Endlessly repeating, with legs

I did indeed go to the Museum of Fine Arts on my birthday, as planned, and I took the requisite shot of my legs reflected in the shiny base of Josiah McElheny’s “Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism,” a cube-shaped case containing rows of mirrored-glass bottles whose reflections repeat toward infinity. Given an endlessly repeating reflection, the temptation toward reflective photography is equally infinite, so it seems somehow fitting that I’ve revisited (and re-photographed) this same piece over and over and over.

Ad infinitum

Birthdays are a natural time for reflecting on the repetitive nature of our (sadly) finite lives: none of us, after all, is getting any younger. We might revisit (and re-photograph) the same artwork time and again, but we can’t step into the same proverbial river twice. The “me” who photographed this piece in 2014 is different—older, wider, but not necessarily wiser—than those earlier incarnations who photographed this piece in 2010, 2009, and 2008. Looking at those pictures, now, I can date them primarily by what I’m wearing: I no longer carry that purse; I still wear that skirt and boots; I no longer fit into those jeans; and I literally wore out those sandals, which the manufacturer sadly doesn’t make any more. “Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism” is part of the museum’s permanent collection, but everything around it (myself included) has done nothing but change since it was acquired.

Endlessly repeating, with legs

The illusion of McElheny’s piece, in other words, is that of objects endlessly repeating without changing: something that never happens outside the artificial realm of art. We humans repeat ourselves for a time, returning to the same scenes to do, think, and say roughly the same things over and over again…but our current selves don’t perfectly mirror our previous selves. Artworks, on the other hand, don’t have birthdays: they don’t gain weight, wrinkles, or gray hair, instead freeze-framing a particular moment in time that we changing and aging humans can never return to. Only in novels do portraits age instead of their subjects, Dorian Gray’s peculiar predicament being one that none of the rest of us share.


I recently finished Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, which tells the curious and convoluted story of Ursula Todd, a woman with endlessly repeating lives. Ursula has a seemingly infinite number of chances to live the life she was destined to lead: whenever her life takes a turn down a less-than-promising avenue, darkness falls and she is born again. Like the protagonist in the romantic comedy Groundhog Day, Ursula Todd has (and apparently needs) multiple chances to make the right choices in her life; the rest of us, it seems, are fated to botch and bungle our way without hope for an infinite number of re-tries.

Self-portrait with endless reflections

It might be tempting to wish for endlessly repeating lives, but perhaps we should be careful what we wish for. A few days before Henry David Thoreau died, he was asked by a family friend what he thought about the afterlife, and Thoreau famously replied “One world at a time.” Even without the hope or threat of endlessly repeating lives, our days repeat themselves with startling regularity: another day, another dollar; another year, another birthday. Some mornings when I’m taking the dogs to and from our backyard dog pen, I marvel at the cyclic redundancy of such mundane chores: surely in a past life I was a farmer tending livestock, my entire world revolving around the in-goes and out-goes of animal care. We might not have infinite lifetimes to attain our destiny, but we do have a lengthy repetition of days. What is a life, after all, but a collection of moments, “yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow” repeating themselves, one after another, for a certain spell, a finite resource not to be wasted.

Like a Styrofoam storm cloud

I’ve been doing a whole lot of nothing these past few weeks, trying to take full advantage of the time I have off from teaching. During the academic year, I keep busy juggling my face-to-face and online teaching obligations; during the academic year, there’s always something to do. My online classes started last week, and my face-to-face classes start next week, so soon enough, I’ll be neck-deep in paper-grading and other teaching tasks. But at the moment, I can let my brain lie fallow, a season of rest before the business of a full semester resumes.

Like a Styrofoam storm cloud

Initially, I felt a bit guilty for this year’s lazy lack of productivity. Most of the time, I feel obligated to get something done during academic breaks: this is, after all, a prime opportunity to focus on my own writing rather than my “day job.” But this year, I’ve felt the need to step away from the niggling urge to be perpetually productive. Sometimes you just have to leave your mind alone, and that’s largely what I’ve been doing these past few weeks. I’ve continued to write in my journal, and I’ve been reading a lot, but I haven’t been blogging or taking many pictures. (These images of Tara Donovan’s untitled installation of Styrofoam cups at the Museum of Fine Arts are a significant exception.) In time, my enthusiasm for writing and photography will return, I’m sure, but for the moment, I’ve been enjoying the rare (to me) luxury of being lazy.

