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Modern Art

Curtis Nelson is a former dentist and is currently a lecturer in the CSUS Anthropology Department.

In 2006, we sat in the lounge of our hotel in Munich. We had the day off from measuring orangutan skulls at the natural history museum. Dr. Hand and I were wondering how to spend our day when a graduate student we met a few days earlier came down for breakfast.

Her name was Chloe and she lived in Greece and had a degree in art history. She suggested we go with her to the Neue Pinakothek modern art museum in Munich. This sounded great. I was not a fan of modern art, but Chloe assured me she could give me a new perspective since she had studied most of the modern artists and their work.

On the walk to the museum, Chloe gave me a run-down of her studies in England. We were enjoying the great summer day. When we entered the museum, Dr. Hand went to the restroom, but told us to start out and she would catch up.

Confusion started immediately. The art pieces made no sense to me. Chloe explained the work and the artist's background. I was not totally won over, but her mini lectures helped. The art was arranged chronologically. Chloe seemed to know every artist and each piece of art. I was more impressed with her knowledge than I was with the art. After two rooms of paintings, sculptures, videos, and interactive art, I was beginning to appreciate, somewhat, this strange genre.

We entered a huge hall that formerly was the dining hall. On the walls on both sides were these eight feet by twelve feet paintings. The exhibition was called, "Shades of Gray". There were 14 gigantic canvases painted a different shade of gray. I looked at Chloe challenging her to explain how a museum could devote this much space to giant splotches of different tones of a rather neutral color of the palette. She shrugged and we walked on.




After two more rooms of Cubism, Post-Impressionism, Minimalist and Neo-this and that; Chloe's expertise and my increased interest were making the art appear reasonable and understandable. We pushed through a door into this small room with subdued lighting.

Straight ahead of us was this narrow and tall work of art. In this dark room, light radiated from behind the artwork. I actually stopped in my tracks. Chloe stepped in beside me. I asked her if she knew this painting. She asked me to check the placard to the right of the display. The placard read "Reflection".

We admired the way the light outlined this tall, rectangular form of homologous shadowiness. In this shadowiness, I saw these areas or points of light glowing through giving form and detail to the painting. I asked Chloe if she could see how the artist put points and patterns in the shadows. Chloe answered that she did. I exclaimed I was actually getting this piece of work. I was about to share my interpretation when Dr. Hand popped through the door.

Dr. Hand joined us in front of the painting. She looked strangely at me and asked, "What are you looking at, anyway?" I replied, "The painting is called, Reflection." She turned to walk away. Over her shoulder she said rather pompously, "That is the damn window."

Chloe and I saw it at the same time. Our narrow, tall canvas had a window frame around it and the mysterious, dark form that created the patterns of light was the window blind.

I looked at Chloe and we burst out laughing. We fell to the floor breaking into explosive cackling every time we looked at each other. When we gained control, which took forever, I looked again at the placard which was to the right of the window and to the left of an actual painting of a woman staring into a mirror. We literally fell to the floor laughing again.

~ Curt Nelson








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