Years ago while writing a column for a (briefly published) Houston paper, I wrote an article on the Menil Collection. As I was doing the research for my piece, a docent there told me the founder, Dominique de Menil, saw art as a dialogue between the viewer and the divine. Due to this ethos, the walls of the gallery feature only minimalistic art tags and no signage to explain the art. If you want to know the name of the artist, you have to peer at a small tag on the wall about the size of your palm. There is nothing there to bias you towards favoring Rauschenberg, Magritte, or Rothko. It is just you, the visitor and the art, and whatever exchange might flow between.
Art in Bloom Gallery shares this sense of intimacy. The art stands alone with you and your thoughts. What’s more is that there is a unique, subverbal vibration that runs through the space. Perhaps, it is the spirit of the horses who once stabled here when the building was owned by farriers. It is that feeling of refuge, of sanctuary, of welcoming presence. The gallery puts you at ease, inviting you into its ongoing conversation. I don’t know where I heard the quote “prayer is listening,” but it applies. If you are willing “to listen,” to open yourself, the universe will speak to you here.
As my student, the gallery’s junior blogger and curator, Nydheri Brown, toured the space to search for a topic, she excitedly related the vast association of thoughts evoked by each unique piece. One of the things I love about working with young people is that they don’t take anything too seriously, which is why they produce some of the most astute observations. No one tells them how to think or “to pray”, they just do. While gazing at Elizabeth Darrow’s abstract mixed media, Nydheri heard a multitude of stories populated by rivers, magic carpets, women in kimonos holding parasols, butterflies, birds of paradise, and forests of dancing creatures.
We adults are often hampered by internal judgments and preconceptions. However, art cannot judge you for what you are thinking; and in some ways, the most accessible pieces of art can be abstract in nature, because they can be experienced in many different ways. There can be a sense of exploration and play. As you gaze at something novel, you see the world anew as a child sees it. The only real challenge is allowing yourself to be present with the art. I suggest taking a beat to breathe, to let the meaning travel up through you. Do not be afraid to feel what enters, be it joyful, absurd, reflective, or sorrowful. Each feeling has its own purpose. After all, your prayers are your own, and so are the answers given.
I will close with this meditation on Helen Lewis’s encaustic work, Navigating.
let your eyes travel
from that vast expanse of glazed
snow to the momentary
palimpsest of an old map
secret path to someplace dear
when the moment is lost
let yourself be delivered
delta blue into ocean
with only the penciled
to guide you back
upstream to memory
only just having gone