Like a Styrofoam storm cloud

Farmers allow their fields to lie fallow for a season to restore soil fertility: even though Walt Whitman famously declared that “the earth never tires,” sometimes her creative energies become depleted. A fallow field is a blank page that quietly whispers “not yet” rather than “no.” A fallow field isn’t permanently retired: she hasn’t been put out to pasture like a swaybacked nag. Instead, a fallow field is simply resting, incubating in her earthy gut the promising seeds of future fecundity.

Like a Styrofoam storm cloud

After several days of unseasonably mild temperatures, we’ve lost most of our snow cover, leaving the rain-soaked earth as bare and muddy as in spring. Right now the grass in our backyard is a sickly shade of yellow-brown: fallow. Instead of mourning our lawn as dead, however, I know it’s merely dormant, marshaling its energies for an inevitable spring.

The birthday girl

It’s been a few years since I’ve kept my tradition of going to the Museum of Fine Arts on or around my birthday. (I took the above photo in 2010, when I celebrated my 41th birthday.) Today, though, is a perfect museum-going day. While much of the nation is in a deep-freeze, it’s unseasonably warm, rainy, and soupy-humid in Boston, with swirling wisps of snow-melt fog. What better day to celebrate one’s birthday inside where it’s warm and dry?

Giant baby head in snow

So today I have an afternoon date with John Singer Sargent, whose watercolors are on display at the MFA through January 20th. Water in the form of winter rains can leave you damp and shivering, or water in the form of watercolors can transport you to another time. On a gray and rainy January day, any influx of light and color is welcome.

Jeppe Hein's "Please..."

Yesterday I had a meeting at Northeastern University, so instead of taking the T straight to either the Northeastern or Ruggles stops, I got off at Fenway, walked along the Muddy River, then cut through the Museum of Fine Arts on my way to campus. I had time to look at just one exhibit–”New Blue and White,” a collection of contemporary works inspired by traditional cobalt-and-white ceramics—so I circled through that exhibit several times, looking at the pieces and taking pictures before I continued on to Northeastern, which is virtually across the street from the Museum.

Blue and White

This is what I like best about having a Museum membership: the ability to pop into the MFA on my way to something else, quickly checking out a single exhibit or simply enjoying an air-conditioned, beauty-rich reprieve on my way from Point A to Point B. When you spend an entire day at a Museum, you run the risk of museum-fatigue, your achy feet and glazed-over eyes feeling the effects of trying to cram too much culture into a single outing. But when you explore one tiny corner of a museum, there is little risk of fatigue. Instead of trying to swallow an entire smorgasbord, you can sip and savor just a small spoonful.

Blue and White

Museums work best, I’ve found, in small, frequent doses, not marathon cram sessions. When I was a graduate student at Northeastern in the 1990s, the University had an arrangement with the MFA where students and faculty got into the Museum free simply by showing their ID, and I took full advantage of this, going to the Museum whenever I had a break between classes and wanted a quick reprieve from the demands of juggling doctoral studies and teaching.

Blue and White

In retrospect, that habit of taking short trips to the MFA—either on my own or with my students, whom I’d give an assignment requiring them to find a work of art they liked, then write about it—was perhaps the most valuable thing I took from my years at Northeastern. For me, trying to “cover” an entire Museum in a single trip is too much like work: there’s too much to see, and there’s more than a bit of anxiety or guilt involved, as if it were a moral failing if you miss or improperly absorb something. It feels like a kind of failure—a stress-inducing thing—to try to cram an entire art education into a single session as if there were going to be a test afterward that you have to pass, or else.

