‘Still Life with a Mandolin’
Stop thinking about art works as objects, and start thinking about them as triggers for experiences.
What makes a work of art ‘good’ for you is not something that is already ‘inside’ it, but something that happens inside you.
Brian Eno’s observation occurred to me as I walked around the National Gallery of Ireland recently.
I was there to view an exhibition of paintings and photography by the Irish artist Sean Scully. As I walked around the five rooms, all concrete and space and shuffling, I felt distracted – by other visitors, noise, the whisperings of the security guards. With the exception of one or two pieces I felt at odds with the exhibits.
Pablo Picasso, 1916
Pic: Amedeo Modigliani (detail from photograph)
Any connection I felt was faint, dipping in and out.
Bored, and somewhat annoyed, I left. As I did so, and with time to kill, I noticed the Gallery’s display of works from its permanent collection. Figuring I’d have a quick glance at the Gallery’s heavy-hitter, The Taking of Christ, I stepped in.
The Caravaggio was there, along with a wealth of other paintings from the 15th to the 20th centuries. It made for a pleasant, if not soul-grabbing, 20 minutes.
Then, as I was preparing to leave, there it was. Near the final room and amid a clutch of 20th century works, hung Still Life with a Mandolin. Perspective bending and saturated with Mediterranean colour the painting seizes attention. Minutes passed as I attempted to trace my way around Pablo Picasso’s work – over the bowl of fruit, across the wine bottle, up through the silhouette of the trees outside.
It left an impression as vivid at the light of Juan-Les-Pins – even though it’s a night still-life.
Picasso created the work at Juan-Les-Pins in the summer of 1924, a year after Cubism had been declared dead. Not so, he painted.
But a biography of the work is inessential. As Eno indicated, the value of standing before Still Life with a Mandolin lies outside the painting, in the emotions I/you feel.
Life, light, summer, music, wine, fruit – all the good, true and important things are here, breath and beat and bloom.
The painting’s on display until the end of the year. Have a look – it may trigger something.