Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Confessions of an Invisible Man

When talking with my friends in Italy, I realize how little down time I take. Somewhere in August of last year (or maybe it was the year before) I got into battle mode. After that, free time disappeared. Not because of any mandate from above. This was totally self-imposed, getting myself into the position where one is always working, always in uniform. For what? To make the world safer for Italian wine? We all know the world is far from safe, and a little more (or less) Italian wine isn’t going to move the needle so much. With that in mind, in the last few weeks I have been stealing time for myself.

An indulgence of mine is to wander, with a camera, and to exercise my rite of invisibility, something I learned many years ago. As a born-again introvert, it comes with the territory. I sometimes complain that I have become too invisible. But really I would rather have it that way than the other. I worked too hard to learn how to do it. In a recent documentary on Dorothea Lange, she talked at length about it. It’s real. And so, when time permits, I slip into that dimension.

Agnolo Bronzino, Ritratto di Lodovico Capponi, Frick Collection, New York

Earlier this month in New York, I had a couple of hours between appointments. On the walk from one to the next, I saw that the Frick Collection was in the middle. So I stopped in and spent the time looking at art. This was a private collection in a house where, originally, people lived in. So the atmosphere was homier than a museum. On the walls the depth of the art that had been collected was staggering. One piece which stood out was by Agnolo Bronzino, a portrait of Ludovico Capponi. The image casts the young and wealthy of Italian high caste. What a life they must have had. For what did they want? Food? Warmth? Company? Sex? I daresay, from the depiction of the young lion, he lacked nothing. He would have made a great Millennial. Or Boomer, for that matter. Great art? Perhaps not, but an insight into a closed  world.

This weekend in Venice, with a few hours to spare, I see that my hotel is near Peggy Guggenheim’s once-upon-a-time home, now turned into a museum. Peggy was a collector. Her taste in art was prescient. Upon walking into the galleries, I realized: 1) I didn’t have enough time and 2) I was in way over my head.

Not to say I cannot tread water with art historians. While that is not my calling, I did my time in university art classes and some of it stuck. Enough that I am not easily intimidated.

What I was, however, was, inundated with emotion from a collection that was put together over time from a person who had what appeared to be living relationships with the artists on the walls. This is a most personal collection of art, from someone who had the sensitivity of the time and the means to interpret her vision to the world.

When we get ourselves going on the wine trail in Italy, sometimes it is hard to pull away from it. There’s wine and food and all the commensurate activity that goes along with it. It’s a flurry. And seeing as I have been knee deep in bustle (and hustle) for some time now, it was a necessary break to take the time and walk into these two different venues to simply appreciate art. How refreshing to see people of means, like the Frick and the Guggenheim families, using their wealth to share art with the rest of us, rather than solely buying another house, car or extravagant toy. Art like this, and the sharing of it, makes all of our lives richer, not just the 1%.

I say this, not to demean anything in the world of food and wine. We need to eat. And drink. But we need nourishment for our souls from other veins.

If you find yourself going to Friuli or Prosecco-Land and have time, by all means, make it a point to stop by and visit the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. It is a wonderful break from those things we all need to do, our earthly obligations. Take yourself out of the game for an afternoon; your world will still be there. It can live without you for an hour or two. And find yourself staring at the amazing and indelible works of some of the masters of 20th century art.

Hey, I may be invisible, but I’m not mute.

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