In Netflix’s Daredevil series, an art gallery curator tells the villain, “It’s not about the artist’s name or the skill required, not even about the art itself. All that matters is, ‘How does it make you feel?'”
I hung onto that thought while going through an exhibit of Andy Warhol’s nature-based work at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art up in Bentonville. The array of vibrant animal images is arresting, and the pink, symmetrically arranged blossoms of “Daisy” are pleasant. But this is Warhol, Mr. Pop Art himself, and that means some weirdness. The screen-printed image of a Great Dane named Cecil mounted next to its real, stuffed namesake is unsettling, and the room of pink cows — well, just look.
The only thing that matters is how it makes you feel. Art can crack open your mind and expose what you think and why by making you feel something. Museums talk about “challenging the viewer” so often it’s a cliche, but I think this is what they mean. A stuffed Dane named Cecil is uncomfortable because no matter how skillfully it’s made, it’s not the dog anyone loved. The animal portraits seem downright conventional by comparison. Still, Warhol saw the beautiful in the bizarre, and that’s something to behold on its own.
Warhol shares Crystal Bridges’ spotlight these days with another artist I’d never heard of before named Jamie Wyeth. He and Warhol were contemporaries and friends — they even exchanged portraits of each other in their own styles — but Wyeth tackles art very differently. He sketches, paints and watercolors with truly fantastic detail and color, and he wasted no time getting started; he made one portrait titled “Shorty” when he was a teenager with stunning skill, to my non-expert eye.
I usually meander through exhibits looking at a piece here and there, but with Wyeth’s I could hardly move until I had completely taken in the piece in front of me. I didn’t take many photos there. You have until Oct. 5 to see for yourself.
A museum full of art always abstractifies my photography. I don’t want to take photos of the art because it feels like cheating. Instead I try to capture its place and how people act around it. I stupidly let my 1D Mark III camera die before going to Crystal Bridges last weekend, so I had my trusty old G10, a camera far less forgiving of low light and high ISOs. That meant I also had to find the stillness in the constant churning.
See what you think of what I came up with. Hopefully it makes you feel something.
I’ll end with a metallic visitor on my living room window: Thanks for looking!