by Itamar Dias.
He was a friend of mine and we were in Stuttgart. Stuttgart is a remote city in the middle of Germany, located between somewhere and nowhere, and it is internationally famous for its ballet, its opera, its orchestra and its museums. Besides that you can still see some castles, monuments and thousands of pedantic people.
We went into the Kunstmuseum Stuttgart and it was really remarkable. As well as all the classical paintings (and there are a lot of preciosities there) it has one floor entirely dedicated to contemporary art. I decided to start with that floor and my friend, who is one of those people who understand more about brands of clothes than paintings agreed to accompany me. He is one of those people who march through the museum rooms as if the masters were noticing their presence and take a quick look at all the canvases, ignoring who is who, and striking that pose which people who “understand” art do. Until you find a Van Gogh. And when you say “there is a Van Gogh there” they perk up, run to the painting and stop to try to understand what the artist could be thinking when he painted that picture and showing that respectful semblance which people who “understand” art do when they see a Van Gogh.
There were some strange and curious paintings on that floor which was also full of strange and curious sculptures, videos and a number of instalations. My friend passed the works more interested to know which restaurant we would be going to afterwards or maybe thinking about what trendy gift he would buy for his fiancée. He ignored the instalations while I entered every single one. After wandering there for some minutes he stopped in front of a very interesting sculpture, looked at me and declared:
“I don’t like it”.
I had to reply: “But you didn’t come here to like. You came here to look.”
He looked startled and said:
“Now what? What do you mean?”
I had to explain to him that we were in one of the most important museums in the world and if those works of art were there they had doubtlessly been chosen among thousands of other pieces by curators who weren’t be there by chance but through merit and they probably knew much more about contemporary art than all the visitors who were in the museum at that moment, including us.
I still had enough patience to say: “Don’t try to understand art. Don’t keep talking in front of a painting as if they were meant to be ‘talked about’. If they were, the artist would write words on the canvas instead of using images.”
Since he was looking at me as if I were expulsing him from some sacred temple I took advantage of that and went deeper: “Just look. Just stop and look. Your brain and your heart will do the rest by themselves.”
He must be saying those words to someone now. But I doubt whether they make sense.
Contemporary artists didn’t come into this world to please people. Mannerist times have been gone and for more than a hundred years. Modern-day artists give back what they feel or think about society in different ways, some of them agressive, some illogical, some allegorical, some outrageous, some abstract. People who “understand” art don’t understand that contemporary art is not made to be “understood”. The works are what they are, whether you like them or not.
I remember one day when I was in Amsterdam, at the Van Gogh Museum. There was a couple of those ugly American teenagers looking at one of Van Gogh’s self-portraits. The girl looked, looked, looked and said to her boyfriend: “Ugly”.
And I am still thinking if Van Gogh would give a damn about that.
Photo: Otto Freundlich (1878-1943), “Ascension”, 1929.