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Saturday, January 12, 2013

Joys of contemporary art

Today I took the opportunity to visit the Saatchi Gallery in London, one of the top museums for contemporary art in the world and a counterpoint to London's somewhat more famous if less edgy or controversial Tate Modern. Like the Tate Modern, Saatchi reuses a historic structure; unlike the Tate Modern, Saatchi does not charge an admission fee. Currently there are three exhibitions at Saatchi, all of which are superb. My favorite was a collection of Russian contemporary art from the late 1950s to the early 1980s, when being an artist in the USSR was somewhat subversive. The art is brilliant. I do wish that Saatchi provides chairs so that I could look at the art without tiring, but that's the price one pays for a museum in a big city that doesn't charge admission.

Why do I like art so much? I have absolutely no talent for it. Even the anachronistic class in engineering graphics (i.e. mechanical drawing) that I had to take in engineering school was a struggle. With a lot of practice I can sing in a choir reasonably well, and I haven't yet given up on the idea of becoming decent with an instrument. Obviously I like to write or I wouldn't have produced 242 blogs by now. But do I like art simply because I cannot do it myself -- or because I envy those who can? No, for me the attraction is more than that. Art is a way to see things that I don't otherwise see. Sometimes those things evoke awe or pleasure or laughter; sometimes, dismay or even horror. Modern art and especially contemporary art bring forward the human condition to me. That's good, and as an introvert I need it to avoid isolation. As Sartre put it, "One of the chief motives of artistic creation is certainly the need of feeling that we are essential in relationship to the world."

If I won the Powerball, could I become a successful collector? Hard to say, but I might try.