I’ll be the first to admit it…contemporary art isn’t really my thing. Viewing something that hasn’t appeared in any art history books, or that doesn’t come with a boat load of scholarly articles from peer reviewed journals tends to throw me off. Any frameless, boundless, attention-demanding abstraction has only ever evoked a determination within me to understand the work’s deeper meaning. And when I fail to do so — as I so often do — left feeling frustrated and defeated. For me, things have to make sense. When viewing art, I like to understand what is being portrayed, the artist’s intention and perhaps even the work’s historical context. So when I am faced with…let’s say, a rock atop a smashed mirror, for example…it’s hard for me to accept it as art.
However, as I headed to the Renwick Gallery knowing that such modern pieces awaited me, I decided to leave my preconceived ideas about contemporary art on Pennsylvania Avenu. As I passed through the front doors, I vowed to experience the gallery’s contents with an open mind (and thank God I did!).
For me, being open minded while touring the gallery made all of the difference. Rather than trying to systematically dissect each piece and assign it a rhyme and reason, I allowed myself to simply be with the art. I gave myself full permission to feel the emotions that each piece evoked, without labeling or analyzing the why of it all. What emerged was a child-like sense of wonder, which leads me to mention how appropriately the current exhibit is named.
Wonder brought together nine contemporary artists: Jennifer Angus, Chakaia Booker, Gabriel Dawe, Tara Donovan, Patrick Dougherty, Janet Echelman, John Grade, Maya Lin and Leo Villareal. Each was given a room to fill with large-scale works constructed of mundane materials. From Gabriel Dawe’s miles of thread, to Tara Donovan’s index card towers each exhibit transformed the ordinary into awe-inspiring creations, one has to see to believe. Wonder truly transformed the way I allow myself to interact with contemporary art, and is sure to do the same for anyone who enters with an open mind.
The takeaway: An open mind can transform contemporary art’s biggest critics
Quote to live by: “Once, Picasso was asked what his paintings meant. He said, “Do you ever know what the birds are singing? You don’t. But you listen to them anyway.” So, sometimes with art, it is important just to look.”― Marina Abramović