Sunday, September 9, 2012

Thought Bubble

We finally hit the road into Chicago after a very late start because of hangovers and a hastily arranged lunch with an old friend.

My mother is in tow and we are heading to the Art Institute to see the Lichtenstein retrospective exhibit. This is my call. I want to see the exhibit, having developed an affinity for his work on a trip to New York nearly 20 years ago. I worry vaguely that my mother, who has invited herself along, and my sister will not appreciate this collection. Art appreciation is always a tricky thing; who can say what will resonate? My worries increase when whining begins because there is extra traffic on 290.

"We could just turn around and go shopping at Oakbrook," my sister says."No! We are going to the fucking Art Institute!" I unreasonably shout. "We can shop anytime. Besides, I don¹t have any money to shop." My mother giggles nervously in the backseat. She changes the subject to the recent health decline of one of her friends. This time her not-so-subtle attempts to avoid confrontation do not annoy me. She and my sister chatter on.

A personal Lichtenstein-esque thought bubble pops into my head: "...OH SISTER, YOU DO VEX ME SO." I think about all the bullshit things she made me do last time I visited her in Texas. She can suck it up and indulge me this trip to a world-class museum to see things that interest me.

We arrive at the museum and I march us directly to the Lichtenstein exhibit. While reading the exhibit overview, I decide that I will not attempt to discuss art with either of them while we move through the galleries. An alienation from my mother and sister swells to a grossly magnified giant comic-book cell of three women, caption reading: "...I WISH YOU UNDERSTOOD ME."

Apart from each other we move through the galleries. My mother appears bored. My sister looks critical. I tune them out and stare at the half-tone dots, lines and words, absorbing the work. How would I ever explain to anyone what this work means to me? I don¹t have to, I decide, thought bubble reading: "...OH BRAD, I JUST CAN¹T EXPLAIN MY FEELINGS."

Midway through the exhibit we enter the Mirror series. For me, this is Lichtenstein¹s most perplexing work and his most genius. My sister and I read the overview together and walk around. "I like these," she says. "He and I have the same opinion of mirrors," she continues. "How the mirror itself is art but what the mirror reflects is a work of art as well." For a fleeting moment my heart soars. She gets it! I am not alone. Conversation bubble: "...ME TOO!"

I say nothing. I nod in agreement. My mother chimes in. "These are my favorite too. This one is so big."

Could it be that they really do get what Lichtenstein is trying to represent about materiality and immateriality and the point at which both merge in your mind to become one? Could they really understand the paradox of perception that the mirror paintings evoke? Is their praise an oversimplification that creates its own paradox?

My own emotions are magnified one hundred times into an unrecognizable pattern. I draw a line through them and add a swath of turquoise. The resulting image doesn¹t need a thought bubble or a caption. I title it Satisfied Apathy.

We move on.

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