Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Yes, I'm home again -- trying hard to absorb the past ten days in some reasonable fashion and not succeeding very well...

I've sat down at my computer a number of times and given up before my fingers could take over. It's hard to describe -- this sense that my brain and the rest of me are operating at different levels -- barely related -- and at differing speeds.

Returned home on Friday after what seemed an endless flight across a nation made up of little more than cloud cover. Beautiful -- but the ephemeral billowing grey-white below us added to a sense of non-reality. Would I be able to hold it all without losing my sense of balance? Wasn't all that sure at times. Landing in Oakland at the end of the exhausting flight (had to help hold the plane up, of course) in a pouring rainstorm brought me back to some stability. The stormy weather cooled whatever magic spell I'd been under and life was quickly brought back to whatever normalcy I still enjoy.

Shall we start with Los Angeles on Friday, March 17th? Tom accompanied me to Southern California where we managed to visit the Armand Hammer Art Museum in Beverly Hills on Friday afternoon. What a collection! Saw the old masters again (Van Gogh, Matisse, Manet, Sargent, Chagall, etc.) and for a few minutes there couldn't see how on earth they could ever be equated with the modernists (Jackson Pollock, Warhol, Picasso, etc.), and shouldn't we have some other category through which to describe their works?

On Saturday we took ourselves out to visit the Getty Center high in the hills and overlooking the "river" below, that was the San Diego freeway and conceived as a part of the "art" presentation by the architect, Richard Meier. One has to ride a tram up the hillside to reach the museum made of Italian alabaster stones cut into a beautiful repetitive series of structures composed of squares. It is totally white except for a lovely violet arbor holding wisteria now dormant but beginning to bud. I had the feeling of what it must be like to visit the pyramids. The grandeur of the site and the magnificent buildings that make up the center are overwhelming.

We took the architectural guided tour. The hanging artworks were quite wonderful but were almost secondary to the edifice itself. Would like to return someday when I'm not so awed by the structure and can better lend myself to the art.

On Sunday, early in the day, we visited the Los Angeles County Museum for another great tour of the exhibitions. Despite the marvelous reputation of San Francisco's impressive museums and art collections, it was quite obvious to me that -- when compared to that of Southern California -- we're still in the throes of beginnings. Here we saw many of the modern masters, and, I had the feeling that the visit to the Getty had served to "clear the palate" and allowed me to better appreciate the modernists than if we'd gone straight from the Impressionists to Andy Warhol and Lichtenstein's cartoon art. That Campbell soup can just couldn't do it for me except as I could see it as a rebellion against tradition and a much-needed pushing of the envelope that freed us to see the world a bit differently.

Maybe it was because of the reason I was in Los Angeles at all -- for the ceremonies of the National Women's History Project later in the day -- I became very aware of the absence of women artists. In neither the extensive collections of the Hammer, the Getty, nor at the L.A. County Art Museum did I see the work of more than a single female artist. Only one Mary Cassatt was exhibited -- and that as part of the Hammer collection. Thought for a minute that I'd seen two, but the other turned out to be male with an ambiguous name.

The need to "...write women back into history" as stated in the written materials of the NWHP suddenly sang out to me as of critical importance. That I was going to be honored that very afternoon at the ceremonies at the Autrey Museum took on greater significance. I was going to become a part of that long-neglected history -- not only for myself, but for women as a class. The ten of us were going to be helping to make a place for women everywhere; a great honor, indeed. This feeling was reinforced as we visited the nation's capital a few days later and found ourselves overwhelmed by the glorification of war and the devastation of lost lives of the thousands of grave markers for the nation's young in Arlington Cemetery, the Korean War Memorial, that of World War II, and Vietnam. Testosterone reigns in what we've chosen to honor as national heritage -- and women and their participation and sacrifices for the country seemed only dealt with as an afterthought.

My comfort level with the process was beginning to grow -- and with any luck at all would increase enough to take me to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday.

And it did.

Photo: Vincent Van Gogh's "Irises," one of my favorite paintings.

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