The Good Life at the Harn Understanding art and exhibition


The University of Florida's Harn Museum of Art defines itself by the breadth of its topics: exhibitions from African to Feminist art, pieces from European photographers to methods Korean art preservation give but a small glimpse into the variety that Harn seems to stand for. In this Good Life Tour, I was able to glean a larger theme from all of the rooms and hallways filled with frames, photographs, statues, and costumes: that to understand our own American culture is but a subset of a larger global history, all interconnected, paralleled, and needing to be understood before we can move on and construct our Good Lives. I highlight just four different sections from the Harn art museum in order to make sense of this grand global movement, taking with me an ounce of knowledge and hopefully a deeper perspective of other lives and cultures.

Part One: Medium of the Art / Technique of the Artist

In digital form, this piece looks to be an unassuming portrait of New York City. But in person, the sheer size of the canvas, about 10 feet in height and 7 or 8 feet in width, reveals a painter's perspective of an urban landscape. Like a window into another world, the dark oils of the painting create a sense of depth that would have otherwise been lost on a laptop monitor or even a smaller frame.

Upon further examination of other pieces by Yvonne Jacquiette, I find her depiction of night time cityscapes to be engaging and powerful. Paired with the physicality of her giant canvases, we find a living and breathing world rather than just an oily version of it. Within this painting, called Chelsea Composite II, I felt a sense of wonder at being on the rooftops and being able to look at a lived-in location with a new eye and a new perspective.

Part Two: Design of the Museum

Upon entering the Harn exhibits, I found an extensive photo series centered around Frida Kahlo, a famous Mexican painter from the early 20th century.
The Harn exhibition seemingly used repetition in pursuing a larger theme: Frida was larger than life, both behind the paintings she created and in front of the cameras of photographers. Frida was a surrealist painter, who had even juxtaposed her own face upon the body of a deer. From the design of the exhibit, we are able to compare her work with others' depictions of her to make a truly immersive experience of her creative life. Above, the Harn was able to juxtapose separate pieces by a Nickolas Murray and a Florence Arquin in order to find that Frida's image was as fluid as her paintings.
Dozens of her images adorn the walls; for further thematic texture we find that the objects in the middle are not strictly related to Frida, but instead to her essence of eccentrism. With these deliberate placements of photographs, paintings and crafts, we can find a Frida Kohla that is unrestrained by her own works.

Part Three: Art and Core Values

This is the only piece by Myrna Baez in Harn, and I wished more were available. Throughout the 20th century she had focused on Puerto Rican landscapes, but at 49 she had a postmodernist realization that her work needn't be restricted by her own hand. As a result, she brings to "En el patio de mi casa" an aesthetic influenced by French Impressionist Eduardo Manet, and almost superimposes his style upon the foreground, creating a wholly original work that looks as if a black and white photograph were pasted upon a hotel room painting. This clash and mix of different nations, ideas and aesthetics speaks to me as a person who is enthralled by the creativity of postmodern "uncreativity": our recontextualization of tradition, crafts, and ideas into wholly new concepts. This painting inspires me to think outside the box in creative output, that I should not be afraid to keep my influences on my sleeve.

Part Four: Art and the Good Life

Robert Gwathmey's "The Woodcutter" arrived in the wake of the Great Depression, the Second World War, and just two generations of people after the Emancipation Proclamation. From the cubist aesthetics mixed with deliberate fuzziness, as if the tree stump in the front were slightly out of focused, I find this perspective on African-American agricultural life a perfect summation of the obstacles and achievements our country has had in attempting to achieve the Good Life. There is an otherworldly simplicity to the painting, but its issues are inherently complex: in the wake of poverty and uncountable crimes against humanity, there exists only the goal to persist. At times, paintings like this may help people understand that there are not just bad times, and even more so that even in bad times people look up to the good. And perhaps in this realization, the Good Life may be those small bouts of optimism.
Created By
Dominic Alhambra

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