I’ve been writing a bit about art in the last few issues of Open Letters Monthly. Last month it was my very special relationship to John Singer Sargent, this month, the glam and decay of John Bonath’s Strange Beauties at the Denver Museum of Nature and Science:
In order to reach A Strange Beauty, which is entirely worth a visit to the mountain west, you’ll cross the museum’s T-Rex-occupied entryway and take a right through the Space Odyssey rooms (spinning projections of the earth, Is There Water on Mars?, children jumping and pointing and squealing) until you emerge on the West Side. The room, the gallery, is three stories high with glass walls displaying the finest view in Denver: City Park Pond, backgrounded by the steel and glass towers of downtown, themselves backgrounded by the gold foothills and the white-topped Rockies.
At a distance, the images on floor one resemble their photographs (like the photographs accompanying this article), but as you get closer, the illusion of verisimilitude breaks down, and their painterly qualities become apparent. These are, in fact, paintings. They’re single objects: gold nuggets, skulls, a bat, tagged birds, ammonites, set against black backgrounds that seem to let them float in space, anchorless. This makes them more solid, more tangible. Further inspection reveals other alterations to enhance their contours—pointillist colors invisible at a distance cause the objects to swing free of their frames, to pop. A transparent medium mixed with iridescent pigments catches the room light and makes the objects more real still. They’re splendidly alive, far more than their originals, some of which are present under glass, and look, in comparison, strikingly dead.
Speaking of those white-topped Rockies, they’re my new friends in life. In case you’ve not heard I’ve moved west. Elisa and I drove out here just over two months ago in a straight line from Boston. On the afternoon we arrived in Boulder in time to catch my friend Katie’s sculpture opening (electronic ligaments in milky plasticine, hung translucently along the gallery’s windows) and saw a double rainbow in the fuzzy mist of the sky, plains side. It has been an adventure since. We’ve been up in the mountains a few times (the red clay looks purple with the sun going down) and we’ve made some intriguing new friends and picked up where we left off with some old ones.
I’m not used to moving and very much unused to the way it clears your mind — ten thousand things that seemed so breathlessly important in Boston aren’t important at all out here; they’ve just fallen away and disappeared. I’m spending at least half of my time in mind of my new classes — Blake, Baudelaire, Tolstoy, and how do you write a persuasive essay after all? Funny enough, I wake up early now, up before Elisa half the time, which never happened in Boston, even once. Like everyone always said, it’s cold in the morning and sunny in the afternoons. I’ve been listening to Brian Eno (Tracks and Traces) and of course I picked up the new Tom Waits. Humming “Back in the Crowd”: