Wednesday, February 02, 2011

The best way to be with art is to be with a bit of art again and again, over time.

The most high quality work of art I've gotten to be with that way, often, as part of my routine, is
Three Heads Six Arms, a big statue by Zhang Huan that looks like a big Buddha statue or three old statues made together into one.

It is on Larkin Street, across the street from the San Francisco Main Library and the Asian Art Museum. Those are a fit to have it across from the space between them. The Asian Art Museum is obvious, because it is Asian art and is a sort of comment and variation on Asian Art and the library because the statue is partly about saving things from the past and bringing the past and present together for people now. The library does that.

Three Heads One Arm looks like one object and is. It also is about making one object for now out of things that have been broken in the past. Human-made ruins, reassembled in a new way as one thing.

Zhang Huan in making the statue was working, in his mind and body, with art destroyed in the Cultural Revolution, art of Buddhism and Tibetan mythology shattered.

From the library side, the statue looks a lot like Buddha statues I'm used to--a Buddha head with decorative head gear on top of a body. The body is different in that it isn't sitting. It is supported in a way that could look precarious, but it works, so it looks solid. It's supported on three points, the rounded lower part of the torso (which is all it's got--no legs to cross, an elbow, and a hand.

The other two heads are more austere--faces almost gaunt instead of rounded, no decoration. The arms not involved in touching the ground and holding it all up are spread out like dancing or gliding like a bird. Except for the one arm that isn't all there, the arm that stops at a decorative band a bit below the shouder.

I think the best work of art I've seen at all--not again and again, but at all, is "Guernica" by Pablo Picasso, a large painting about the consequences of bombing a Spanish town back before bombing became routine. I'd sort of gone to New York City to see it before it went back to Spain as Picasso wished since Spain had become a democracy. The Museum of Modern Art filled it's whole self with Picasso paintings for this occasion. I was there to see it, and when I saw it was stunned, was fairly shattered.

I'm on a planet where bombing happens and I do what? I'm on a planet where people destroy there own cultural heritage and make it hard for their own people to be smart and I do what?

To bring these things destroyed together and make them real now, and make them one now, somehow--a big task, a task that seems impossible, but people try and sometimes succeed. We get beauty out of the pieces our human nature as made; hang with the beauty and the horror, and maybe eventually know some things to do instead, some things to do prevent instead of having to reimagine the destroyed.