BY SORCHA NÍ CHEALLAIGH
“Art, particularly, seems to be sensitive to the context in which it is experienced. Museums, for instance, aim to support aesthetic experiences by creating thoughtful environments, which are often characterized using the metaphor of a white cube”
– O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube (1986)
The therapist says, “think about the colour of happiness”. You close your eyes. It’s dark. Then the colour yellow pushes through. That way yellow always does. Like piss in the snow. The way smiley faces are always yellow and how sunflowers are always yellow and how most things that denote happiness, and/or danger, are always yellow.
But do you know what condensation towards yellow means? I woke up one morning and thought I did. I had a dream that I found the answer after stumbling across a hugely comprehensive Max Bill monograph under a lonely The Hungry Caterpillar somewhere along a dreamscape of Derry Central Library. Dreams are full of well funded public services with wide ranging resources. But like any revelation that transpires in a dream, it didn’t make sense in reality. And I call my mum and I say, “maybe the title just doesn’t make sense? Maybe the title just doesn’t matter? Or maybe it doesn’t matter that we don’t know what the title really means. Maybe nothing needs to really make sense.”
I’m acutely aware that exhibition catalogues are not widely available. I know, for example, that I can’t currently afford the sole Max Bill monograph in existence, the $35 one (I know) from for the Fundación Juan March Max Bill 2016 exhibition. At the end of this label, I will attach some free and reputable resources that are readily available online.
Why am I providing you with information?
Andreas Gartus and Helmul Leder wrote that “art, particularly, seems to be sensitive to the context in which it is experienced”. They provide an addendum to O’Doherty’s comment on the museum’s thoughtful environment, the White Cube, “museum walls, of course, are not always simply painted white, and usually artworks are presented in the context of additional (textual) information, and other—carefully selected—works of art”. So here I am. Your snippet of textual information. Posted on the big wide wall beside the big wide art. Like a price tag on a car. Exclusive. Expensive. Cognisant. Presented to you in any form or any way that will provide you with the experience you want or need. Or maybe the experience I want you to have? What do you want from me? Do you expect this museum label to provide? Should the museum label shut up now? Should I provide the usual:
Max Bill (1908-1994)
Condensation Toward Yellow (1965)
Oil on canvas
What have you learnt? What have I provided? All those letters and numbers. BELUM.U517 is the accession code; a gateway to metadata regarding the purchase and ownership of the piece. Oil on canvas is the medium of the piece, its material makeup. But if you didn’t spend time in museums and didn’t just know… how could you tell?
I don’t always think facts matter. I like some facts though, the kind that help you dig deeper into the art and its context and why it all might mean something to someone in some country in some place at some time (or hereafter). When I first saw Condensation Towards Yellow, it looked like a sculpture and I could imagine how it would feel between my hands. The fact that it is oil on a canvas still amazes me. It reminds me of being a child and how if I squinted my eyes and drew lines across the car window following the condensation running across the glass into the setting sun, it could turn out a little something like this. “A concept explained by its execution”, the page says but I close my eyes to get my vision. Perspective and space used and manipulated. ‘Art concret’ – a style dominated by mathematical and machine-like precision – feels warm.
Further free reading:
- Bauhaus Kooperation, Max Bill profile
- Haus Bill, Max Bill timeline and biography
- Excerpt from Theories of the Nonobject: Argentina, Brazil, Venezuela, 1944 1969
This was written by a participant on our Creative Writing Programme. It was inspired by the above piece, click the image to view it in the NMNI online collection. Read other works from the programme here: Virtually (Re)writing history: A series from our online creative writing programme