If there’s one thing I’ve learned as the coordinator of Coffee House Press’s In The Stacks program, which places writers and artists into residencies in libraries and archives around the country, it’s that you always start your visit to an archive by looking for the familiar.
So, when asked to contribute to the Walker People’s Archive‘s series on the photos we love, I immediately went looking for museum-goers who, like me, prefer to visit the galleries alone. I found several photos of visitors (including many feral children) who appear to be alone, but who clearly had an unseen companion (the person behind the lens).
Then I found Alycia Anderson’s submission, Blue BOOM! It’s impossible to tell for sure, but it appears that the young lady found herself a little alone time with the exhibition Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers. And, I have to say, I’m a bit jealous that she (a fellow Scandinavian, perhaps?) was able to enjoy Klein’s signature “fluid” and “consistent” blue unhindered by the visual clutter of other museum-goers, with their jackets and their hair and their purses and their brightly colored Walker pins.
In 2009, I was living three blocks from the Walker when light/space artist Robert Irwin recreated the scrim piece Slant/Light/Volume (1971) that was first installed at the opening of the Barnes Building in 1971. I tried several times to not only visit the museum alone, but to get the entire Irwin room to myself, as this lucky visitor did. But it never worked out. What would I have done there all alone? Dunno. But I was convinced the experience would be transformative. I had just read Lawrence Weschler’s engrossing biography of Irwin, Seeing is Forgetting the Name of the Thing One Sees (University of California Press, 2009), and I was completely taken with his work.
Those of us who visit galleries alone, are we truly looking for solitude? A bustling gallery on a Saturday afternoon rarely provides peace and quiet. But a Thursday morning at, say, 11am? Now you’re talking.
Or are we maybe just looking for love? My friend “T” was visiting the Walker alone recently and found the man of her dreams just waltzing through the galleries.
I think, rather, that we’re just not all equipped, in the moment at least, to fully process what’s before us and form an opinion of it. Especially with artists such as Yves Klein and Robert Irwin.
Against personal protocol, I recently visited both the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis Institute of Arts with others. Technically, I arrived at Chris Schlichting’s dance performance Stripe Tease alone, but shortly before the program began, a friend arrived (also solo) and plopped down next to me. As the piece wrapped up and we walked toward the cafe for a cup of coffee, she turned to me and said: “You know, someday I hope to have the vocabulary to discuss dance. But right now, I’ve got absolutely nothing to say about that. Nothing!”
A short while later, I visited the MIA with a newish acquaintance to see the MAEP show of a mutual friend. As we passed through the various regional and period rooms en route to the exhibit, she paused, turned to me, and said: “Just so you know, I’m not ready to talk about art with you just yet.”
In both instances, I was happy to comply, happy to talk of simpler things. I was happy to have a companion, but happier yet to be alone with my thoughts, like Alycia in Klein’s sea of blue.