Shooting blue

When you establish the habit of visiting a world-class art museum both frequently and casually, dropping in now and again, as you’re able, you come to see art itself not as an abstract or elite thing saved for special occasions when you’re feeling particularly cerebral. Instead, you come to see art fondly and even affectionately: an expression of natural creativity that belongs to the entire human family. Familiar, oft-visited pieces become dear to you, like extended family members you enjoy seeing again and again.

The works in “New Blue and White” reminded me of John Singer Sargent’s “The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit,” which stands flanked by the blue-and-white Japanese porcelain vases that appear in it.

The Daughters of Edward Darley Boit, by John Singer Sargent

Sargent’s “Daughters” is a painting that frankly makes me happy whenever I see it, and I’ve visited it more times than I care to count, first in the old wing, then in the new. Only when you’ve been to a single museum many times can you enjoy that kind of relationship with particular artworks, seeing someone else’s daughters (and the décor they posed against) as being part of your extended family.

Blue and White

“New Blue and White” is a temporary exhibit on view through Saturday, so I saw it just in time: the next time I drop by the Museum of Fine Arts, something else will be on display in its place. That is, of course, yet another reason to visit a museum early and often: in addition to the longtime friends you’ll see repeatedly, you’ll also meet works that, like you, are just passing through.

Click here to see more images from “New Blue and White.” The title of today’s post comes from Jeppe Hein’s sculpture featuring neon tubes spelling out the best way to enjoy a museum:

“Please enjoy relax steal dance touch flirt smoke wonder feel muse eat sing listen talk ask touch neon look communicate touch each other use camera flash.”

Michelangelo's Cleopatra

Last weekend, J and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts to see an exhibit of Michelangelo’s drawings and to wander the museum’s Art of the Americas wing. As we passed from the “old” to “new” wings of the MFA, we passed through the Shapiro Family Courtyard, where we saw hundreds of hand-sewn flags made by quilters around the world in response to the Boston Marathon bombings: a cheery installation aptly named “To Boston With Love.”

Shapiro Family Courtyard with quilt squares

It’s funny how the Shapiro Family Courtyard has evolved over the years since the “new” wing of the MFA opened in 2010. At first, the courtyard seemed like a looming and cold expanse–an empty and impersonal space to be endured as you passed from one half of the museum to the other–but then the addition of Dale Chihuly’s “Lime Green Icicle Tower” in 2011 gave the space both focus and warmth, like planting a big, towering tree in your backyard to liven up the space.

Lime Green Icicle Tower with quilt squares

The Shapiro Courtyard has come to feel like a backyard–Boston’s backyard–with a constant stream of patrons dining at the New American Cafe and an ever-shifting array of temporary exhibits brightening it. The hand-sewn squares of “To Boston With Love” underscore this homey feel, looking like laundry hung to dry between high-rise tenement apartments or colorful Tibetan prayer flags flapping in a lively Himalayan village.

To Boston with Love

Although I would have never dreamed of crisscrossing the Shapiro Family Courtyard with either laundry or prayer flags, the result is aesthetically delightful, creating a simultaneously cozy and cosmopolitan space where both neighbors and nations can congregate and find community.

Shapiro Family Courtyard

In addition to the handiwork of “To Boston With Love,” J and I saw three visiting masterpieces from New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art: “Northeaster” by Winslow Homer; “Lachrymae” by Frederic, Lord Leighton; and “The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil” by Edouard Manet.

Visiting masterpieces:  Homer, Leighton, Manet

Like the humble, hand-sewn flags of “To Boston With Love,” these three paintings were send to the MFA as a goodwill offering in the aftermath of the Marathon bombings. A tribute from the people of New York to the people of Boston, these three paintings were handpicked to either complement Boston’s permanent collection (Homer, Manet) or speak to the mood of grief that hung over the city in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy (Leighton).

Homer and Leighton

Visiting a museum is one way of figuring out your place in the world: given the creative endeavors of the ages, what contribution might you add, here and now? When quilters and museum curators heard of the Boston Marathon bombings, they had the automatic human response, wondering “What can I do to help,” and the automatic answer to this question, it turns out, is “Send what’s close to hand.”

