Living in Honduras and Guatemala is sometimes hard, mostly fun but never boring. Here some of my musings on life in this colourful part of the world where you can always expect the unexpected. Hence Serendipity, the gift of finding without seeking…

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

The Privilege of Art

There are dozens of ways in which children born in Holland are privileged over the majority of those born in Honduras (although sometimes it’s the other way around!), but one that struck me specifically now that I’m back in Amsterdam, is their access to the arts.
Two days ago I was painting a small mural for the four-year old of one of my friends, when his nine-year old brother walked in the room and said: “You paint just like Van Gogh!”
This completely baffled me, because first of all it was a tremendous compliment, but also because in Honduras no child would ever refer to Van Gogh, or any other painter for that matter.  And it wasn’t just a random remark either (not much of a compliment either, I realized), the kid meant that the short brushstrokes I and thick layer of paint I was using at the moment to make a monkey look fluffy, actually resembled the technique of Van Gogh whom he had just studied at school. 

The incident made me think. Did I know Van Gogh when I was nine? Actually, I did! Intimately too! But then again, I guess I’ve been exceptionally lucky in growing up where I did.
My home was at less than five minutes walking distance from the three main museums in Amsterdam, the National Art Gallery, the Museum of Modern Art and the Van Gogh Museum. My elementary school was in a side street just  across the latter two, and since we didn’t have a school yard, we always played in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art (grade 1-3) and later (grade 4-6), outside the garden, at the famous Museumplein square.
In the garden of the Museum of Modern Art was a sandbox, but that was just for kindergarten kids, the “little ones”, as we disdainfully called them.  There was no playground for older kids, but we didn’t need one. We climbed on and jumped off the “diving board” that was actually a famous steel sculpture by Henry Moore.
Another one I know by heart (and touch) was a sculpture consisting of all kinds of open and half open cubes. It was a terrific place to play house and “cook” the leaves, berries and sticks we found in those cubicles. At the far end of the garden was an immense sculpture by Richard Serra, consisting of three enormous steel plates leaning against each other. From the inside you could look up at the sky, a small triangle of passing clouds that appeared there where the plates balanced one against each other.   I remember the rough texture of the surface, I can still smell the oxidized steel and vividly recall the bright orange colour of it all because I saw it from up close many a time, whenever the mean boys would catch us and “lock us up” in the structure. 

Years later, during an art history class at Art College, a professor showed us a slide of that exact same sculpture by Serrra, Sight Point. I was completely flabbergasted. At that time, Richard Serra was already a favourite artist of mine, but I had never made the link to the artist and that one work of his I knew so well.
As a kid I often visited the museums too. The Museum of Modern Art was my favourite since I was three, with the crazy machines of Tinguely and The Beanery, a complete bar full of people, but with clocks instead of faces. The museums became so familiar, such a home to me, that I kept on going there long after those many visits with my parents. Even in my adolescence I often skipped school to meet my boyfriend at the cafeteria of the museum. The entrance was free with our museum passes and going there was as normal as going to a lunchroom or bar. 

Being so unconsciously surrounded my so much art might have played a role in me becoming an artist. Or maybe not, because definitely not all my classmates have become artists. But I can’t deny it has surely influenced my live.
Today I visited the Museum of Modern Art again. The museum has been closed for nearly ten years, due to remodeling. The new wing and Mike Kelly exhibition were impressive as hell, but what truly took my breath away was walking up the same marble stairs I used to climb so many times, my hand over that same brass railing. And seeing all my all friends again, that one painting of De Kooning in yellow and pink. The Rauschenberg  you never get tired of, so much to see in that painting! And not to forget the immense collage of Matisse, Mermaid & Parakeet! 

It truly felt like coming home… And I wish I could share this with my Honduran friends…

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