Every year the annual Delta Exhibition at the
Leave it to good old Binx to put the feeling into plain English, or rather plain, palpable, crunchy-as-peanut-brittle N'awlins Suthuhn. He savored the poignancy, the perspective, of what he called a repetition, the different frame of reference that a period of time provides -- as in time-lapse photography.
It's the perspective offered by seeing the same old movie over a lapse of years, which is what "The Moviegoer" of the book's title does. The movie doesn't change, but we do. Try it, you might like it -- or hate it. Some of us can't stand just to be still and see; we've got to be up and about and doing or at least discussing -- before we start thinking too much.
Better to just stay busy. Busy at what may not be clear, and maybe we don't want it to be. But better, much better, to have things to do, places to go, items to scratch off the list. Pause to reflect and we're lost.
A repetition. The word certainly applies to an annual visit to the Delta show, which has been put on for 56 years now.
My own pick for Best of Show, whatever judges much better versed in these matters have decided, is "Old Man With Hat" -- graphite and charcoal on paper, 42 inches by 60 inches. It's by
What caught my eye about "Old Man With Hat" is the hat, a worn black derby like the one my grandfather wore. Wore? Meaning something he could put on and take off? But as far as I could tell as a child, he never took it off. Which figures. An orthodox Jew from the old country, he kept his head covered. Always, as far as I knew. The old black derby was as much a part of him as his carefully trimmed goatee.
When we would drive up to
All of that came back as I studied "Old Man With Hat," who seemed so old and worn and wise, and familiar. The texture of it -- was that a straw in the old man's mouth? And what was that large black circle on his threadbare coat? Had he just come from a funeral? Whatever it represented, the picture wouldn't be the same without it, that is, perfect. The balance, the composition, the weight of felt experience carried naturally.
The drawing is much too old-fashioned a kind of art to win prizes any more. It's the kind of picture that tells a story, or at least invites memories and questions. It's a portrait whose presence I'd like to have around, where I could sense it every morning on arising. Then the picture, silent, watchful, would be there -- much like Zeyde Chaim. Or a guardian angel.
This year's Delta Exhibition is full of favorite artists from years past -- like
The rest of the extensive show? Despite a thing of beauty and a relief here and there (see
Some of the exhibits seem only elaborate but not very funny jokes, like "Victory Leading the Coneheads," an updated adaptation of Delacroix's "Liberty Leading the People" -- tricolor, heroic poses and all. So much painstaking trouble expended to so little effect. Well, maybe a little chuckle. A very little chuckle.
My own nominee for a salon des refuses would be a construction: a very clean wash-bucket surrounded by an oval of even cleaner little sandbags, or at least I think they're sandbags. They could be sponges. It's another example of the Andy Warhol style or lack of it.
I take the liberty of looking for a broom closet at the museum, and find one full of cleaning supplies -- bucket with wringer, mops and all. It's much superior as a work of art compared to the faux one on exhibit. For it's not just realistic but real, a thing of use and beauty, its texture and even informal composition a work of, yes, art -- intended as such or not.
Maybe this is the long heralded End of Art, for these afterthoughts attached to the annual show might be just that -- if only they were significant enough. They represent the triumph not of some terrible anti-art (they're not striking enough for that), but just the substitution of merchandising for art, of Warhol Art for the real thing.
He called it Business Art, and defined it with unabashed, even admirable, candor: "Business art is the step that comes after art. I started as a commercial artist, and I want to finish as a business artist. Being good in business is the most fascinating kind of art. During the hippie era people put down the idea of business. They'd say 'money is bad' and 'working is bad.' But making money is art, and working is art -- and good business is the best art."
Forget all that highfalutin stuff about man being the measure of all things; it's money.
Once again the Delta Exhibition surprises and doesn't, delights and disappoints, just the way an annual show should. It offers both art and a glimpse of the end of it in our little post-Warhol, post-meaning era. It's art as merchandising, or as an inside joke I don't get, philistine that I am. ... And the repetition is complete. Till next year.