The Monet Family in Their Garden at Argenteuil, by Edouard Manet

Museums are a great civic asset: not merely receptacles of tangible treasures, but places to see and be seen as you mingle with other museum-goers from near and far. Individually, few of us can afford to own a priceless masterpiece; collectively, though, we share a space where that wealth is openly enjoyed.

Admiring Michelangelo

Both the Metropolitan Museum and quilters from around the world shared their treasures with Boston during her darkest hour, and I for one would like to return the compliment by sending warm greetings and gratitude from Boston, with love.

Quilt squares for Boston

The drawings of Michelangelo: Sacred and Profane will be on exhibit through June 30, and both “To Boston With Love” and the three visiting masterpieces from the Met will remain on view through July 7. If you can’t make it to Boston, click here to view my photos from last weekend’s visit to the MFA: enjoy!


Yesterday J and I took the T into Boston to go to the Museum of Fine Arts, where we saw Paul Cezanne’s “The Large Bathers,” which is currently on loan from the Philadelphia Museum of Art, as well as an exhibit of samurai armor. Although I don’t know much about Cezanne or the samurai, I was enchanted by both exhibits, albeit in entirely different ways.

Admiring Cezanne

Cezanne’s “Bathers” are calmly monumental with their bold, blurry pastels. Although the painting is in oil, Cezanne creates a watercolor-like effect that is simultaneously provocative and mesmerizing: the kind of painting you could study for an eternity, drawn into the depths of its soothing pastoral vision.

Side by side

Displayed alongside Paul Gauguin’s equally evocative “Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going,” Cezanne’s “Bathers” represents a turn away from the classical nude, which seems almost too-perfect in its idealized timelessness, and toward a more embodied Modernist vision. The bodies Cezanne and Gauguin depict look like actual, earthly bodies at rest, and it seems natural to rest a while in their presence.

Cezanne and Gauguin

The pieces of samurai armor currently on display at the MFA, on the other hand, are almost cartoonishly quirky, and I immediately fell in love with them. After walking through several galleries containing glass-case examples of helmets, breastplates, shin-guards, and other armature, J and I entered a room with two life-size free-standing displays: on one side, a trio of fully-bedecked warriors galloping on heavily-armored steeds…


…and on the other, a gang of walking warriors, their ornate armature letting enemies know in an instant that these guys mean business.


When you look like a bad-ass space alien and carry a big sword, you can let your appearance do the talking.


This is the last week of the semester at Framingham State, which means I’ll be swamped with paper-grading for the next two weeks. It felt good to take a virtual vacation at the MFA yesterday, traveling first to France to lounge with Cezanne and then to imperial Japan to stand with samurai. I’ve set the photo at the top of this post as my desktop background: a silent reminder to stay samurai strong over the next few, tiring weeks.

Click here to see my complete photo-set from yesterday’s MFA outing. Enjoy!

Persian Ceiling

Long-time readers of “Hoarded Ordinaries” might remember the entry I posted after seeing the glass flowers at the Harvard Museum of Natural History in March, 2006. Crafted by 19th century glass artisans Leopold and Rudolph Blaschka, these botanical specimens amazed me with their life-like detail. “Hearing the phrase ‘glass flowers,’” I wrote, “I imagined the objects on exhibit would look like glass first and flowers second: pretty, colorful, and entirely artificial looking, more art than science.” What I’d expected when I went to see the Blaschkas’ glass flowers, in other words, was something like the work of Dale Chihuly.


The countless flower-like forms in “Through the Looking Glass,” the exhibit of Dale Chihuly’s glass sculptures at Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts through August 8th, are exactly what the Blaschkas’ flowers aren’t. Commissioned by a botany professor in 1886, the Blaschkas’ glass flowers are realistic specimens that capture plant anatomy in painstaking detail. Dale Chihuly’s flowering forms, on the other hand, suggest the color and shape of flowers as seen in a dream. The Blaschkas captured the anatomical details of plants as they are, and Dale Chihuly captures the contours and colors of flowers as they could be. “These are flowers,” you might say in response to the Blaschkas’ handiwork; of Chihuly’s specimens, “these are flowers on drugs.” Any questions?

