You know I wanted to die on the ground in front of Le Sacre de Napoleon.
Art is everything, I cannot explain it, my life is art, the world is art, why do you think I spent all that time in those four great museums and went to the Pompidou twice?
Everything I have ever learned I remembered when I saw those paintings and sculptures and the names and titles on the placards. Some part of my brain had been storing up all those lights and forms and colors, and I can’t tell you for my life how to multiply a matrix but I can recognize a François Rude from across the courtyard when I’ve only ever seen three of his works in my life.
I personify everything, you know that? I talk to paintings and statues and dead artists that aren’t there, how else are you supposed to take what’s on the wall and put it in your heart and your head?
That’s why I came to see you first, Winged Victory. You’re my friend, you know that? Lighting on your prow at the top of the stairs. I’ve cared about you every since I saw that documentary with Angela George in French class in high school when they told us that story of how the Nazis were coming and in those dark empty halls of that museum they didn’t dare to breathe as they carried your body down those stairs, praying you would hold together (because you know at that time you weren’t really held together).
And then I learned about your technical mastery in that art history class, the counterbalance of your leaning and your robes and your wings, how you once had a head, how you used to be painted, but you know Winged Victory, you’re my friend, you’re my favorite statue, I like you how you are now, you’re more charismatic without a head, you know how I feel about anything with wings.
And I came to see you next, David—
David! Jacques-Louis David—!
Peintre du roi, peintre de la Révolution, peintre de Napoléon—
Your painting is the biggest painting that I could have imagined, chéri! How did you paint it the size of the wall, all alone, no one but you?
I even cried aloud, you know that, when I saw your self-portrait on the other side, when I saw the Oath of the Horatii—it was strange, I knew it already, it was so familiar—
It was like my surprise at my woodshop project turning out just like my plans and my CAD model. It's strange to see it exactly the same, but bigger, real—
It's softer somehow, in real life—the edges are softened, there is less contrast in the skin tones, the shadows—
But your autoportrait, chéri—your light curly hair, you painted it so lightly—your face, chéri, it's crooked, your left eye turns to the side, your nose, your mouth is twisted, it's off center. I couldn't see these things until I was standing right in front of you!
You painted yourself with your brushes, chéri, your paints. What you were, it's an artist.
I saw your portrait, chéri. I recognized it by its colors—it’s rusty, and orange, and brown—it's my favorite color of green.
I recognized your curly hair. I saw it across the hall and I gasped and the breath was knocked out of me and I think I almost screamed.
But let's talk about this painting, this painting where I for months have been planning to die.
It's as big as a wall, you know. Mr. Kipp taught me that in high school.
I saw other paintings here that one could call as big as a wall. I thought that I might be disappointed.
I was not disappointed, you know. I was not disappointed. This is the biggest painting I have ever seen.
But oh, the tâches on Josephine's robe—the way you represented golden thread reflecting the light—
I don't know how you made this canvas, the spaces, the light, the color.
Oh, but you, you, Raft of the Medusa—
Je t'ai vu en ombre, tu vois?
I gasped aloud when I saw you. Pyramidal composition, pile of pale green bodies.
You were the size of the wall. They told me you would be. But I saw you in shadow, and I gasped aloud.
Almost all the paintings in the room are paintings I know. Delacroix, Géricault, Gros, Ingres. Did you know that Romanticism is my favorite art and literary movement of the 19th century?
So I wandered around, mouth agape, blinded by wonder. How could I not?
How is Mr. Kipp doing? Where is he now? He was the one who taught me about all these paintings in the room.
Oh, but then I crossed the garden and I saw you, Monet, master of colors—
Maître de l'aube, l'ombre, le crepuscule—
How did you decide which water lilies to bring forward and which to reduce to an irreplaceable scribble? How did you decide which colors to put in the waters or the trees?
How did you decide which view to paint, which time of day? How did you make a canvas that big? How did you paint with it outside?
Did you know that the canvases would be displayed in this place, chéri? Or was the space made for you?
Toi, Claude, Monet, thank you for showing me these things the way you see. Without you, I don't know if I would be allowed to see at all.
And then I went to this old train station on the other side of the Seine, where I spent too much time in the halls downstairs and had to rush through the upstairs impressionism like a madwoman when they announced on the intercom that the museum was about to close, but to be honest I think my eyes had been glazed over already.
