Last weekend I was in the La Conner Museum of Northwest Art staring at a wall of garbage. I don’t mean garbage as in “a thing that is considered worthless or meaningless,” I mean that the art was actually garbage. Mandalas made out of bottle caps, a screen made out of blue plastic, pen caps, cut up straws, and twist ties were all ornately arranged in circles on the ground and hanging from the walls.
The first thought I had in that small gallery was, “Well I’m certainly not in the Louvre anymore.” I quickly stifled that, because it made me sound like a total pretentious snob.
Nearby, the three other people in the museum talked loudly and enthusiastically about the garbage art. They bent their heads ridiculously close to the wall, scrutinizing the pieces of garbage and saying things like, “Amazing!” “Just think of all the work that took!” and “Look at the orange! The orange! Isn’t that just incredible?”
I was still skeptical of the garbage art at this point, but after the people left (still discussing the art loudly as they went out the door) I went to look at the orange they had been so interested in so that their enthusiasm might rub off on me. Sure enough, sitting on a wooden shelf sat a dried up orange.
Next to the orange there was a shelf with used bars of soap (you know, when the bar of soap is almost gone that all that’s left is a little sliver that slips out of your hand in the shower and usually just falls in the drain). I thought about how much of a hoarder the artist must be to have kept all those ends of soaps and it gave me a weird sense of satisfaction as I thought, “I guess this is art. I mean, who else could have thought to put a dried up orange on the wall and call it art? I certainly wouldn’t have.”
The fact was, even though it was worlds away from the museums of Paris, I still felt a sense of calmness come over me as I walked through the quiet white walls, trying to find some sort of meaning in the art. From far away the mandalas looked beautiful, but up close you could see that they were made of such ordinary objects that the rest of us would just toss away, and there was something incredibly appealing about that.
In the end I allowed myself to have the thought that the MoNA was definitely not the Louvre, but in a more positive, less snobbish way. Instead of the mindless wandering of tourists, overloaded with masterpieces so that they end up blurring together, I was alone with the art (minus the over enthusiastic three other people) and was able to decipher it for myself, without the help of an art textbook.
The exhibit, called Ten Ideas Worth Having by Spokane artist, Bradd Skubinna, will be at the MoNA in La Conner until September 28th, if you’re in the area and want to find out the meaning in a dried up orange for yourself.
Next week I won’t be at the MoNA in La Conner, but at the MoMA in New York City experiencing a completely different art culture than I ever have before and I am beyond excited!