Piled platters

“It’s like standing inside a kaleidoscope,” one museum-goer observed. “It’s like something out of Willy Wonka,” another woman noted. Stepping into Dale Chihuly’s fertile, flowering world, you’re forced to resort to metaphor, the forms before you not quite matching anything you’ve seen before. “It kind of looks like a cactus,” one visitor said in reference to Chihuly’s “Lime Green Icicle Tower,” and I overheard other onlookers comparing various pieces to fruit, candy, and an entire menagerie of exotic, sinuous creatures.

Turning the corner to consider the room-length wilderness of “Mille Fiori,” for instance, you might as well leave language at the door, the forms before you suggesting a hybrid riot of animal, vegetable, and miracle.

Mille Fiori

“Oh, my!” was how one child described it, and she stole the words right out of my mouth. Is this a marsh filled with reedy tangles or an exploded candy-factory offering a wealth of candy canes and rainbow-hued jawbreakers?

Mille Fiori

Time and again, I heard parents quizzing their wide-eyed youngsters: “Which one is your favorite?” And time and again, I heard children resorting to fanciful descriptions: “The pink snaky one!” “The one that looks like licorice!” “The peppermint!” Adults, too, pointed, gesticulated, and struggled to categorize what they saw. A debate arose, for instance, around a huddle of pointy-ended black blobs: were they tubers, snails, seals, or shrews? Unlike the Blaschkas’ glass flowers, which are politely labeled with genus and species, the creations in Chiluly-Land defy categorization, blurring the boundary between plant and animal, actual and imaginary. This ain’t your Grandma’s flower garden, but a psychedelic romp through a land of light and color.

Persian Ceiling

As if the thousand flowers of “Mille Fiori” weren’t mind-boggling enough, the glowing expanse of Chihuly’s “Persian Ceiling” evokes an other-worldly, aquatic realm. Are these underwater flowers, terrestrial jellyfish, or translucent denizens of a yet-to-be-discovered planet?

Persian Ceiling

The Blaschkas themselves made glass invertebrates–”jellyfish, anemones, planarians (flat worms), polychaetes (tube-dwelling worms), sponges, radiolarians and assorted molluscs”–that reside in Dublin’s Natural History Museum, which I visited in February, 2006…but again, the Blaschkas’ crystal jellies are worlds apart from Chihuly’s aquatic creatures. The Blaschkas captured the weird colors and stunning shapes of creatures that actually exist: their work mesmerizes because it suggests things you might see if you traveled the world with open eyes. Chihuly’s work, on the other hand, offers a fantastic glimpse into a world that never was: the muscae volitantes of imagination’s eye.

Persian Ceiling

Click here for more photos of Dale Chihuly’s “Mille Fiori,” or click here for more images of his “Persian Ceiling.” Click here to see a complete photo-set from Chihuly’s exhibit at the MFA. Enjoy!

Bird's eye view

Yesterday I went to Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts to see “Through the Looking Glass,” an exhibit of Dale Chihuly glass sculptures on view through August 8th. By far the largest of the sculptures on display is the 42-foot-tall “Lime Green Icicle Tower,” which looms in the enclosed Shapiro Family Courtyard between the MFA’s old and new wings: a spiky spire of neon-green goodness.


Before seeing the “Lime Green Icicle Tower” in person, I’d read about the MFA’s campaign to purchase the piece, which costs more than a million dollars. “Through the Looking Glass” has been an inordinately popular show, with weekend crowds queuing for hours for a turn inside the exhibit’s riotously colorful galleries. Now that so many museum-goers have seen Chiluly’s work–and now that so many museum-goers have seen how the “Lime Green Icicle Tower” perfectly decorates the Shapiro Family Courtyard’s otherwise bland, empty expanse–it’s only natural to ask those appreciative crowds to chip-in for the sculpture’s purchase.

Stairway photo op

Having snapped a handful of pictures of ol’ Limey when I first arrived at the MFA yesterday, I found myself photographing him again and again from every angle and seemingly at every turn. The “Lime Green Icicle Tower” is one of those monumental pieces that seems so at-home in its present location, I can’t imagine the space without it.

