Pictures at an Exhibition

Starting in Week 3 of WFH, I began wearing a belt . . . to work. It made me feel a little more put together . . . for myself.

In Week 4, I have observed that I seem to have less time for personal pursuits than I did when I was working at the office.
How can this be? I should have ninety minutes — without question — on the personal side of the ledger simply because I no longer have to physically transport my body downtown.
Setting aside this puzzle (which calls into question the physical laws of the universe as I have previously, though weakly, understood them), allow me to show you an outfit that I thought would be suitable for Casual Friday at the office.
Shortly after putting it on, I realized it would not be.
Can you guess why?

No! I can’t wear this to work; I could wear it to WFH
I bought this top on-line and thought that the yoke was made of an iridescent nylon fabric. But non, it is not. It is made of a transparent fabric. Even though we’ve only been WFHing for a few weeks, surely you remember that transparency is a no-no (Fr. non-non) at the office.

I rallied quickly and realized this top would be just the thing to wear to a museum on the weekend. Smart and a little bit interesting.
Good idea, Directrice!

And then I wondered when I will next be at a museum.
Oh well; it was a good idea

This sobering realization — it might be awhile — led to some self-recrimination for under-utilizing the extraordinary museums within an easy walking radius of my downtown office. But then I diverted my thoughts to a more positive exercise: Remembering my favorite exhibitions: what they were, when I saw them, who I saw them with.
Sometimes I went with a companion
Sometimes I went alone

Because we know that art can be transformative and transcendent, this line of thinking quickly ran to one question:
What is THE BEST exhibition I’ve ever seen?
I could not settle on one answer, but here are some of the fondest museum memories that came back to me.


  • Taking my friend’s teenage 12 year-old to see Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes: When Art Danced with Music at the National Gallery;
  • Seeing a wonderful exhibit of James Abbott McNeill Whistler at the Fogg Museum with my parents;
  • Every time I visit the Peacock Room at the Freer Gallery (again Whistler!) by myself;
  • Examining Snake by Richard Serra with my friend Eleanor in Bilbao;
  • Standing up for freedom of expression with my best friend at an exhibit of Robert Mapplethorpe’s photos at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford.

  • But perhaps my most transformative museum-going experiences have happened without ever stepping inside: taking in I.M. Pei’s elegant pyramid at the Louvre and the flashy-splashy Guggenheim Bilbao. You know I wanted to be an architect!
    Since none of us will be going to a museum anytime soon, you might enjoy flipping through your memories. Please share your fondest, most inspirational, or most amusing. And, just between us, if you were going to steal one piece of art to hide away in your house for your own enjoyment, what would it be?
    Directrice want this sculpture by Louise Nevelson

    If you haven’t seen this tiny art installation created for two London-based gerbils, you must see it now. It may become your favorite museum memory.
    Other things I would steal:
    Bird of Paradise by Margaret Preston
    John Singer Sargent’s The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit
    And possibly this one, but I am not sure:
    Las Meninas by Pablo Picasso might be hard to live with

    21 thoughts on “Pictures at an Exhibition”

    1. I will take Vermeer’s Girl with the Pearl Earring, which I was lucky to see in person at the National Gallery years and years ago, and also the official portrait of Michelle Obama. Beautiful! I also would love to have The Fox Hunt by Winslow Homer for my collection. I think all three have a sense of quiet/solitude/stillness (even the moving fox who is apparently being hunted) that reassures me.

    2. Oh, museums… So many wonderful exhibitions past and (hopefully!) future. Sigh …

      Perhaps my very favorite of all time was the Sonia Delaunay retrospective, which I saw at the Tate Modern in 2015 (also at MOMA and the Pompidou Center, iirc). She was just astonishing in range and creativity, and seeing so much of her decorative arts and fashion work in one place was 100% worth the extremely convoluted travel itinerary that made the day-long stop in London possible.

      But also an Alexander Calder show at the Trocadero in the mid-90s, which was one of the first exhibitions I went to on my very own volition and involved an absolutely magical 10 minutes of watching a docent help a group of elementary schoolers to create a circular air current to turn a sculpture. The sheer awe and delight on the kids’ faces as they made this enormous piece move without touching it was just amazing. And then of course, you got to go upstairs to sit with Raoul Dufy’s Fée Électricité.

    3. If we’re fantasizing, I would move the Niki de St. Phalle Firebird from its place in front of the Bechtler Museum to my front yard so that it could watch over me daily. Although that would be selfish, I can go hang out with the Firebird any time, even during self-isolation.

    4. My 1992 trip to Musee D’Orsay was transformative. My art exposure up to that point had been more or less limited to the twice-yearly Imaginus poster sales at my university. Thanks to the hours spent perusing those bins a few poster purchases, I was a burgeoning Monet fan by the time I graduated. I can still remember standing in front of the originals at the Musee D’Orsay, amazed that I was actually in the company of such masterpieces. It was there that I remember becoming a fan of Van Gogh. So I guess if I had to choose a pice to bring home, it might be my love at first sight, Van Gogh’s La nuit étoilée from the D’Orsay, a cousin to the more famous Starry Night.

    5. There’s three pieces I would appropriate. One is Klee’s transcendent “La Belle Jardiniere”–which I’ve never actually seen in person, but my poster of it mysteriously vanished when I moved from Menlo Park to Redwood City, and I still miss it.

      The second is Monet’s giant “Waterlilies” installation at l’Orangerie in Paris. It’s like music that the eye can see. As the poet Robert Hayden put it, “Here time and space exist in light / The eye like the eye of faith believes.”

