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jonathon wart and the hand of doom Page 5


  Chapter Six: To the Art Institute

  “Are you ready, Lizzie?” said Jonathon, pouring an over-sized bowl of cereal for himself the next morning. “Today’s the big day.”

  “What big day?” mumbled Lizzie, wiping the sleepiness out of her eyes as she walked slowly into the kitchen.

  “Our visit to the Art Institute of course! Remember? I told you all about it. I’ve got to check out a theory of mine.”

  Lizzie groaned loudly. “Oh, no! I was so sure you’d forget all about it.”

  “Me? Forget something this important? Of course not. It’ll be good for you.”

  “Nothing like a trip to the Art Institute should ever be in the same sentence as the word ‘good.’”

  “You’ll feel differently when you get there.”

  “Impossible, because I won’t ever get there.”

  “Actually, you will. We’re leaving in a couple of hours. Emma’s already scored us three passes. There’s a special exhibit of paintings by the French Impressionists and also some neat things by Constable and some other people you’ll like.”

  “Please, Jonathon! What did I ever do to you?”

  “Would you like a chronological or alphabetical list?”

  Lizzie moaned. “But this is worse…far worse than anything I could ever have done.”

  “It’ll be great. We’re leaving right at 10:00 so be on time!”

  At exactly 10:20, Lizzie, Jonathon and Emma found themselves walking up the long stone steps leading up to the impressive front facade of the Philadelphia Art Institute.

  “My gosh, this place is huge," said Lizzie as she, Jonathon and Emma made their way toward the front door of the Institute.

  "Yes, isn't it marvelous?" said Emma cheerfully. "The architecture is Greek-inspired. In fact it's sort of like the Parthenon."

  "Huh?" grunted Lizzie

  Emma smiled. "It’s a famous building from Ancient Greece."

  “Yeah, but this is so big it's going take us forever to get through it,” said Lizzie, a pained expression crossing her face.

  "It's too big to see everything in one day," said Jonathon. "We're only going to take a look at a few things."

  “Which things?” asked Lizzie. “Will it take long?”

  “We thought we’d stop in and take a look at the French Impressionists," said Emma as they walked into the large lobby. "It's over here to the right."

  "You mean you've been here before?” Lizzie asked.

  “Oh sure, lots of times," replied Emma. "Jonathon too. We've visited the place at least three or four times before."

  “Three or four times?” said Lizzie. “Where was I?”

  “We always asked you if you wanted to come," said Emma. "You were never interested before."

  “I'm not sure I'm interested now,” said Lizzie.

  “Oh, come on, Lizzie,” said Jonathon. “Keep an open mind. It'll be fun.”

  Emma led the way as Jonathon and Lizzie walked into a large room with a series of colorful paintings stacked up in two rows.

  “So what am I looking at?” asked Lizzie, folding her arms across her chest.

  “French Impressionists from the early twentieth century,” said Jonathon. “Don’t you love the colors?”

  “Mmm,” said Lizzy. “Seems a little confusing to me. Looks like sloppy drawing.”

  “Not sloppy,” Emma said. “The loose brushstrokes were an important part of their style…made them stand out from earlier artists who were painting in the Romantic style.”

  “Really?” said Lizzie. “I just don’t get it. I mean, it just doesn’t look like much of anything.”

  “Which one are you looking at, Lizzie?” asked Emma, walking over to join her in front of a large canvas by Monet. “Is this the one, Monet’s ‘Poplars on the Bank of the Epte River’”?

  “I guess so, but it’s just so…I don’t know…foggy. Is it just a bunch of trees?”

  “Sure,” replied Emma, “with their reflections in the water. I think it’s a beautiful use of subtle colors.”

  “Maybe, but they don’t really look like trees…they’re too fuzzy.”

  “That’s one of the neat things about Impressionism, Lizzy. The artist is just giving a quick glance of a scene, a fleeting impression rather than a precise image.”

  “Yeah, I guess, but…”

  “Not everything has to look like a photograph,” said Jonathon. “Sometimes things look more interesting if the artist uses his or her imagination to reveal them.”

  “Huh?”

  “Come into the next gallery with me,” said Jonathon. “I want to show you somebody who had a great imagination.”

  They walked quickly into the next gallery, full of works by Marcel Duchamp.

  “Here’s another French artist, from a little bit later than the Impressionists,” Emma said.

  Lizzie glanced quickly at a half-dozen works by Duchamp.

  “All right, I don’t get these at all, especially the tall one over there,” she said, pointing to a rectangular painting titled ‘Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 1).’

  Emma smiled. “That’s a particularly famous one.”

  “Famous for what? Looking like any kid could do it?”

  “I’m not sure too many kids could have done this one, Lizzie. It was a very fresh idea when Duchamp came up with it,” Emma said.

  “What idea? It looks like a shaking robot. It doesn’t make any sense,” said Lizzie, squinting hard at the painting.

  “It’s not a regular portrait of some person, Lizzie. The artist is trying to show what a figure in motion looks like.”

  “By making him look like a blurry robot?”

  “A lot of painters were experimenting with reducing human shapes to geometric ones in the early twentieth century,” said Emma. “In this case he’s using something like a freeze-frame camera technique.”

