I don’t go to see modern art expecting to know what I am doing. This used to put me off and on a bad day it still will. However, I went to Madrid braced and ready to open myself up to the unfamilar territory of art and hoping I would learn something. Reminding myself to be patient and that I am entitled to experience something, even if I don’t grasp it in its entirety immediately, gives me the confidence to try. So I do try and I always take away something beneficial from the experience when I do.
In short, having any response to the art is enough to justify my attempt and being a human being, it is impossible for me to have no response at all.
This is very much the attitude with which I approached the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía. I have to admit, right at the beginning of this post, that after only two hours of persevering with appropriate contemplation I was relieved to finally step outside into the cool, refreshing night air of Madrid. I had been trying to find an exit for 10 minutes, having realised my brain had had enough of being confronted by white room upon white room and of being bashed with the big stick of modern art over and over again. As I stood outside I was overcome by a feeling of kinship and familiarity with the foreign streets of Madrid, their foreign bustle and chatter and even the ever present and somewhat terrifying volume of traffic.
I went to the museum for the last two hours of its day, where the entry was free. I preferred to think the hordes of other visitors (the free entry seemed popular) were approximately as bewildered by the prospect of modern art as I. That thought made me feel better, anyway.
I think I am slowly building up a mental schema for dealing with modern art. I have my methodology for exploring a gallery now. Having glanced at a plan and noted any names I know, I wander from room to room or cluster to cluster. Sometimes I follow what catches my eye, sometimes I follow other people. When I find myself in a room I purposefully tackle it in a non-linear fashion. Sometimes I zigzag across a room. Sometimes I just head for pieces I particularly like. Only if nothing really catches my attention do I make a conventional circuit.
On this visit I feel I managed to learn something about Cubism. I still don’t really enjoy te paintings, but having read the information cards I realised I both understand and agree with some of its philosophical underpinnings. This was interesting as I thought it was utterly alien. So I learnt a little something and expanded my world just slightly. By and large, however, I have decided I don’t like cubist paintings.
The things I like are thethings that move me, that evoke an emotional response. It never ceases to amaze me that inanimate things can convince me to feel. Even more fascinating is tracing back the chain of associations to unpick the journey started simply by my eyes alighting on a foreign object.
I encountered a cuboid metal frame with a colourful, slightly worn looking, striped canvas stretched in several zigzags between two upright, parallel faces of the cuboid shape. My first thought was of home. It brought to mind deck chairs and the traditional English seaside. To have an experience of such familiarity in the middle of a stark, minimalist modern art gallery in the middle of Madrid (so far out of my comfort zone and away from home in so many senses) stopped me in my tracks. There was also the contrast between that and the unfamiliarity of the object in question. It wasn’t really remotely like a deckchair. The harshness of the geometric lines, its metal framing and the suggestion of a conveyor belt had connotations of industry and mechanisation. I experienced discomfort on at least 2 planes. I found the experience of unpicking my emotional response absorbing and stimulating. Objectively I could see no reason why this object, of all the strange forms in the room, should speak to me, but it did.
The object I saw is a sculture by Alighiero Boetti and was part of the exhibition estrategia de juego and the link below shows what it looked like: