Life? at The Modern

Star Date: Leningrad, 1950, an abandoned smallpox munitions plant, originally disguised as offices for a steel-making facility, nearby recently reopened (in violation of U.N. securities sanctions) in order to re-mill and weaponize existing stocks of smallpox and splice in the human IL-4 gene, effectively rendering all known vaccines useless.

That's all I could think of on arriving at The Modern for the first time — in the rain — last week.

The total lack of creative landscaping to offset the colorless, dead panels on the building's completely inorganic, right-angled façade, the huge, rusty, peeling sculpture in the "yard," and the sticky, brown mud puddles all over only added to my dread as I entered the building.

I did not feel welcome. I felt warned.


The lobby? Cavernous. Surely this is converted to a makeshift morgue when they want to dissect the bodies of their experimental victims?

Across the way were the huge expanses of glass overlooking the shallow pools of water anchored with small rocks (no plants). Suddenly, as I stood there feeling even heavier than I usually feel in my old age, I saw something tiny leap up out of the water. Life!

Life? Life at The Modern? It just couldn't be. I practically ran to the window with childish hope. Yes! The tiny creature once again leapt from the water using its minute body to scream defiance at the financial and physical enormity of deadness in front of it.

But then it disappeared, and I ached for its future, knowing only vast quantities of chlorine come springtime could keep nasty things like algae and moss and plants from taking root in those shallow pools under the nourishing Texas sun.

"Leap, my little friend! For soon your skin will be scorching from chemical burns."

I decided to go to the bathroom. The door was partially camouflaged in the wall. Menopausal women don't appreciate that kind of confusion.

The gift shop next — only because it was nearby, and I did not yet have the courage to shake hands with the art. Perfectly dreadful merchandise. These were the kinds of gifts one gives to clients — cold, functionless, hard.

With resigned defeat, I asked the ladies at the reception desk, "Where is the art?" She directed me to "the grand staircase" and pointed.

I looked in that direction and saw a wall, but I was sure I could figure it out. I had remembered my hormone pill that morning, so my cognitive abilities were hovering at or near normal.

I asked how much for an entrance fee, and she cheerfully replied that the museum was free. Smart move on their part. There's nothing worse than long lines of people demanding their money back.

Next the art. The first canvas one encounters is one of those intellectual masturbation pieces, a huge canvas with broad sweeps of paint, everything occupying the same plane, an eye-wandering experience (not dissimilar to searching for the bathroom).

But Confessions First: I have no idea what I'm talking about — no degree in fine arts — a complete cretin stabbing at a cultural link-up.

That said, I know I like and respond to LIFE. Coming from a fairly "left brain" scientific orientation, I respond primitively to art based upon whether or not it nurtures my life force. Any life force needs but four elements to sustain: food, water, shelter, and sexual reproduction.


When one stands before a painting that has achieved dimension and depth, a spiritually sexual encounter between the viewer and the work is won.

The viewer can come inside the painting, enter its body, join its force, be a part of its life. That kind of painting is inherently invitational. It's sexy. One of the four elements necessary for my survival as a living being has just been symbolically presented to me. What a gift!

When a painting reads well — leads my eye to a well lit focal point and lets me rest there in security, I have found shelter. It's that sense of knowing exactly where you are supposed to be — and being there. It's comfort. Yet a second gift to my life force.

Paintings that include organic things — plants, water, animals, curves — all symbolically provide yet more sustenance to my being.

But Here I Stood before a canvas filled with unidimensional brush strokes, no clearly defined focal point — nothing for my life force.

I wasn't invited to this painter's party. He's masturbating all alone today and snickering about the fact that only he really understands his painting. He is self-amused, and he cares not if my spirit dissipates before him.

In desperation, I traveled from one to another to another work of art, looking for someone to stroke my hair, open their door, light up a hallway, give me a conversation or maybe just an apple. But everyone was in a private box, whacking away with solitary delight, occasionally teasing me with a faux "let's do lunch" — like the man in the video digging the hole while I waited and watched from afar.


But, of course, we never engaged because he never finished his job. Scorned, I knew he liked his dirty little hole more than he liked me.

On my way out, I paused for a moment before Andy Warhol's self-portrait. The organic form and the green color of life gave me enough energy to plod back out of the building and race down the sidewalk to Louis Kahn's fabulous Kimbell — where I ran my hands through some bushes before I went inside to eat some cranberry rice salad, drink a glass of wine, put on some headsets (a human voice with background music!) and prance through Modigliani and the rascals of Montparnasse.

I stopped and bought over $100 worth of presents for my family and friends at the gift shop, including a wild choker that I am converting to a headband (because I'm weird and because I can).

I'm alive!!!

The opinions expressed in this story do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the ownership of In fact, DARts strives to find writers who can write this well, regardless of the opinions expressed. Kathy and JR are looking forward to visiting The Modern soon, and except for Ms Santa Lucia's account, we've heard nothing but good things about the place.

New DARts writer Maria is an academic and budding painter who
secretly wishes The Modern would allow for evidence of life.


Maria Santa Lucia is an academic and budding painter who
secretly wishes The Modern would allow for evidence of life."

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