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February 10, 2022 - By Joy Reed Belt

"Untitled (Marfa Project)" by Dan Flavin

This past Sunday, I was surprised and heartened to see a cartoon in the “Oklahoman” which depicted a teacher who decided to organize a field trip to an art Gallery for her elementary students. Upon entering the Gallery the teacher spots a painting she likes and says, “Look children, this is a nice one.” Her comments are immediately interrupted by the exhibiting artist, “Kletch,” who is lurking nearby, and says: “Nice? NICE” ???!!! Madam, you LOOK but you do not SEE!, I Kletch, as a Visionary, do not DO ‘NICE!” This (my work) is a comment on the inevitable future and the unspoken past! This entire series is on Pain, Anger, Lust and Greed! Deep messages abound!! This is the genius behind any work by Kletch!” The photo in the last frame of the cartoon is of the teacher exiting the gallery and saying to the students “Next time children we will visit a cartoonist.” Meanwhile Kletch is in a corner sobbing because “Nobody understands Kletch.”

The disparity between an artist’s intent in creating art and what the viewer sees when they view the art, is something we experience every day in our Gallery. We often find ourselves being asked to explain or interpret the art we have on display. While I think it is important for the viewer to experience a work of art on a deeply personal level, when asked, I will endeavor to explain the artist’s intent, inspiration and creative process. I usually point out that there are at least two entirely different points of view to be considered when interpreting art, the artist’s and the viewer’s. Both are valid and both are important.

"A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby," by Kara Walker

I remember the first time I visited Marfa, Texas and viewed the sculptural objects and installations created out of commercially available fluorescent lights created by Dan Flavin. For those of you who are not familiar with Marfa, it is an art town located in the desert about 60 miles from the Mexican Border. Two classic movies, “Giant” and “There Will Be Blood” were filmed there. But it is the carefully curated and installed minimalist art that Judd strategically placed throughout a deserted army base that has a riveting drop-dead impact on the viewer. At least it did for me. Making a pilgrimage to that sparse terrain filled with remarkable art, causes the viewer to have an artistic and emotional experience that is difficult to replicate anywhere else. Kara Walker’s site-specific exhibition which was installed in an old Domino sugar factory in New York a few years ago has a similar impact on the viewer. Unfortunately, I did not see that exhibit except in photographs, but I am told that viewing her mammoth sculptures in that industrial environment had an impact on the viewer similar to viewing the carefully placed minimalist work in Marfa.

Most of the time we view art in a gallery, museum or in our homes. The physical limitations of those spaces require that we engage our creativity and actively participate in really seeing the art. If it is really true that a painting can mean what you want it to mean, then you might want to ask yourself some questions about the art you already own or are considering purchasing. For instance: 1.) What does that particular piece of art say to me? 2.) What was the artist trying to say or capture? 3.) Why does that piece of art appeal to me? And if you already own the work 4.) Would I buy that work of art again? If so, why? If not, why not?

"A Subtlety, or the Marvelous Sugar Baby," by Kara Walker

When visitors to the Gallery talk with me about how they can go about building a private collection, be it ever so modest, my best advice is when a work of art speaks to you intellectually and emotionally, try to make that artwork a permanent part of your life. If you can’t afford to purchase a painting that really has an impact on you, ask the dealer if you can put the art on layaway and pay it out over time. In all these years I have never regretted buying a work of art, but I do think about works of art that I either did not buy, or increasingly, works of art that I have sold to someone else, with regret, ask any of the Gallery staff and they will be quick to tell you that the first words out of my mouth after someone leaves is, “I should have bought that.”


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