Hat on Top, Coat Below


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July 5, 2010

Red rulerWhen I was around 11 years old, my mom took me into Chicago to see the Art Institute. My best friend at the time and I spent hours and hours playing Masterpiece, a board game in which players bid on paintings and aimed to win by amassing the most valuable art collection, and the paintings used in the game all were in the Art Institute’s collection. I have only dim memories of seeing some of those works of art on that trip, like The Child’s Bath and Paris Street: Rainy Day. I have a very clear recollection of the modern gallery, where I saw Red Plank by John McCracken. I was incredulous (not sure I knew that word then, but I sure felt it)—this was art? No way! It was a shiny red board leaned up against a wall. Just that. One color, no people or buildings or trees or anything, just red. On a board. I objected to my mom, and she tried to explain why it was in a museum instead of serving as a bookshelf somewhere, but she couldn’t come up with anything I found understandable or satisfying. I’m wired for maximalism–more stuff, more details, more colors. It’s why I love scrap quilts and collecting. I’m still not convinced Red Plank is art, but I still remember the first time I saw it over thirty years ago, so it obviously made an impact—and isn’t that at least part of what art is about?

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