Last week I took the MBTA up to Boston for an afternoon dentist appointment. I thought, what could I do in the morning to counteract the dread of going to the dentist? I stayed on the train until the end of the tracks, South Station. I love walking into that cavernous station with everyone bustling about. I continued on to the Red Line rising out of the dark to get a glimpse of the Charles River. I finally emerged at sunny Harvard Square. I wanted to go to the Fogg Museum. I wanted to see paintings.
I hadn’t visited the Fogg in many years, not since their expansion. Walking into the main entrance, I was struck by the glass ceiling and the sunlight that bathed the ancient arcade. I felt myself slipping into the mindset of a receiver. It is rare that I get to wander alone through beautiful architecture housing art. I had no agenda. I didn’t even remember what Harvard had in their collection. I bought my ticket, put my little yellow plastic tag on my collar and wandered with my orange journal in hand.
I walked all the way up to the top floor and saw that there were Rothko Murals there. Entering the dim gallery, I was first struck by the freshness of his gouache studies on paper. Some were laid flat in a horizontal case. Opaque color. Chalky rectangles with loose edges. Luminous orange shapes on faded purple.
Entered the mural room, I saw one large wall with three paintings and then turning two more large pieces flanked the doorway. The description at the entrance to the galleries noted that the paintings had faded when they were originally installed in the 1960s. They were then put in to storage. I was looking at them thinking, where were they faded? They look beautiful.
Then I heard the whirr of projectors above me on the ceiling. There was one for each painting. Are they filming the paintings? My mind wandered to Oscar Wilde’s Portrait of Dorian Gray. Why would they be recording the paintings? At that moment, an older gentleman with a long white beard approached me, a gallery guard. He noticed me gazing at the paintings longer than most visitors. He asked me if I knew what was going on here? I confessed that I had no idea what these suspended machines were for.
He smiled like he had a secret to share and walked over to the corner of the gallery where there was a gap between the two exhibition walls. He reached in and took out a large sheet of white matt board. He beckoned me over and held the board up between the projector and the nearest painting. Suddenly the cardboard caught a projection of absolutely luminous color echoing the exact shapes of the painting. We traveled around the gallery and he held up the white board in front of each painting to reveal to me these vibrant color secrets. Each painting was being enhanced with color-optical projections to restore it to its original pre-faded state. Incredible.
What struck me was the gorgeousness of the projections themselves. The final painting we visited was rather dark, deep purple and black. When he highlighted the projection it was a spectral orange and blue…an invisible painting.
Leaning in, his final tip was this…If you come to the gallery at around 3:30pm, you will witness the moment they turn the projectors off at 4pm and get to see the paintings in their faded glory. In July these paintings will be packed into storage again along with their projector companions. Go try and see them if you can!
Until next time, go to a museum and linger in front of a painting you are curious about for a while…it may have secrets. CREATE.
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