Saturday, June 21, 2008

Last chance for Marsden Hartley

Sunday is your last chance to see Marsden Hartley at the Boise Art Museum, and if you like modern art, it's a trip worth taking. In most of his pieces you can tell what it's a still life of or what part of the country this is a landscape of (some in New Mexico, some in Maine), but in others it's interesting to see his art get less representational from one painting to the next. The display statement next to the piece I've done a rendering of above, Waterfall, 1910, noted that Hartley removed the horizon line from the painting, making it more abstract and harder to read as a landscape.

I'm not sure what it is about modern art, but people feel compelled to talk to you about their theories about it. I was just getting started going through the first room when a group of people came in, including one very loud woman. "Self-portrait?" she announced, standing in front of a breezy charcoal sketch by Hartley. "Hmm. He woke up and didn't comb his hair." Thanks, lady. I hadn't planned on a guided tour. Another guy came up to me after I had moved on from a colorful painting of a forest that I had studied for a couple minutes. "Excuse me," he said. "How many faces did you see in that painting?" I replied that I hadn't been looking for faces, and said I saw trees instead. I joked that I might have missed the forest, and asked him how many faces he saw. "I see two," he said, and went out of his way to point out the one he thought was most obvious -- one he claimed was lying on its side on the bottom of the painting. I think I saw what he must have established as the face's eye, but for the record, I still don't see any faces. I'm not sure if it was the same man or another one, but in the final room of the Marsden Hartley exhibit, a guy walked up to me and said, "Seems like he was real interested in death. Dead birds over there, a dead friend," he said, gesturing. "Dead fish."

Hartley has a great use of shape and color, and even his pencil and charcoal sketches were interestingly rendered, but the imp in me quickly decided that Eight Bells Folly: Memorial to Hart Crane was my favorite piece. It looks like a giant sea serpent eating a ship, while a 12-eyed beast lurking underwater looks on. But don't rely on my wacko theory. Go to the museum Sunday and make up your own.

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