viewed with a cell phone or camera between the viewer and the art. Why would you want to look at a poorly lit reproduction later when you can experience the real thing in all it’s glory now. I don’t need an image of the Rothkos as evidence that I was there – they are permanently etched in my mind, accurate or not. It’s when the digital camera’s battery dies or I’ve left the cell phone in another pocket that I allow myself to live in the now and truly take in what is around me and then I realize what I have been missing.
At that very dinner party, where I shared my Rothko moment, was an illustrator that I had worked with 18 years ago and had not reconnected with until that night. She looked at me in amazement as I told my story because she too had a revelatory Rothko moment at the Tate when she was a teen. It was something we could share and experience again together… and then I tweeted about it.