A couple of weeks back I went gallery hopping and stopped by Aron Packer's opening. In the lower space of his gallery, or "The Lab," he has some great stuff, including works by Louise LeBourgeois. Louise has shown well in Chicago at galleries like Lyonswier, Gescheidle, Alfedena, Printworks, and now Packer.
Her work is simply installed and there's something like four paintings on the wall of what most would call, small size (12x12.) They were a highlight of the evening, but if I'm honest about it, one in particular left a deep impression on me. It is a piece titled Still Water. So I went about getting an image of it a few days ago and was thoroughly confused when I tracked it down on Louise's website and it was . . . well, it was upside down. And I thought, well that's a funny mistake. Except of course, it wasn't a mistake, because I also found it on her flickr account and there were several comments on it. I said to myself that there was no way the artist posted it in two different places, upside down, with comments.
So yesterday I went back to Packer and went straight down to the Lab and there was the piece, just like it was on Louise's website. Well, now I thought maybe I was loosing it, so I went up and asked Aron if it had always been like that. Long story short, it had been placed upside down at Aron's the night of the opening.
But this puts me in a weird spot as someone who should be part of the art intelligentsia (thought I'd never claim to be.) I'm sitting here, as a curator, thinking that the piece is actually significantly better upside down. It takes on a whole new abstract level. It becomes less straight forward and more dream like. I actually laughed when I first saw it because I thought it was witty and smart and showing me something I hadn't thought of. Essentially it's a simple landscape of three evergreen type trees in a field near the waters edge and the reflection of that scene in the water. The composition is set up in a sort of 1/3 or maybe even 1/4 manner with the physical reality in the upper 1/4 and the reflection in the bottom 3/4. The reflection is slightly blurred as if a hush of wind has disturbed the surface without making any waves or ripples.
But, if you flip the piece 180, the nature of the whole thing changes drastically, especially when you consider the title. You start with the visual of the upper 3/4 of the piece that, rather than looking hushed, looks disturbed. It's not quite like haze through heat. It's more like what you feel like you'd see seconds before a blackout. Like if you fainted in a field, this is what you'd see. Except that the reflection in the water is crystal clear. What was the land and sky is now the reflection in water, but the reality is blurred and the reflection is actually clearer. It was a little rabbit hole moment for me and I thought it was charming and funny and smart in terms of an artistic decision.
But of course, it was neither a decision nor an intention of the artist. And evidently she said, like, hey Aron, that's upside down. I hate to admit that I had such an emotional resonance to the work when that was not the intention. I know how hard artists work toward an idea and Louise's work exhibits an exceptional hand. But I also know that once you make it and show it and it's out there, then it's out there and people see what they think they see, not always what's there. If I bought it, it would definitely hang the way I first saw it - sorry, Louise.