Hirschorn Museum - Washington DC

Art & Delight

I went to my favorite museum in the entire world this past weekend: the Hirshhorn Museum, one of the glorious Smithsonian museums on the Mall in downtown DC.

I love, love, love, love, love this museum. The art, the architecture, the sculpture gardens, all of it.

(I don’t know the name of the piece shown in the photograph. I apologize to you, to the artist, and to Mr. Hirshhorn. I’ll do better about recording artists next time I go.)

In the basement, a group of serious adults were standing just outside a room showing Ali Kazma’s Black Box. You can read all about it on the Hirshhorn website. It’s a video installation with several screens showing the hands of a man who’s rapidly stamping documents. The syncopation of the many simultaneous stamp-stamp-stamp-stamp-stamps is quite a sound to hear.

Anyway, I step inside the room to watch. There’s a bench in the middle of the room, but the adults are all standing far back: watching, analyzing, keeping their distance. As though getting too close might trigger an art critic to drop from the ceiling and mock their lack of insight. And of course I don’t want to be rude and block anyone’s view, so I lean against a side wall and watch.

After a minute, a family walks in with a little boy, maybe five years old. He watches the screens for a moment and laughs. Watches a little longer, laughs again, longer this time. Sheer delight. His attention shifts quickly among the screens and you can tell he’s really taking this in. Not thinking about it, not analyzing it. He’s completely present. Pretty soon he was laughing uproariously.

And I thought: he gets it.

Don’t get me wrong, I love the layers of meaning in this piece, the commentary on work and art and reality. But at core, it’s just plain cool. It’s funny. So the best commentary I got in the museum that day came from a blithe five-year-old.