Thanks, Just Looking 

You've Got to Hide Your Art Away

In my younger, more hedonistic days, my former roommate and I decided to check out a movie in the next town over, despite flash flood warnings being broadcast over the airways with increasing urgency. We figured we could outrun the Texas thunderstorm--but first we'd have to inhale enough pot to get us not only to the movie theater, but to last us through the feature as well. Several hundred dead brain cells later, we found ourselves in a pitch-black nightmare squall, praying our stoned, atheist hearts out to survive this freeway of biblical calamity. We made it to the multiplex with adrenaline soaring, and although the movie wasn't great, we agreed that after our harrowing trip to the theater, the experience of watching the film was drastically heightened (surely it wasn't just the weed). As moviegoers, we had shifted from passive viewers to active participants (however socially irresponsible) in an engagement with the artwork.

The reemergence of Robert Smithson's earthwork Spiral Jetty, which had been hidden in a remote corner of the Great Salt Lake for decades, has recently reawakened people's imaginations to the idea of making pilgrimages to art. Everywhere I turn, people are hopping in their Hondas and hauling across the desert to see pieces like Walter DeMaria's Lightning Field for themselves. The open house at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa, TX--the ultimate Mecca of American Minimalism--grows in attendance every year, despite being hours away from any airport or remotely cosmopolitan center. As anybody who has done it can tell you, seeing Donald Judd's work after three nights of camping in the Pinto Canyon makes encountering his metallic cubes in a museum seem like a relatively bland aesthetic experience.

On a recent trip to the Netherlands, I visited the Kroller-Muller Museum, whose collection is currently highlighted at the Seattle Art Museum. The Kroller-Muller was only accessible from a six-mile bike ride through the forest and moors. My encounter with the first piece of art inside the door--a seminal Nauman--was radically different than it would have been had I just circled the block 10 times looking for a parking spot--and the museum founders knew this. Panting, exhilarated, and full of wonder, there was no chance of turning back lazily. The museum and I had created an investment in our mutual presence that was too dramatic to walk away from.

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