Artist Date 80: Unbound

Tree of Hope
Tree of Hope

I cannot bear to buy a day ticket to the museum.  The pressure of having to get my money’s worth – no room for fatigue, boredom and to just change my mind and do something else.  So, more often than not, I buy a membership.

Sometimes it works to my advantage, like at the Art Institute.   My membership pulls me to lectures, and exhibits, and allows for a quick” drive by” just to see Marc Chagall’s America Windows one more time.  To stand in the still, blue darkness where Ferris kissed Sloane in the John Hughes movie classic and simply exhale.

Sometimes it doesn’t.  Like at the Chicago History Museum, where I was certain I would return to last year– to see the couture of 80 Years of Ebony Fashion Fair again.  Or the Vivian Maier exhibit.  But I never made it.

And sometimes it transcends financial considerations altogether, like the time my ex and I bought a MOMA membership in New York.  He was “sold” by the hardcover exhibition book and free coffee at the café which came with it.  But I got the real goods – standing in the museum’s Marron Atrium screaming into a microphone.

Yoko Ono made me do it.  Specifically, her 1961 Voice Piece for Soprano, which MOMA had re-installed – a microphone, a pair of speakers and the typewritten instructions: “Scream. 1. Against the wind.  2.  Against the wall.  3.  Against the sky.”

Several small children run to the microphone, squeak out a sound only slightly louder and more surprising than a fart, and run away just as quickly – red-faced and grinning.  But I observe no real efforts.  We are nearly out the door when I turn to my then husband and say, “I gotta do it.”

I approach the microphone, flushed, heart beating wildly and a little bit dizzy, and let out my first scream.  Tentative, but attention grabbing.  The second, slightly bolder.  The third, downright empowered.  I feel like I could go on and on and on, but I don’t.

I swagger toward my husband with a smug smile, “Now we can go.”

I uttered the same words to my girlfriend Julie at a party after sleeping with the two most attractive men there.  I was about 22 and thought this was power.  This is a different kind of power.

I haven’t thought about the scream, or the sex, in years.  Until now, buying a single membership at the Museum of Contemporary Art – Artist Date 80.

The MCA staffer remove my ex’s name from our expired family membership, changes my address and hands me two guest passes.

I find the exhibit I have come for – Unbound: Contemporary Art After Frida Kahlo.  The space is vast and wide open, and the walls are covered red, like my heart.  Two Kahlo paintings hang in the center – Arbol de la Esperanza (Tree of Hope) and The Wounded Deer.  Her emotions and experiences layered into the paint.  My heart hurts.

The remainder of the exhibit is composed of work by other artists, categorized by “Kahlo themes” – gender, national identity, the political body and the absent or traumatized body.

Ladies accoutrements lined up – gloves, slippers and panties.  A map of the world, the countries formed with repeating images of skulls and crossbones and Mickey Mouse faces.

Duet III
Duet III

Two pillows on the floor tug at me.  Hand-carved marble by Brazilian artist Valeska Soares, Duet III.  The exhibit label reads, “…They seem to have been recently used…the two pillows create a tension between presence and absence, suggesting a longing or desire for another body.”

Strangely, I linger.  I let the longing wash over me.  My longing.  I lean into my desire.

I can no longer sleep with two men in one evening.  I can’t even sleep with one unless I like him.  And there are not that many men I like that much – who turn me on above the waist, as well as below it.  My bed feels lonely.

On the way out, I stop at one of the many tables set up with chairs, colored pencils and coloring posters of the MCA.  I color a car pink with turquoise tires and the hair purple on a girl in a polka-dot dress.  I draw breasts on the woman throwing her child up in the air and write the words “I might have children” across her belly.  I draw two stick figures lying in the grass, holding hands, and the words, “me” and “you.”

The coloring feels soothing, hypnotic.  My own Tree of Hope.  My desires and longings Unbound.

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