From below

On the MFA website, there’s a short, time-lapse video of the installation of the “Lime Green Icicle Tower”: like an artificial Christmas tree, “Lime Green” was assembled branch by branch, starting at the base and working upward. Now that “Through the Looking Glass” is entering its final week, I hate to imagine crews tearing down ol’ Limey branch by branch, sending his pieces packing. Like a neon-green tree or spiky glass cactus, the “Lime Green Icicle Tower” has set down roots here in Boston, and I for one want him to stay.

Base reflection

Am I willing to put my money where my mouth is on that point? You bet your lime green icicle tower. Although the MFA has a page online where you can donate toward the sculpture’s purchase, and although cell-phone users can donate $10 by texting the word TOWER to 50555, I chose to make my contribution the old-fashioned way by dropping some cold green cash into one of the courtyard’s donation boxes.

Like individual branches assembled to form a towering green spire, your donation plus my donation plus every other museum-goers’ donation adds up to something enormous.

Click here to view my complete photo-set of Dale Chihuly’s “Lime Green Icicle Tower.” I’ll share the rest of my photos from “Through the Looking Glass” over the next week, as I’m able to sort through them. In the meantime, this is my contribution to today’s Photo Friday theme, Enormous.

Japanese garden

This morning I found the following entry in an almost-empty notebook: an essay I’d written on a day I’d gone fishin’ at the Museum of Fine Arts back in August, 2009. This is one of the things I like about keeping a journal. At any given moment, you can turn the page to rediscover something sensational you wrote then subsequently forgot.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Japanese garden

The judge was nearly an hour late. I don’t remember much from the divorce hearing that ended a nearly 13-year marriage, just as I don’t remember much from the modest wedding–just immediate family and a handful of friends–that began it. But I remember the judge being late.

It was October: too early for weather delays, but old cars break down year-round. Presumably my judge–funny how spending five minutes with a man will make you feel possessive of him–drove an old, unreliable car, as the bailiff seemed nonplussed when he announced the delay.

On that October morning, my judge was late–nearly an hour late–to my divorce hearing, and I fretted in the plain, paneled courtroom with its lawyers and tense-looking couples, none sitting next to the other, that the judge wouldn’t show up, my court date would be postponed, and after almost 13 years of marriage, I might have to wait a few extra days or even several weeks to end it all officially.

Japanese garden

Marriage and divorces are both peculiar things. We place such value on the inexplicable power of brief, spoken sentences, as if words had the power to effect instantaneous and miraculous change. “I do” is the incantation that starts it all: so much tumult and transformation curled into two short syllables, an entire life–two entire lives–changing irrevocably in the space of a single breath.

My practiced line at my divorce hearing–my divorce hearing, not ours, the simple choice of pronouns saying everything–was much longer, but just as life-changing. When asked by the belated judge–my judge–what was the cause of this uncontested divorce–a dissolution so banal, my soon-to-be ex-husband didn’t even drive from out-of-state to be divorced in person–I was instructed by my lawyer not to tell the most dangerous of things: the truth. Instead, the magic incantation that would move my belated judge to sign the magical paper dissolving nearly 13 years of marriage was “irreconcilable differences have caused the irremediable breakdown of this marriage.”

Japanese garden

It’s a mellifluous-sounding statement, sufficiently grounded in legal terminology to sound official, “I quit” or “It’s over” sounding too impetuous. A line like the one I rehearsed was complicated enough that you did have to practice it to sound convincing. You didn’t just utter it in the heat of passion or on a whim; if you could say it with a straight face, presumably you meant it.

Reality, of course, is never as simple as even the complex lines we practice in advance.

Japanese garden

The real answer to my judge’s simple question of why would have been much messier had I allowed myself the dangerous luxury of truth. Why did my ex and I divorce? At the time, I’m not sure I could have explained something as simple as why. Who was to blame, he or I? Had we married too young? Had he starved me with emotional neglect, or had I choked him with unrealistic expectations? Did our marriage die under the inestimable weight of lingering resentments and reality-crushed dreams? Was either, both, or neither of us to blame?

