By Richard Kendall
One of my favorite occupations is to sneak into the galleries and join the visitors as they look at the exhibition. It fascinates me to see which pictures they linger over and how they react to a new gallery as they walk in.
Everyone–even curators!–has their different way of behaving in this situation. Some wander silently, other focus fiercely on each object. Couples tend to look then talk, then look and talk again. A few heroic souls read every label and every wall panel, others disregard them but have their audio-guides clamped to their ears from beginning to end.
A few sightings this morning:
Two women standing in front of the two laundress paintings, one by Degas, the other by Picasso. The women were looking back and forth between the two, chatting about them and presumably comparing them. Two serious women talking about two serious women.
In the room devoted to ballet scenes, a little girl–perhaps four or five years old–running toward the huge photograph of Olga Khokhlova, then looking up at as it towered above her. Is that Picasso, Mommy?
A solitary lady in this same gallery, who was laughing out loud at a pair of sculptures of dancers by Degas and Picasso. I liked this lady, and I think Picasso would have too, though I’m not so sure Degas would…
A group in the café was obviously less impressed by the exhibition: “Bit of a stretch,” one man said, “and that ballet room was the dumbest…”
The last room (with the brothel scenes) can always be relied upon for some action. Today there were several older visitors in rapt concentration, scrutinizing the prints from close quarters. One couple was explaining the works to each other solemnly, while another group was letting out peals of laughter.
–Richard Kendall, Curator-at-Large
Woman Ironing, 1876-87, by Edgar Degas. Oil on canvas, 81.3 x 66 cm. National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Paul Mellon (1972.74.1) Image Courtesy of the Board of Trustees, National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.
Woman Ironing, 1904, by Pablo Picasso. Oil on canvas, 116.2 x 73 cm. Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Thannhauser Collection, Gift, Justin K. Thannhauser, 1978 (78.2514.41) c. 2010 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artist Rights Society (ARS), New York