But you ever just see something that knocks you backward like a flat plane of cool air?
Your deep eyes and straight stand in the blue. Of course I had to sit down and draw you. You know that I spent the morning talking about religion.
And you know, Sainte Geneviève, white and blue and holy holy holy, I didn't expect to see you because I had never heard of this piece before, and aren't the unexpected sometimes the most important things that you will ever get to see?
(Don't tell me, you're the one having the vision.)
Oh, but then I crossed the river again. My head had been full of the cushy art from the 19th century, until I crossed to that that building where they took all the parts that were supposed to be on the inside and put them on the outside in full technicolor.
It's not fair that this art is exhausting, because all of the art in this museum is good. It's just...infinitely heavy.
I don't like solemn themes when they're compounded like this. I don't like to see alienation and tragedy from the Middle East, of losing identity and globalization, of disquieting juxtapositions and forms. It's the stuff I don't want to be relevant, so it hurts. Why can't we go back to the existential crises of the worldview of Romanticism?
But it’s important, it’s important, that’s why it fills up my head with a fire and my body with sand.
I went to see the world’s most famous urinal, and on my way back I glanced up above the entry, and—
Duchamp, you sly dog, you've done it again.
The best and biggest surprise of the day was suddenly seeing your shovel, your ready-made, In Advance of a Broken Arm, hanging above the lines of the entrance to this floor, which nobody noticed because nobody looks up.
Someone else is playing your game...is anybody noticing? I think it’s better that way, a sign to the enlightened, for the people who look up.
But even so, you know I walked all the way through this floor, and I was disappointed when I didn't see the work of Joseph Beuys, my favorite Fluxus artist, who even knows what Fluxus is, not me—
But then I saw him all of a sudden in a sound installation downstairs, rolls and rolls and rolls of felt, a chalkboard and thermometer on a silent piano.
The room was supposed to be hot and full of silence. It smelled full and dusty like Aunt Barbara's house and that felt blanket that changed color from green to gray that night as the sun rose, or maybe it was the other way around.
But the room wasn't hot, it was polluted by the annoying sound exposition with those teenagers behind me, and we were only confined to a square meter of space, we could not walk around at all.
Mais quand même, c'était Joseph Beuys, Joseph Beuys, Joseph Beuys, I loved him since I read his story in manic silence one night, and ever since then I kept seeing his little sleds and packets sent out to send help.
But this museum isn’t gentle, I knew that already.
Contemporary performances and installations have eaten me alive, Le Courbusier's Utopia screened with communism and fell flat in those dirty streets like the one where I live. Cubism and Picasso felt far away and muffled, and the room with Dada broke my spirit so I hadn't felt as much as I should when I saw Duchamp's Fountain.
I feel hollow inside and my head is stuffed with cotton. There's a weakness radiating from my center into my limbs and the skin beneath my left eye hurts like a contusion, my retinas feel fried from wild-eyed wonder.
But here I am with my one true love, and surprisingly that love is abstract expressionism.
And here I am in this room, my soul might stop beating in front of these Pollucks. One of them is called The Deep, and with that chasm, that white and black and red and chartreuse, I can tell you that it's deep.
Sam Francis did a piece called Other White, a canvas of off-white in grays and blues. He said that it's the color of the space between things—
(Then someone else can see the color of the space between things. It's the color of the interior space in the Pantheon.)
And then Rothko, Rothko, those unimaginably deep colors in unimaginably deep layers of paint. The absurd feathery softness of the edges of his forms. I could stand there forever transfixed. Did you know that he slit his wrists and died in a painting of his own blood?
I only make pilgrimages for artists I like, but when I see an artist I like, it's a pilgrimage.
There is something about abstract expressionism that makes me want to be devotional. Jackson Polluck's The Deep. Mark Rothko's Untitled (Black, Red over Black on Red). I see it afar and I came into this room and my first instinct was to stand there and and stand there and worship.
But even then you know it's not quite the same feeling, you know that I saw that painting of Saint Geneviève, white and blue and holy, holy, holy, that light filled my soul and tears jumped my eyes, which is why I am sitting on this floor, holy holy holy, anything that touches you is from God.