For the past several years, D and I have enjoyed visits to the New Britain Museum of American Art, a fine, medium-sized museum in our region. There’s much to love there, and we go often to see new exhibits and visit beloved individual works.
One of the museum’s better-known works is The Gravity of Color, a 2008 creation by Lisa Hoke (b. 1952), commissioned by the Museum for this space.
I've seen this work many times, and have had a sort of grudging appreciation for it.
But today, my understanding and appreciation for it was transformed.
It’s a large installation, dominating the main staircase, rising more than 20 feet from the floor. It’s impossible not to confront it as one moves from the first floor to the second:
I admit that I did not like this work for several years. (20,000 plastic and paper cups? Really?) But other people seemed to really enjoy it and on our visits I often observed people looking at it, often engaged in conversation about it with other observers. (Well, OK, you go ahead and enjoy it. But it’s not to my taste.)
Over the years, though, as the work became more familiar to me, I came to appreciate its inherent exuberance and cheerfulness, as well as the enjoyment it brought to other museum visitors.
But still, it always seemed to be ... well, a little over-wrought. The explanatory placard describes The Gravity of Color as “lyrical and elegant … whimsical and playful … thought-provoking and serious.” (Really? Playful and serious? This sounds more like a description of a "serious" wine!)
But still, it didn’t move me; it didn’t grab me; it didn’t make me stop on my way to the second floor galleries.
In our visit to the museum today, I purposefully spent some more time with The Gravity of Color, mostly (I admit) because the museum has announced that it will be taken down next week. I decided to take some photos (permitted) since I’d never see it again, and even if I didn’t really like it, it was an important piece for the museum.
And then something interesting happened.
As I framed and shot the photos, I began to perceive and experience the work in an entirely new way.
The work is all about color, of course – and yes, of course that had been obvious to me the first time I saw it – but now, in the frames of my photos, the colors came alive and seemed almost to have character. It's hard to explain how all of a sudden I saw the colors—
Generating energy and movement— Distilled—
Intensely focused— Functioning structurally—
And all of a sudden the whole thing came alive for me.
I wondered to myself … What would my experience have been if, the first time I had seen The Gravity of Color, it had been with camera in hand, framing and considering the parts as well as the whole? I’ll never know.