Sunday, May 03, 2009

One man’s junk is another man’s exhibit

“Are there any more exhibits over that way?” my wife Kara asked, deciding whether to spend the calorie to close the ten-foot gap between us.

“There’s a black pipe running up the wall,” I replied, peeking around the corner inside the modern art museum. “I think it’s just a pipe, but it could be a meditation on how man is constantly running up the wall.”

One can never be too sure inside a museum like that. We had just come from an exhibit that looked as if someone had enthusiastically taken to tearing up the carpet with a Garden Weasel. There was nothing hanging on the walls except for a placard that called the torn-up carpet a “Scatter Piece,” which is incidentally what I now call my garage.

“It’s not messy; it’s a Scatter Piece,” I tell my friends, after they’ve paid the admission fee.

“Dude, this guy didn’t even try,” Kara said as we ventured into the next room, a large gallery with blank canvasses sprinkled along the white walls. At the back of the room, thick pieces of masking tape held up an otherwise untouched piece of plain white paper. I would have expected your average modern artist to be a sensitive person who wants more than anything to avoid the dread phrase: “my four-year-old could do that,” but those blank wall hangings could have benefitted considerably from spending a few minutes as placemats at a restaurant that gives out free crayons.

A docent eyed us from the corner of the room as we strolled through, daring us to say something. Kara and I were careful not to mock the art within earshot of museum employees, in case they were either modern artists in disguise or part of the exhibit.

And who were we to judge, anyway? Maybe whoever created those blank canvasses spent years figuring out the best paints not to use on them. But while some modern art undoubtedly awakens emotions and expands minds, a good percentage of it seems to exist solely to be made fun of, like the litigants on Judge Judy.

If Kara was hoping that I’d pick up some culture during our visit, she was likely sorely disappointed, much like when she decides that dragging me onto a dance floor will somehow magically teach me how to dance. Besides, you don’t have to go to a museum to get cultured, you just have to use the word “docent” at every opportunity. One correct usage equals one culture point scored.

By the end of the afternoon, Kara and I began to appreciate the whimsy of the museum. Around any corner, you might find a giant metal headless spider, a pile of dirt with a mirror stuck in it, a series of abstract murals or a single piece of yarn hanging from the ceiling.

You have the respect the artists for taking risks. Lately, the biggest risk I take is eating raw cookie dough out of the package.

“I saw that! Don’t eat the cookie dough raw,” Kara will yell from the other room.

“Why not? It’s not as good after it’s cooked,” I say.

“You’ll get salmonella,” she replies.

“What doesn’t give you salmonella these days?” I ask. If you’re going to catch a debilitating food-born disease, cookie dough sure seems like the best way to do it. Who would rather get taken out by spinach?

My point, of course, is that you should check out your local modern art museum. You’re pretty much guaranteed to find something to appreciate or ridicule, so you win either way. And as silly as some of the exhibits seem, it’s impossible not to respect them for their sheer randomness. I might even pay homage to the blank canvas guy at work this week by sending around some empty Excel spreadsheets.

You can cultivate Mike Todd with your Garden Weasel at


  1. Besides, you don’t have to go to a museum to get cultured, you just have to use the word “docent” at every opportunity. One correct usage equals one culture point scored. Funny you mentioned that. When I read that, I had just got back from jumping over to wiki to look up "docent". I remember the term from the book The Da Vinci Code (notice I mentioned from the book, not the movie). Ha, I'm so erudite.

    Anyway, I couldn't place in my mind what a docent really was - I was thinking some kind of religious mystery person. Was I off.. Good post this week.

  2. Erudite! Nicely done. Two culture points for you. Oh, wait -- you said docent three times. That makes five.

  3. I used to be a docent!... I feel special now! :)