Honorary Docent Lost

Lughnasa                                                           Honey Moon

Back in the MIA yesterday morning before my lunch with Tom.  Wandering around, absorbing the images and the galleries, felt good–but unfocused, I was unclear as to my purpose for being there.

(5th century painting, Poet on a Mountain Top by Shen Zhou.  not in MIA collection)

A long segment of a Chinese scroll, a landscape of black and white mountains, exhibited in a narrow corridor beside the Wu reception hall, sent me into a wistful, calm place and a sudden realization why I like Asian art, especially Chinese and Japanese.  Much of it is soothing, contemplative.

As these thoughts and feelings slowly tumbled down the stream of my experience, I came to an explanation of this “spilt ink” and discovered the scroll had been done by a literati artist waiting for his son at a mountain monastery.  His son was overdue and he felt, he said, “Lonely and sad.”

The exhibition, “Sacred”, has pieces scattered around the atrium on the second floor, some mostly installed, others not.  It focuses on surfaces, as an art exhibition must:  clothing, dance, fluids, walking.  This is something I’ve learned recently, that the modern was a turn toward keen appreciation of the surface of things, logical since philosophy from Kant on down has hammered away at our inability to see the thing in itself, the real behind our perceptions, leaving us with what our senses bring to us, the surface of things.

Modern science, Darwin being a keen example, constructs its wonders on observation and recognizes that it cannot explain what it cannot apprehend.  Yes, there is lots of inference, electron fields, quantum action at a distance, the brain/mind link, but about these things we recognize only what we can measure about them, that is, apprehend. There is no other tool.

So, yes, I understand the “Sacred” exhibition’s focus on the surface of things, but it will not, cannot touch what causes a man to wear a chasuble or a yarmulke.  It will not show the Shiva who dances in the heart of the faithful Hindu or the Buddha mind of the adherent inspired by the Thai walking Buddha.  It will, in this regard, I think, fall several measures short of its mark.  Too facile, too straight forward.  A nice try but not bent enough to capture the mysterium tremendum, the awe that comes with the experience of the holy.