Saturday Michael and I became members at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. I've been wanting a membership to the museum ever since I discovered that members get shuttlecock car stickers. Also, the individual membership pretty much pays for itself after buying two tickets to a special exhibit and paying for parking. There have been traveling exhibits that I have missed because I'm too cheap or frugal to spend the money to go. Now I don't have that excuse. Which is good, because I really didn't want to miss Multitude, Solitude: The Photographs of Dave Heath.
Dave Heath was an American photographer. Abandoned at the age of four, he grew up in the foster care system and an orphanage. His work reflects his sense of homelessness and loss and his images capture human loneliness and melancholy. The exhibit centers around Heath's work from from the early 60s and some of his more recent color images. The black and white images of the collection are breathtaking. I could have spent hours just studying each photo and imagining the stories of the people in the photos. There was one of an old woman, dressed in black. Her slim, delicate fingers twisted a solid band on her finger. One can assume the ring is her wedding ring and that maybe she's a widow. Perhaps she's in church, gazing up at the alter. I wonder how long she's been a widow, how long she's been wearing that ring.
There was another one of two young black boys giving side eye to the camera. The looks in the eyes are hard, skeptical, suspicious, even somewhat angry. I don't blame them. I can imagine that they have plenty to be angry about. I can imagine what makes them suspicious of the white man taking their picture. It is evident that they have lost their childhood, their eyes reflecting experience and loss beyond their years. I want to lie to them and tell them that things will get better. I want to give them some sort of hope, something better than they have now. I want something better for them. I want to be wrong about the look that I see in their eyes, that I am just assuming that their lives are not easy, but I know that this picture was taken in Chicago in the 60s, in the heat of the Civil Rights Movement.
There was another image of an older man, walking with a cane. The man looked so much like my Pepaw, I stood and studied his face carefully. He was fuller than my Pepaw. While Pepaw had been tall and skinny, wiry even, this man was filled out and I could only assume his height. They had the same shocking white hair and the same facial structures. He looked like how maybe my Aunt Martha looks now or even my mom. I wanted know who this man was and what he was doing in New York City. Why was he so far away from his Mississippi home? Because there was no doubt to me that he was a great uncle or something. I knew that if I showed this image to my mother she would say "Oh! That's your great Uncle So-and-So" He'd have just as an odd of a name as my other great Uncles, like Carmel (pronounced Car-mel) or Carnet. There was a melancholy quality to this exhibit and I as looked for an image of the artist, I expected to find a reflection of that sadness. I was surprised to find the image of Dave Heath with a joyful smile on his face. He looked genuinely happy. His smile was not a 'smile for the camera' smile, but one that was true. He is quoted in a memoriam written by the exhibit's curator as saying "Art saved my life." If you look into his eyes you can see that art really did save him.
We followed the Dave Heath exhibit with Jane Cardiff's Forty-Part Motet, which consists of a room of speakers. Each speaker is one voice in the Salisbury Choir singing a cappella choral music from the mid-1500s. As you walk in front of one speaker, all you hear is that one voice. If you stand in the center of the room or just outside the circle of speakers, you hear all the voices in unison. We were just walking outside of the circle to leave the exhibit when the full force of all the voices crescendoed in a way that made my bones vibrate with the sound. I stopped and looked at Michael, my eyes wide with the shock of it and then I burst into tears. This exhibit mixed with the images from the Dave Heath exhibit had created a giant emotional bubble within me that grew so large that when it popped, the only option was for it to leak out of my eyes.
I could not speak about these exhibits for hours afterward without my throat closing with emotion. And now, all I can think about is going back and just sitting in those rooms and absorbing all of those images and sound. Which is something I can totally do now for free! So, if I go missing, you'll know where to find me.