Almost every art lover can name one: the exhibition that brought him or her to their knees and tears to their eyes.
They will remember the location, works of art, and circumstances that surrounded their visit. It will have crept into their soul and they would have left slightly transformed. Regardless of the medium, the message, or the venue, the exhibition will stay with them forever.
In summer of 2002, after 2 years of practicing soul-sucking transfer pricing, I was luckily laid off from the obliterated Arthur Anderson. From there I embarked on a European journey with a friend and a rental car. After time in Italy, France, England, and Switzerland, we found ourselves on the northern coast of Spain. Where does an avid art lover go when they are in northern Spain? The Guggenheim Bilbao.
We had no knowledge of what exhibition was on display when we arrived. We had no cell phones and only occasionally came across an internet cafe (remember those?), so everything was blind luck. Honestly, I just wanted to see and witness the incredible architectural marvel that is the building of the Guggenheim Bilbao, everything else was bonus. Boy did I get a bonus! The current exhibition upon our arrival was “Paris: Capital of the Arts 1900-1968.”
“Henri Matisse” 1905 by Andre Derain
The exhibition “traced the major developments in painting and sculpture that took place in Paris throughout the first seven decades of the twentieth century, and reflected the narrative of historical and political events that changed the character of the city during this period.” according to the official literature. The Fauves, the post-impressionists are amongst my favorites and they were all there, in this spectacular building, showing how the history of one of my favorite cities shaped these incredible and historically significant artists and their art.
As the icing on the cake, the painting “Henri Matisse” a portrait by André Derain, the famous Fauve was included in the exhibition. I had spent weeks copying this exact painting, as a culmination of my studies of the Fauvist* movement for my high school AP art class. Upon seeing this painting in person, after examining every last detail in print for weeks on end , tears poured down my face and the years between the two instances faded away. It was one of the most moving artistic experiences I have ever had.
To remind me of that inspiring, earth-moving visit, even 15 years later, I still have the exhibition poster, framed, hanging in my house. I hope one day my children ask me about it.
Have you been moved to tears over an exhibition? Or perhaps a performance? I would love to hear about it.
*Fauvism is the style of les Fauves (French for “the wild beasts”), a loose group of early twentieth-century modern artists whose works emphasized painterly qualities and strong color over the representational or realistic values retained by Impressionism, as defined by Wikipedia.