A THOUSAND WORDS - Alex Waterhouse-Hayward's blog on pictures, plants, politics and whatever else is on his mind.


An Original
Sunday, September 13, 2009

It was on Saturday that I was finally able to take Rebecca and Lauren to see the show Vermeer, Rembrandt and the Golden Age of Dutch Art Masterpieces from the Rijksmuseum at the Vancouver Art Gallery.

Rebecca kept asking me, “Is that an original?” I was surprised as Rebecca is a veteran (age 6) of the National Gallery in Washington, DC. There I showed her my favourite American paintings including Winslow Homer’s Left & Right (see, below, centre)and several works by Goya including his portrait of Wellington which at the time was across from David's huge portrait of Napoleon.

Something has transpired in Rebecca’s life (education?) that she now questions the authenticity of what she sees. The first thing that comes to mind is the label on some orange juice containers at Safeway that say, “100% Pure Orange Juice”. Underneath in smaller it says “Reconstituted.”

If I can persue this staccato train of thought, the next thing that comes to mind is a funeral I attended in Buenos Aires when I was 8. My next door neighbour’s son, in the middle of a rainy night, had not seen the barrier (it was down) in a street level railroad crossing. He crashed his Vespa into the train. Our neighbours had the audacity to have an open casket velorio. I snuck in and saw the face in small sections, somehow stitched together, very much like a haphazard jigsaw puzzle. It was the first dead body I ever saw. That’s what comes to mind when I think of reconstituted.

Somehow the image of da Vinci’s La Gioconda when I see it on my monitor, is a reconstituted (all those zeros and ones, all those pixels, all that interpolation) image of the real thing I saw in 1985 at the Louvre.

In at least two of William Gibson’s early novels a boy and his father go to a shopping mall and the boy makes the comment, “Dad look at that stuffed horse!” It seems that Gibson was already thinking of a future were the idea of a horse would be a stuffed one in a shopping mall.

In 1986 when we moved to our present Kerrisdale home on Athlone Street my knowledge of gardening was small. There was a plant on the side of the house (beneath the guest bathroom) that looked like a weed. I wasn’t sure so I let it grow a season. It was sometime in August of 1987 that I saw a swarm of Monarch butterflies while using the bathroom. They were hundreds of them on the purple/blue flowers of the erstwhile weed. The weed was a Buddleia davidii or Butterfly Bush. The swarms disappeared by the end of the mid 90s. I may have seen one or two Monarchs in my garden in the last couple of years.

Thinking back about the boy and his father and the spotting of that horse I have noticed that tourists and gallery goers (when they are permitted) take digital photographs of paintings and sculptures. For years museums allowed cameras without flash and without a tripod into galleries. They figured that very fast b+w film would be useless in copying the nuances of a work of art. The tripod somehow was seen as the mark of a professional so a prohibition against the use of one gave the museum a broad comfort zone that things were all well. All this ended with the ubiquity of the little digital camera held at arm’s length. Museums (except in places like Mexico or Argentina and our very own VAG) gave up enforcing the law.

Probably one of the most photographed objects on earth is the Louvre’s La Gioconda. What is it that makes the tourist photograph the original and reconstitute it in photographic pixels? They think that the “capturing” of the image of the real thing is equivalent to proving that the real thing is the real thing. They are no different from my granddaughter wanting to know if the painting is an original or the boy in the shopping mall wanting to know if the stuffed animal is, indeed, a real horse.

For better (better in my opinion) or for worse my Rebecca is the last of a generation that in its innocence (gently prodded by her grandfather) was lured to sitting next to the glass barrier at the Vancouver Aquarium. Rebecca and I were thoroughly splashed and soaked by the great tail splat of a killer wale. The killer whales are gone and few children (at the expense of the captured and penned animal many will assert) will ever experience that thrill.

It was the thrill that Rebecca, Rosemary and I had in Mexico’s largest zoo (a very large one with great areas for animals to roam) when we saw a couple of giraffes saunter after each other around mesmerized African ostriches. The giraffes looked like stretched horses running underwater. It was a magical moment for the three of us.

This brings me to being 8 or 9, and getting on a horse on the Argentine Pampa. I would gallop through the tall grass in search of that sudden moment when an ostrich (the South American variety called a ñandú) would spring up and run. I would point the horse in pursuit. The ñandú would do this as I approached their nests with the big eggs. The “dumb” bird simply wanted me to go as far as possible from the nest.

And yes the egg in the picture is an original if hollow. I look forward to showing Rebecca more originals.

The Real Thing


Previous Posts
Jonathan Richman - No One Was Like Vermeer

In Defense Of Annie Leibovitz's Commercial Talent...

Brother Edwin's Friendship Quotient

Fragments Of Now

The Littlest Truck

The Italians - Part III

The Italians - Part II

An Affair To Remember

The Italians - Part I

Lauren & Rebecca's Slipping & Dancing Socks

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