A Stroll Through the Harn A Spark story by Lauren Loveless

Although I spent the majority of my eighteen years investing time in the performance arts I have yet to try my hand at the visual arts. Likewise, I have attended many music performances but have visited barely any art exhibitions. Maybe I figured that since I couldn't create beautiful drawings or hand-mold clay pots that I should not even try to look at artwork. Thus, I began this trip to the Harn perplexed by the incredible paintings, drawings and sculptures. Yet, in the end, I realized that the artist's intentions spoke to my soul in the same way that music gives voice to my emotions without speaking a word. Also I must begin by giving credit where it is due and say that my close friend Maddie (pictured above) helped me to feel comfortable taking my time with each piece of art. Discussing the way that each canvas made us feel and think about the world was a unique experience and exercise that I would say all friends should engage in.
‘Ode à l’oubli’ by: Louise Bourgeois (2004)

Medium of the Art

In my first few steps through the Harn I was privy to exhibitions of traditional mediums of art; an elaborate sculpted pot, a gold encrusted statue and a series of paintings or photographs. Then as I rounded the corner I was struck by what appeared to be a large quilt of various squares of designs with some even bearing words. After reading the inscription I learned that Louise Bourgeois grew up working at her family’s tapestry restoration business and these years included familial conflict that provided much of the inspiration for her artistic creations. Oftentimes her art was an exercise in personal psychoanalysis that helped her creatively release repressed anger and hurt. The ‘Ode à l’oubli’ (pictured above and below) is Bourgeois’ multi-edition fabric book. Each of the pieces of cloth and the material used to create the designs were collected by Bourgeois all throughout her life. Louise Bourgeois is said to have created this fabric book to encapsulate her hope for restoration and reconciliation with her traumatic childhood experiences. If I had simply seen ‘Ode à l’oubli’ in a book or on the internet I would not have been able to see every thoughtful stitch and the discordant yet somehow harmonious uniqueness of each cloth square. The fact that the medium of a fabric book, essentially a dissected quilt, was how Bourgeois chose to express herself was striking to me because when I think of a quilt I think of the warmth and safety one feels snuggled beneath it. For one of my graduation gifts my mother took all my high school t-shirts from the various clubs and organizations I had been a member of and made me a quilt. To this day that is the most thoughtful gift I have ever received! So when I saw this artist’s emotionally charged rendition of a quilt I felt like it communicated her family life and personal history to me. This artwork made me feel nostalgia but also reminded me of broken relationships within my familial unit. Therefore, when I read that Bourgeois wanted this fabric book to represent restoration and reconciliation with her past I understood that need as well.
How the Museum's Design Impacted My Tour

In my opinion, the Harn's crown jewel is the Frida Kahlo exhibit. Her iconic facial features are familiar to millions. However, for someone as artistically uncultured as I, Frida Kahlo's paintings were as striking as they were new.

Due to the fact that I was nursing a fever while we toured the Harn, I needed to sit down for a second and fan myself. Since my heavy breathing wasn't suitable to the many serenity gardens interspersed throughout the museum, Maddie and I 'popped a squat' in the Frida Kahlo projection room. At first stunned by Frida's relationship with the much older, womanizing Diego, I was then intrigued by the motivation behind each of their artistic creations. While Diego strived to paint elaborate and gigantic murals as Hispanic rallying cries for the communist revolution, Frida's diminutive paintings chronicled her physical pain from polio and her emotional pain from her miscarriage. If I had not been fatigued and overheated, then I would not have suggested we sit down in the projection room wherein I gained a new appreciation for the iconic Frida. The woman featured in all the photographs above was made of flesh and blood. She mourned her husband's disregard for monogamy, suffered from polio every day and lost hope when her baby died. Frida Kahlo's paintings are as emotionally raw as they are violently gruesome. Although at first glance they depict the struggles of one woman, they also show the heartache of millions of woman with wandering husbands, disease and lost children.

This particular wing of the Harn was incredibly striking to me. They designed the Frida Kahlo exhibit to begin with the aforementioned video projection for the uninformed viewer; offering them an expanded knowledge of her life and art. Her paintings and pictures were interspersed across every wall; each bathed in their own beam of light. In the middle of the exhibit there was a tall, stand-alone wall that appeared unassuming till one rounded the corner and was greeted with a larger than life photo of Frida Kahlo. I found this enormous image quite interesting in contrast to the modest and compact size of her paintings. Implicitly, I felt that the designers of the museum were saying that Frida Kahlo was larger than life.