  “Why?” whined Lizzie. “Why would anyone want to do that?”

  “It’s just a fresh, new take on an old theme.”

  “Yeah, well, I don’t see it. Did Duchamp ever paint anything I could recognize?”

  “Some of his works aren’t paintings at all,” said Emma. “They’re more like new concepts than conventional paintings.”

  “Do you mean like that thing hanging on a hook over in the corner?” said Lizzie, pointing to a dangling object about ten feet away. “It looks like a Christmas tree ornament.”

  “That’s a great example,” Emma said excitedly.

  “Of what?”

  Emma walked Lizzie closer to the object. “It’s called ‘50 cc of Paris Air.’”

  “Now I know this is all a joke,” said Lizzie, shaking her head slowly. “So that little thing is full of air from Paris…and that makes it art?”

  Emma nodded vigorously. “It’s art in this case because it was a brand new concept—bottling up air like that—and putting it in a museum automatically makes it art.”

  "That makes no sense."

  "It makes some sense. It's a unique idea and groundbreaking art is usually based on new ideas.”

  “That's not an idea. It's a non-idea.”

  “Being outrageous is sometimes part of the idea. It's an artistic movement called Dadaism.”

  “You're kidding. What does that mean?”

  “Nothing much. It’s not a real word.”

  “Why Dadaism? Why not Mamaism. Or Sisterism? I could invent that and become famous.”

  “You could try,” said Jonathon, trying to hide a smirk.

  Emma nodded her head. “I think Duchamp was trying to make a point about what makes something art.”

  “Which this isn't,” insisted Lizzie.

  “Well, that's the point,” said Emma. “If you take an object and display it in a museum like it’s a work of art, that sort of makes it a work of art.”

  “But what if it's not artistic? It’s just somebody’s stupid idea.”

  “Doesn't matter. You expect to see art displayed in a museum, right? So anything
you see displayed in a museum, you think of as art. Get it?”

  “That's just dumb. So if I go over there and break open that stupid little ornament, and then I breathe the ‘Paris’ air inside that bottle, am I a work of art then? You know....the girl who breathed the French air? I could stand right over there by the empty bottle...sort of like a live statue.”

  “If you go over there, break open the ‘ornament,’ as you call it, and breathe the Paris air, I'm pretty sure the guards will go over there and take you away,” Jonathon said.

  “Take me where?”

  Jonathon shrugged. “Oh, I don't know. The police station maybe? For defacing a work of art.”

  “But I wouldn't have defaced it. I would just have breathed it.”

  “Probably the same thing in this case. Anyway, don't try it. I don't want to have to bail my sister out of jail.”

  “Alright,” said Lizzie, shaking her head in disbelief. "I've had it. My brain can't take any more of this. Are we done now?”

  "Just about,” said Emma. “We're going to make a quick stop in the European section. Remember, Jonathon wants to check out the Constable collection.”

  “Please make it stop,” moaned Lizzie.

  Emma smiled. “Twenty minutes more and we’re done, I promise.”

  Two minutes later, Lizzie and Jonathon were standing in front of a series of large paintings by John Constable.

  Lizzie nodded her head slowly. "You know, these aren’t quite as terrible."

  “Glad we finally found something you like,” said Jonathon.

  “I didn’t actually say I liked this guy. I just don’t hate him as much. At least this stuff doesn’t look like any kid could do it.”

  Emma gazed admiringly at the paintings. “Constable is one of the greatest English landscape artists of the nineteenth century. I love these paintings.”

  “They’re nice, I guess, if you like cows. But there's something strangely familiar about them.”

  Jonathon nodded his head slowly. “Yes, there is, isn't there?”

  Emma chuckled. “So you don't think you could have painted these yourself, Lizzie?”

  Lizzie squinted at the closest painting for a few seconds. “No, Probably not. But if I had, I would have put a little more action in them.”

  “Action? What sort of action?” asked Emma.

  “Oh, I don't know. Maybe a bunch of horses running around?”

  “You and horses,” said Jonathon. “You've asked for a pony every Christmas since you were three years old.”

  “I haven't gotten one yet, have I? So what's wrong with asking? Besides, everybody knows that horses are better than stupid cows.”

  Jonathon shrugged. “Oh, I don't know. They're probably about the same. Besides, that's not the point. I think that these are very interesting paintings. I'm going to take a photo of a couple of them.”

  “The guard may not like it,” said Lizzie.

  “They only care about flashes and I'm not going to use one,” Jonathon said, clicking the button on his phone.

  “Whatever. Have we seen enough now? We've been here for hours,” moaned Lizzie.

  “We've been here for about forty-five minutes. But sure, we can be done. What do you say we hit the cafeteria?”

  “Thank God! Pizza!”

  “Probably not. This is a high-class museum, you know. You may have to settle for something more elegant.”

  “Who cares? I just want to rest my eyes. I'm not used to looking at things so hard!”

  Jonathon smiled. “You're such a brave girl. I promise I won't try to improve your mind again for a couple of days.”

  “Very funny. So which way is the cafeteria?”