I recently came across an article on Artsy.net titled, “Willem de Kooning on How to Be an Artist.” I am a big fan and consider him to be the best of Abstract Impressionist-era artists, although de Kooning eschewed the idea of pure abstraction, choosing to incorporate figures into his work, albeit in highly distorted forms.
It reminded me of my favorite museum experience. It was December 2011. I was in New York, primarily to visit my daughters, but also to see the giant de Kooning retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Bridie and Trish joined me, knowing how much of a fan I was.
It should be said that visiting museums with me can be a bit of a chore. I often spend way too long looking at a single painting and I am constantly chirping up random bits of history or anecdotes. My girls know me, and they knew what they were getting into.
We decided to go on a Friday when admission is free after 5 p.m. and the museum stays open until 8 p.m. We lined up in the cold, chatting and just enjoying the company. For all my years in Southeast Texas, I have never really adapted to the heat — give me a cold day in the city any day.
The exhibition took over the whole sixth floor, some 1,700 square feet. It was the first major museum retrospective of the Dutchman’s work. The show was laid out chronologically, beginning with his early work as a graphic artist in Holland.
As we ambled through, the girls were commenting on how one piece looked like my own work, or how that piece was constructed in a similar way that I might develop an idea. We talked about how they both saw the inspiration, but also about the differences.
Rather than simply listen to the old man pontificating, the three of us were engaged in animated conversation about what they liked, why I liked a particular thing, what was he thinking here?
As we made our way into the last room, a disconnected voice announced that the museum would be closing in 15 minutes. Bridie said, “I thought they were open until 8?” We had spent two and a half hours engaging with the art and, most importantly, with each other. “I swear, I thought we’d only been here about 45 minutes,” Bridie said.
We looked at the last couple of pictures, I ducked into the shop to get the catalogue, and we were shepherded out of the building back into the cold. Then we went to eat.
The exhibition was everything I expected. But sharing it with my favorite people made it my best day.