The lads gave me an assignment: to review the European Masters exhibition at Te Papa. But here’s my dilemma – and this is a massive secret and you have to promise not to tell anyone, ok – I don’t actually know anything about art.
Well, I know a bit from playing “Where in Time is Carmen Sandiego”. The time-travelling, crime solving heroine had to identify her targets partly by figuring out their favourite artist.
But yet despite playing this “edutainment” computer game, it did not edutain me much. I left knowing who Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt were, but I did not know what their paintings looked like.
And it didn’t leave me with a lifetime love for art. I didn’t take any art subjects at school and was surprised to get an A for the design strategies course I took at tech. But then in 2003 I visited the Centre Pompidou and realised that there was much more to art than landscape and portrait paintings. (Yeah, I was 28 when I figured that out.)
Suddenly my horizons expanded to the world of contemporary art. Ha, take that symbolic-fruit-bowl-of-sexual-awakening! Eat it, noble-clasping-handkerchief-lady.
But I don’t even have the vocabulary to describe art. I kind of know what abstract expressionism is (and how it was all a CIA plot) and surrealism and possibly cubism too. And dadaism. But if I have to go into it in deal, I’ll end up sounding like one of those delusional Etsy sellers, throwing in keywords galore in an attempt to art-up their craft creations.
So when visited the European Masters exhibition, I couldn’t do a straight review. I paid my $22.50, went along and looked at the paintings. Sweet. But I was much more intrigued by the exhibition gift shop.
As well as the standard art souvenirs of posters, postcards and books, there were a few unusual items. European Masters-branded hand and body lotion, hand and nail cream, and something called “body silk”. I’m not sure what the connection is between hand cream and Monet.
There were also fridge magnets and keyrings, made from copies of artworks cropped into an arbitrary circle or rectangle shape and given a new purpose. And European Masters-branded sketching pencils, but with the added irony of sketching not being allowed in the gallery itself.
I enjoyed the art, but I’m far more intrigued by the souvenir moisturiser. And this may possibly be a larger manifesto for my perspective on art and/or life in general.