As my son and I were sitting in the Pidgy Park, Congress Square Park in Portland, ME, last night, I glanced across the square to the Portland Museum of Art, where they were hosting Free Friday. I scooped up my boy with relatively little resistance and we scampered across Congress and Free Streets and into the museum. After stowing our bag in a locker I set my boy on my hip and we proceeded to read the curators statement on the exhibit, "Women Modernists."
As we walked into a a colorful wall of Torr and O'Keefe paintings, I was taken by the naturalistic shapes. My boy, however, cried out, "green bite," at the top of his lungs. We were standing in front of a rather dark Torr image, with strong geometric shapes surrounding a single and exquisite green leaf. My son would apparently eat this painting, but only if everyone else had a bite at the same time. We turned the corner to a wall of Georgia O'keefe. Her works were splendid; more grand and colorful than I've ever been able to imagine from color reproductions. Austin was also quite taken with her work. While many, I'm sure, were thinking about the seductive nature of the pieces, Austin was more taken with their edible characteristics once again. "Ice cream," he cried, in front of each O'keefe painting in the first room. After 6 years of academia I was having a little trouble at first seeing what my son saw, but after a bit I realized that her Jack in the Pulpits did indeed bear a strong resemblance to a sugar cone, the flowers, white and pink and rich browns. They were lavish and smooth and looked immensely tasty if you blurred your eyes a bit.
On to the third wall we strode to a wall of Florine Stettheimer, a painter who I had never heard of before. As we stood in front of her busy scenes I was taken by her textures and warm color schemes, but my son was mostly taken with an object in a painting at Asbury Park that looked an awful lot like a boat. "Boat," he screamed to the disdain of the gentlemanly dressed "art viewer" next to us. You know the kind, my friend Melissa would describe them by very demurely removing her glasses and resting the bow on her bottom lip, wagging her finger up and down, side to side, while offering a slight head shake. This was the moment that I realized that I was in a museum with a two year old and all bets were off. You do what the two year old wants if you want to escape Vesuvius in the Galleria.
We passed to another wall. This one had rocky looking landscapes, interesting in their abstraction perhaps for an adult, but reason for getting off of Dadoo's hip for a two year old. Austin bolted into the next room. We stood in front of a portrait of a woman on a very teal background. His mother loves teal. "Mama," he cried, and made a quick escape to another wall with more architectural and industrial looking pieces on it, and it was here that I realized that two years of graduate school had taught me nothing that living day to day listening to a two year old would not have.
"Chicken," he screamed, crawling out of his own skin, "Bok, bok, bok, bok, bok. Dadoo, CHICK-EN." I looked at painting of a corrugated tin roofing taking up the lower two thirds of the picture plane. Two pieces of industrial scaffolding were in the background just poking over either side of the roofing. Upon closer inspection, the roofing looked like a large chicken wing structure and the red scaffolding looked like the very top of the chicken's head. My son had trumped me. I feel humbled and excited. We rambled around the rest of the museum, mostly looking for paintings with boats, and I felt happier looking at art than I had in a long time. My son had reminded me of Rene Magritte, "Ceci n'est pas une pipe." It is all illusion. The metaphors and allegories there for the taking or the leaving. We were looking at art and it was fun. We broke my masters degree in a forty minute trip to the museum and that is just fine with me.