Now museum, now you don’t

Do me a favor, please? The next time I even hint that I’m considering going to an art museum, tell me to just go get coffee and pop into Banana Republic instead? OK? Thanks. It’ll save me, if not money, then a lot of aggravation, time, and yet another unwanted surefire blow to my image of myself as a woman of cultivation. It just seems that every time I go, I wonder, en route to the museum, why I’m even bothering to go in the first place, dread the entire experience before I even arrive, and then, when I finally get there, wish I wasn’t.

Yesterday afternoon, I took myself to the Metropolitan Museum of Art to see “Surrealism: Desire Unbound” and “Orazio and Artemisia Gentileschi: Father/Daughter”, the former out of a genuine interest and the latter out of a manufactured one. I never heard of the Gentileschis until a girl I recently met at a shoe store wrote me an email raving about the exhibit. What do I know. I thought “Orazio” was an Italian rice dish and “Artemisia” was a kind of flower. So I decided to check out that exhibit in order to impress the new girl with my broad experience. I also wanted to see what the big deal was, because she’d told me that people were leaving the exhibit with their mouths gaping (maybe they ate too much Orazio?).

I’ve done this before. Gone to a museum just to impress someone. (Does that make me some sort of “Impressionist”?) Years ago when I first started seeing a guy I really liked, I accompanied him to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where we spent about six hours looking at a bunch of stuff I can’t even remember. In fact, I don’t think I really remembered it five minutes after leaving the museum. However, I do remember thinking, quite proudly, This is the sort of things adults do on dates. I think I may have even looped my arm through his, the way I’d seen older women doing with their gray-templed husbands.

About a year later, he and I were living together, and we went to Greece, where we also visited museums, because he was still under the impression that I really enjoyed that sort of thing. A few years after that, we were still living together, and we went to Italy, where we visited more museums and I saw way too many renditions/interpretations of “Madonna con Bambino al Trono” (little baby J looked a lot like Don Rickles in so many of the paintings). By that time our arms were far from linked, and I whined like the infant I had revealed myself to be.

We don’t live together anymore, and fortunately the person I live with now isn’t into the whole museum thing, so I don’t have to worry about impressing him. In fact, the two times we were in Paris together, we almost pointedly avoided the Louvre, because, as we both said, we’d already been there with other people years ago. And even the Louvre failed to impress me. I remember following the trail of signs to the Mona Lisa, the sight of which I anticipated would cause my jaw to drop in awe. Well, I saw it, and the first thing I thought was, “It’s so small!” The second thing I thought was, “I hope no one takes a flash picture of it” (there were signs everywhere, admonishing people not to do so). The third was, “Can’t those fucking Germans read?” And the fourth was, “OK. I’ve seen it. Now where’s the ladies’ room?”

I don’t know. Maybe there’s something deeply wrong with me. I just don’t feel anything akin to awe or wonder when I see these great works of art. I do appreciate that they are masterpieces, and I do recognize that there’s a hell of a lot of talent exhibited in these places, but I just don’t have the desire to stand and examine most of the stuff I see. I know a guy who believes that every work of art should be examined for the same amount of time it took the artist to create it. If this man were to trust me with the assignment of affording artwork the attention he suggests, he would be surprised to learn that the entire collection of the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art was created in two hours.

For the duration of yesterday’s museum visit, I dragged myself from gallery to gallery in search of the exhibits I’d gone there to see, and that in itself was enough to make me want to leave instantly. I have a very poor sense of direction, so of course I wound up in the wrong place most of the time, despite consulting the museum map and asking the guards for directions. But when I ultimately found what I was looking for, I also found that I couldn’t wait to get away from it all and go outside into the sunshine (yes, the sunshine — which goes to show how desperate I was) and delight in the pleasure of watching pretty girls and prettier dogs walk by (or, if I was especially lucky, maybe a pretty girl walking a pretty dog). I forced myself to trudge along inside anyway, but not without muttering under my breath as if I were on a particularly torturous field trip circa 1973.

I must admit, though, that some of the surrealist work did amuse me. I mean, you’ve got to be a complete bumpkin not to grin at Dali and not to identify with Duchamp’s desire to lightly embellish the Mona Lisa in L.H.O.O.Q. I’ll also admit that there was quite a lot in the surrealism exhibit that I wanted for my apartment (even if it doesn’t really match my living room — because we all know that a good painting is one that matches one’s decor). But I must also admit that I couldn’t wait to get out of there. Instead, however, I grabbed myself by the arm, pulled myself off to the side, and whispered to myself, between gritted teeth, to knock it off lest I give myself detention for a week, which of course would mean that I would miss my after-school job delivering Grit.

And then I spent a total of three minutes at the Gentileschi exhibit. “Oh, I’ve seen stuff like this before, in Italy,” I whined, glancing at my wrist for the time, even though I knew damned well that I wasn’t wearing a watch.

So now what do I do when the girl I met at the shoe store asks me if I went to the Gentileschi exhibit? Do I tell her that I went? And if so, do I tell her it was, indeed, overwhelming? And if she asks me which painting moved me the most, should I just tell her that they all moved me, and then take cues from her comments on the various paintings? But what if she is “testing” me and makes stuff up to see if I really went, and then realizes I’m a big fat lying whining baby who spent more time brushing her hair in the museum’s various ladies’ rooms than in the gallery housing the exhibit? Oh, it’s all too much to bear. I suppose I could just lie to her in the other direction and say I missed the exhibit entirely because I had detention.