In all honesty this exhibit made me feel righteously angry. Frida Kahlo dealt with marital strife, physical illness and the loss of a precious life! Yet, before this exhibit all I knew about Frida Kahlo was her 'unibrow'. Her photographs have stood the test of time but her paintings are less widely known than her face. As a woman still living in what is debatably still a man's world, I am frustrated by the miniature size of her paintings. The smallness of her canvas' seems to hint at how small and insignificant Frida felt her feelings were. I acknowledge that a pack of dynamic can come in a small package, but I also believe that her tiny masterpieces were her only outlet of true emotional expression. However, even her artistic catharsis was relegated to and contained in a tiny space.

Art Resonating with my Core Values
'Prism' by: Marilyn Minter (2009)
Marilyn Minter’s chromogenic print, ‘Prism,’ took my breath away. As a female there is an innate attraction to beautiful and shiny objects so her photograph (pictured above) immediately drew me in. She zoomed her camera lens on the model’s lips which are covered in sparkles and erotically lying between her teeth is a gaudy piece of jewelry. I appreciated the irony that the precious jewels were serving as her gag! This irony of the bejeweled gag hints that her infatuation with opulence and fashion were the cause of her silence. In an age of consumerism, I think that this evocative image of this expensive gag applies to both genders. However, in 'Prism' Minter focuses on the female's love/hate relationship with fashions and flawlessness. For twenty years, Marilyn Minter has explored what she refers to as “the pathology of glamour.” She defines this as the painstaking, daily cycle of undoing and redoing a women’s physical appearance in an effort to achieve perfection.

One of my core values is love which is appropriate considering my last name is ‘Loveless’. Ever since I can remember I have struggled with loving myself. Born a performer, I began wearing stage make-up in the third grade and then daily powder and concealer in the fifth grade. Early on, I understood that performers who were more attractive were more successful. However, my genetic acne and belated baby fat was not “stage-ready” and I made every arena of my life a stage. Any and all imperfections fed my insecurity. Even now there are days that I am afraid to face the world because I ate an extra slice of cheese or cannot hide a facial zit. In Marilyn Minter’s photograph ‘Prism’ I saw the glamour and perfection that I feel so pressured to achieve. When I read that Minter wanted to visually represent the daily process of achieving perfection, I thought of how often I am tired of redoing my make-up twice a day, going to the gym thrice times a week or showering when I wake up and before I go to sleep to prevent acne. Society has convinced women that we have to be flawless to be valuable and lovable. Marilyn Minter’s ‘Prism’ reminded me that I have to learn to love myself and love the imperfections that make me who I am.

Art & Fighting for the Good Life
Artists employ many mediums of expression to comment on the human condition and in the Guerrilla Girls exhibit I was once again stunned by the lack of gender equality. Here we are in the twenty-first century and the mass majority of women featured in the acclaimed Met Museum are nude (76% to be exact). The level of global misogyny is appalling! In the Harn’s Guerilla Girl’s exhibit, I found the visuals extremely eye-opening. To a greater extent, I realized that the ongoing fight for female artists to be equally recognized for their talents is still a modern day struggle.

The fight for female artists is an important battle for all women's rights. As a sex we face the type of demeaning male prejudices displayed in the top right picture. Confucius, the great thinker said that, "One hundred women are not worth a single testicle." Napoleon, the pint-sized conqueror believed that "nature intended women to be [man's] slave." Frank Sinatra, one of my favorite musicians, once said, "A well balanced girl is the one who has an empty head and a full sweater." To say that misogyny and these devaluing statements are still pervasive today is upsetting because based on other modern progressions one would think these prejudices would now be antiquated. What the Harn's Guerrilla Girl's wing visually expressed is that as women in a man's world we will always have to fight to be shown the same level of respect professionally, economically, socially and sexually. So in this, as in so many other arenas, women must fight for our good life.


Frida Image (Black and White): http://1.bp.blogspot.com/-TnqBnyBoC00/VQxiTzxppsI/AAAAAAABXVA/i0b8fhjA9k8/s1600/Frida%2BKahlo%2C%2B1930s-40s%2B(36).jpg

Harn Image: https://www.uff.ufl.edu/Facilities/images/BuildingWebPhotos/harn-small.jpg

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