“Irreconcilable differences” is a convenient shorthand for the most terrifying utterance of all: “I don’t know.” When I told my mother about my impending divorce, she told me, repeatedly, not to blame myself. “You can’t see yourself as being a failure,” she insisted again and again. “These things happen; you haven’t failed.” These weren’t the words I expected from my long-married, devoutly Catholic mother: surely someone had to have caused even a presumably no-fault divorce, and who better to blame than the only partner present in that blandly paneled courtroom?

Japanese garden

I’ve tried hard these past five years not to blame myself–not to blame my ex–not, in a word, to blame. It’s incredibly difficult, though. That question of why still lingers, and pointing to “irreconcilable differences” feels like a cop-out. What have I learned from the end of an almost-13-year marriage? What mistakes did I make then that I might avoid in the future? On the one hand, I mustn’t see either myself or my ex as having failed–I mustn’t stoop to the vindictive level of blame. And yet on the other hand, if I don’t study my mistakes, how can I avoid repeating them?

You can’t simultaneously excuse yourself from blame and learn from your mistakes, although I’ve spent nearly five years trying to do both. These two ideas and the impulses they inspire, I’ve found, are simply irreconcilable.

Click here for more images of the Japanese garden, or here for images of the giant baby heads, or here for images from inside the Museum of Fine Arts, all of them taken the same day I wrote this subsequently-forgotten notebook entry in August, 2009. Enjoy!

Wrapped and falling

This weekend a friend and I went to the Museum of Fine Arts, where we viewed the Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit which is ending next month, as well as a visiting Van Gogh which is similarly poised to gogh. Both of these exhibits were a bit disappointing, failing to meet my expectations. The Toulouse-Lautrec exhibit was in a hallway, so it was difficult to get and stay into the mood of Parisian cafes and cabarets with other Museum patrons constantly moving to and fro. The mood could have been “Parisian sidewalk cafe,” I suppose, if there had been tables at which we could have sat and contemplated the art over coffee and croissants. Instead, it felt like trying to look at art at a shopping mall, with passersby bumping into browsers at every step.

Do not open 'til renovation is complete

The visiting Van Gogh had lovely accommodations, hung at the head of the museum’s Impressionist gallery, which has remained untouched by the Museum’s ongoing renovations. A low barrier indicated that this particular Van Gogh was Special, different from the other Van Goghs and Monets that typically hang in this room: don’t get too close! But the painting itself was a disappointment: so very small, with its eponymous sower dominating one half of the canvas while an ominously dark tree towered over the other half. The sower, in a word, was too large and the landscape around him too small. I’m biased, of course: my proclivities run toward landscapes, not portraits, and my favorite Van Goghs are his wheat fields, where human figures factor only insignificantly, if at all.

Wrapped in plastic

The highlight of our brief visit was purely accidental: the sight of several works from the permanent collection wrapped in cellophane to protect them from dust and damage during renovation. Last year, one wing of pottery was swaddled against jack-hammer vibrations, with squat works circled with tubular sandbags while taller pieces were carefully laid down on cushions (or removed to storage) lest they topple and break. This weekend, the hanging figures of Jonathan Borofsky’s I Dreamed I Could Fly, which I’ve photographed often, were wrapped in cellophane and tape, still suspended from a sky-lit ceiling, and another sculpture was thickly wrapped in opaque layers of plastic. The Calder mobile by the stairwell was gone rather than wrapped, and the mirrored glass case containing Josiah McElheny’s Endlessly Repeating Twentieth Century Modernism (another work I’ve often photographed) was boxed in cardboard and securely taped: a “Do Not Open ’til Renovation Is Over” present.

Although I went to the MFA this weekend specifically to see two temporary exhibits, it was this disguised portion of the permanent collection which surprised and tickled my fancy: a jolt to my aesthetic expectations. All it takes, apparently, is a new outfit to remind me of the fact that everything old can be instantly new again.

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