I am torn. I am torn because I’m not sure what to do with the idea that here there is enough money here to build and maintain and pay for a spacious, elegant, modern art centre design specifically to display a great collection so that people can come, for free, and look at art. I’m torn because it seems to be normal here. Part of me wants to feel that it is frivolous and that there are better ways to spend the money. And then I spend a hour there and I feel the emotional response – the tug, the richness, the soul-nourishing rejuvenation – and I can’t want it to stop. All the intellectual self-righteousness is still valid. It shouldn’t be possible. Part of me feels guilty for enjoying it so much. But is such a pleasure.
The Arkansas Art Centre is just a few blocks away from my hotel. It is all of those things – large and spacious and elegant and modern and the collection is wonderfully varied. Some abstract, some modern, some realism. I didn’t have much time, but I took a break between proposal-writing that afternoon to go and see it. I needed a break and this was likely to be the only chance I would get.
It’s difficult to describe an art exhibition in words. The experience is emotional, rather than cerebral, at least for someone as untrained as I am. I love walking around art galleries, though. As a colleague put it, spending time with the art. This art centre provides plenty of space and time to do that. There were other people in the galleries, on and off, but most of the time I was alone. It was peaceful and quiet. The ideal environment.
The collection is not small. So many distinctly different pieces. So many faces, too; some obvious, some hidden, some without emotion, some with so much emotion. Even many pieces that at first seemed to be of something else, after a while resolved into faces. I couldn’t live with all those faces, but they’re fascinating to visit. I was particularly drawn to a piece not related to faces in any way – a pencil drawing called Male Back by an American artist. Another piece, called Quit, also caught my eye me. Several of the pieces held my attention for ages. The colours, the lights, the distance, the dimensions, the feelings.
As I walked back to the hotel, I tried to get my head around it all. I’ve not visited many galleries in South Africa. Those that are not selling art tend to charge high prices and are sometimes difficult to find. What does it mean? How is it different to live in a place where art is some sort of public good, just there for the looking at?