      The third is the original Starship Enterprise, which has been lovingly restored and is now at the Air & Space Museum right here in D.C. Matt Jeffries got the proportions of it beautifully and magically right in 1966, and in my opinion no subsequent Enterprise has ever matched it. I know I can’t appropriate it, but it makes me very happy that I can just go look at it anytime I want.

    6. Ah, museums. The last time I was in a museum was March 7th, when I visited MoMA and had the most transcendent moment walking into a room filled with sculpture by Brancusi. I have a hard time deciding what I would steal, but from that visit, “The Dove” by Hilma af Klint really caught my eye–and would be livable. Less easy to live with, but astounding, was “The Charnel House” by Picasso. MoMA’s permanent collections, now expanded, are astounding, and they do a great job showing many more women’s artwork than they used to.

    7. My favorite museum experience? The Rodin sculpture garden at Stanford, a stone’s throw from the lab I worked in as a grad student. I’d occasionally have lunch in the garden by myself. Even as a young person, I knew how lucky I was to be there and savored the moment. I find that going through memories, like flipping through a card catalogue, provides quiet sustenance right now. I can feel the mild breeze and conjure up the bird calls and the calm of the garden.

    8. The blouse is truly lovely — charming and lady-like — and under a jacket would be fine for an in person work meeting. I naively thought that the time I used to invest in commuting, packing lunches, swim lessons and school pickups would equate to more personal time. But WFH takes more work and homeschooling… I keep thinking the next week is going to be easier.

    9. The Best exhibition I’ve seen? hmmn that’s hard. Possibly the Picasso restrospective at MOMA in the 70s. Far more recently an exhibition at The Jorge M Perez Collection in MIami called Time for Change – seen this past February. Favorite museum ever? Probably the Rodin Museum in Paris…. and as an artist thinking longing thoughts about when we’ll any of us be in these spaces again…

      and love that top!

    10. My two favorite exhibits: (1) 1993’s ‘Revisiting the White City: Chicago World’s Fair 1893’ (a joint National Portrait Gallery/National Gallery of American Art exhibit) — my office, then, was nearby, and I visited that exhibit multiple times while it was open; (2) 2013’s ‘Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes’ at the NGA; my younger daughter and I spent an entire day studying every costume and piece of scenery, watching every video, and reading every single sign; we were enthralled. Both exhibits told of a world in transition, and that sense of time not just past but passing, I think, was part of what lingered.

    11. Delighted to see Margaret Preston in your favourites!
      I’d love to have Francois Pompon’s Polar Bear, from the Musee d’Orsay. Not sure that he will fit into my apartment, mind you.
      Most memorable exhibition would be the Camille Claudel exposition at the Musee Rodin, although I find it very hard to believe that it was as long ago as 2008. Sonia Delaunay at the Tate is right up there though.

    12. The top is lovely and I would wear it over a white button down! Layers are your thing and they’ve become mine as well!

      So many galleries…one favourite – Mary Cassatt’s “Breakfast in Bed” on display in Pasadena CA at the Huntington Gardens.

    13. One memorable: the recent Hilma af Klint retrospective at the Guggenheim. It blew my mind. So prescient, so self-assured, and so beautiful.

      Art I’d steal: I was at MoMA a couple of days before it shut down and stumbled on their recently acquired Aidah Muluneh works. I would gladly make off with any of them! Check her out on Instagram.

    14. A memorable museum visit: I was visiting southern France for work (this almost never happens) and had tacked on an extra 24 hours in Paris before my flight back to the US. I arrived in Paris in the early evening and immediately went to the Lourve, where I got hopelessly lost in an exhibit of 14th century church art. There was a huge thunderstorm outside and I was was the only visitor wandering around statues of dead knights and saints. It’s tough to describe the atmosphere but it was simultaneously spooky and peaceful.

      • While I have seen bigger name exhibitions, “The Pre-Raphaelite Dream”, featuring paintings and drawings from the Tate, is my all time favorite. I have a fascination with all things Pre-Raphaelite. Adding to the wonder of the day, due to connections of a friend with kind intentions I got to see the exhibit in the company of the Dominican Sisters of St Cecelia. It was a Valentine’s Day excursion for the Sisters, and my then-unpartnered self had just the most wonderful time spending the day with them – first breakfast, then a slide lecture on the exhibit put on by an art history professor, then driven to and from the museum. I would never tell the husband, but I will tell internet strangers that it was the best Valentine’s Day ever.

    15. Las Meninas are all over in Spain. We stayed in Seville and one little plaza near the converted convent where we stayed had half a dozen statues of them. I like the abstract one that you chose. So my favorite museum(s) were those I saw in Spain, the Prado in Madrid and the Picasso Museum in Barcelona.

      If I’m at home then the Portrait Gallery is my favorite. They’ve always got something interesting lined up and I love the inner courtyard for the obligatory Coke after a long days’ viewing.

      • I love the NPG, too, RoseAG; it’s a lovely museum and the courtyard is even more wonderful with the Norman Foster roof.

    16. I was lucky enough to see a wonderful exhibit of works by many of the impressionists that toured to Melbourne about 13 years ago. I had just written a large university paper on the radical change they represented in the world of art as they pioneered painting en plein-air. (Outside). The gallery was full of room after room of paintings Cezanne, Monet, Manet, Degas, van Gogh, up to artists such as Pissarro. The waterlilies, the dancers, starry night and many other very famous works were there. It was breathtaking. I don’t know if I have been in a room so full of genius and history before. My absolute favourite was Manet’s haystacks. I stood in front of it on a dark winters evening and it seemed as though it was crackling with real living burning summer sun. The light that Manet was always trying to capture was there. I have a spot for the haystacks ready on my living room wall


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