Friday, March 8, 2013

My Crush on Winston Churchill

In January the Dallas Museum of Art did something museums almost never do: it gave up charging for general admission. Since then, Dustin and I have been dropping in most weekends. We have learned the difference between American Art and Art of the Americas (no ceramics of two people joined by a common third leg in the former, no almost presidential bedroom sets in the latter). We have learned you can make a chair out of plush pandas. We have learned there is no adhesive holding together the cubic meter of toothpicks, that if you pay attention they are slowly, slowly falling loose.

We have learned galleries intersect in surprising, nonlinear ways, a gentle maze with myriad possible solutions. And shortly before I learned that "Water Spaniel Confronting a Heron" is an actual title to an actual painting, Dustin and I walked out of Japanese gallery, a hallway really, and stumbled into the Reves Collection: a celebration of decorative arts staged in a multi-room recreation of the Mediterranean estate Wendy and Emery Reves bought from its original owner, Coco Chanel. The guest room with its scores of black lacquered furniture and chairs with animal skin prints is bewildering. Why the pairs of shoes on the carpet? Why the lace and the place settings displayed on the facing wall?

We were feeling a bit more oriented by time we found ourselves looking in on the living room. "You can't go in," Dustin kept whispering, each time a bit more agitated. "You can't go in!" And of course we couldn't enter this recreation of a room meant entirely to receive guests. So we leaned over the barrier just enough to get a better look at the closer Renoirs, the near Seurat, and gave up on a dozen other paintings as too distant across the great room to admire.

I was, by then, working myself up about this collection. Museums have an understandably hard time saying no to donations, and while that may not have happened here, it would explain the disporporitonate amount of space accorded to, say, the nation of Japan versus the personal collection of an Dallas-born model from and the man she married after a twenty year acquaintance. I am probably just grouchy there's not more explanation to contextualize all these rooms and why they are here, when I wander into an alcove of Winston Churchill memorabilia. Churchill was a favorite guest at the estate, painting the twisting trees of the coast, going for walks. He sent letters and telegrams to the lady of the house, apologized for having "vexed" her. And I found myself softening, charmed at the whimsy of Churchill including the name of his parakeet, Toby, in the dedicating of a book holding a few of the bird's feathers between the pages. I was totally undone and won over after discovering a slip of paper, the size of a cocktail napkin, on which the dinner guests had been asked to draw their self-portraits for a parlor game. Churchill won the prize for finishing first, and he won it with a truly charming sketch of a pig. 

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