Artist’s Dates 10 and 10A: My Date with Adam Gopnik

I love Adam Gopnik.  I want to be him when I grow up.  Well, not him exactly.  I want to be me – living  his life.  My life, really.  Which is a convoluted way of saying that his style of writing, and many aspects of his life, (writing for The New Yorker, living in Paris) resonate strongly for me.

I had an Artist’s Date with him last Thursday.  Artist’s Day 10-A. 

Me, Adam and a couple hundred others who also showed up for his talk at the Art Institute, “Picasso Not in America” – one of several events kicking off the “Picasso and Chicago” show.

Advance reservations for the free talk “sold out” weeks ago.

Like a good groupie, I arrive two hours early – hoping to snag a “day of” ticket.  Not unlike when I was 16 and slept outside of Record Outlet – hoping to nab the best David Bowie tickets I could afford as soon as the box office opened. 

I make a beeline through the ancient Greek Art to the Rubeloff Auditorium. A couple, roughly my parents’ age, are pressing a staffer with polka-dot tights and a clipboard about tickets.

I sidle up next to them.  Like I did with the American family in the Frankfurt train station nearly 20 years ago.

I am 25, a reporter.  It is my first time overseas.

I am confused by the constantly changing train numbers running on a single track.  I notice an English-speaking family and move towards them.   I ask if I am in the right place for the train to Bonn.

They are going to Bonn!  And they embrace me as their own, chatting me up the entire ride and on the platform when we arrive.

My contact tentatively approaches me.  He isn’t sure I am the young, American reporter he is sent to fetch.  “You didn’t seem lost,” he says.

I wasn’t.  Nor am I now.  Polka dot tights returns, hands each of us a ticket from a stack, and tells us the doors will open in an hour.

I head to the basement for “Recent Textile Acquisitions 2004-2011.”   It is a small collection.  About a dozen or so pieces.  Not a lot of foot traffic.

There are tapestries and shawls from Turkey and India.  Buddhist Priest robes from China and Japan.  I linger in front of series of cartoon-esque horses in different “poses” – designed in America in the 1950s.   A Marimekko swath from Finland.  And an arts-and-crafts piece from England.  A simple applique of trees, clouds, boats and the words “Ships That Pass in the Night.” 

I think of the artist who still occasionally occupies space in my brain.  He’s more a squatter than an actual tenant.  I think of all of the people who have come into my stratosphere for what feels like a moment.  Change my life.  And then continue on.

I get to the Gopnik lecture just as the doors open – a copy of Paris to the Moon tucked into my bag … just in case there is an opportunity to meet him.  There isn’t.

Gopnik is bright, articulate, clever – as I expected.  He talks about America’s fascination with Picasso.  And that Picasso never came to America – ergo, “Picasso Not in America.” 

He talks about the American ex-patriots who befriended Picasso.  How they were viewed as sophisticates in America, but to Parisians they were dolts.  His experience living in Paris mirrors this.

He talks about years of speculation – “just what IS the untitled Picasso in Daley Plaza?”  Is it the face of his lover – two profiles facing one another?  Is it his dog?  Is it both?  Like the “Do you see the young woman with the hat or the old woman with the scarf in this picture?”

He questions if the modern-art skeptics are right.  That we’ve all been “had.”  That maybe a five-year-old could make this.  That perhaps we modern-art fans take ourselves way too seriously.  That the ideas and ideals we hold to so strongly have done nothing but create new boundaries.  A new “normal” to buck against. 

It’s all about perception.  All of it.

At least that’s what I think he said.

I think about my high-school Spanish teacher, Senor Pilot.  How he called me Picasso because my hair was pink and my lipstick was blue and I wore pillbox hats and clothing from another era.  “You look like a Picasso…except your nose should be over here,” he would say, motioning to my cheek or my chin.

I think about my discarded fine arts education and career.  About how to live a life like Gopnik’s.  Like my own.

I think about the exhibit itself, and the lecture I attended on Monday (Artist’s Date 10).  About what I know now.

That Picasso’s blue period reflected not only his emotional state, but also his financial position – as blue paint was notoriously cheap. 

That Mother and Child – the big, bulbous, almost Flinstone-y pinky characters at the beach – once included a father.  Pic asso cut him out in the final painting.  But he is shown here.  Framed separately and hung to the left of the original.  A space between them.

That Picasso illustrated books.  And a series of poems.  The latter, oversized gorgeous letters wrapping around a single image.  Black and white on pages far too big for binding.  I have never seen them before.  I have no idea what is written.  But I like the way it looks.  I like the idea of it.  It makes my heart happy.

Leaving the Art Institute, I look up and out at the city surrounding me.  The sky is navy, lit by skyscrapers.  I feel incredibly lucky to be here.  Like I suddenly understand why I am here. 

This place beckons to the fine arts student I thought I left at Michigan State University.  To the poet who drank too many beers with her teaching assistant.  To the painter.  The photographer.  The essayist.  Actually, it yells.  A south-side whack-you-over-the–head call to attention – “This is for you!”

I thought I needed a special pass to gain admittance to the world of music, dance and theatre.  A pass I received in my 20s when I was escorted in by much older boyfriends with season tickets to the symphony and opera.  Now 43, I realize the ticket to enter is just that – a ticket.  One that I can buy myself.

I don’t need an escort to the life I dream of.  Not even Adam Gopnik.  I can escort myself.   

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