The first time I was ever in Madrid, when I was much younger, I went to the Museo del Prado – which contains a great collection of art from the 12th century to the 19th century. I found the art to be inspiring, passionate, powerful, but most of it didn’t speak to me. At the time I was more interested in modern and non-representational art, so I was probably not the best audience for this amazing collection, at least at that particular time in my life.
As my friend wandered around the galleries, enjoying herself immensely, I found myself looking around for one work that would really inspire me on a visceral level. No luck, until I came upon a small abstract piece – unusual in that museum of representational art – that seemed different from the rest of the work. It was relatively small, with an unadorned frame. There were fascinating motifs of lines and rectangles, the one juxtaposed upon the other in a kind of visual music.
My eye was instantly drawn to this piece, and I found myself following its forms and patterns, trying to decypher its deeper meaning. There was a small explanation in Spanish beside it, but I did not yet speak enough Spanish to be able to translate properly. I decided to call over my friend so that she could tell me who the artist was, and perhaps something about his/her intent.
Just as I was about to call her over, the meaning of this fascinating image suddenly became clear to me, as though I were seeing a kind of double image. It was the sign – presumably posted by law – to show you the locations of the fire exits. Oops.
I went back to rejoin my art-loving friend, looking back over my shoulder ruefully, with somewhat mixed emotions. I opted not to share with her my somewhat awkward experience with art appreciation.
Perhaps I should have.