When I was 19 I did a string of ballet turns all the way around the Monet room at MOMA. The guard looked straight ahead, giving no indication that he saw me. I was lucky to get a nice one; it could just as easily have been one of those authoritarian women with her hair in a low bun and a permanent scowl. I wanted to tell him, “This would make Monet happy”. It’s what I honestly believed.
Monet aside, it made me happy to embody --- literally --- the colors at Giverny at once bright and blurred, the roundness of the flowers, the breeze moving through the grass, the light. It made me happy to let joy wave through me, let it become instantiated in the world. It felt almost like an act of worship; I felt that thankful to Monet (and to MOMA, and to Art) for releasing what it felt like to be free, for giving me that touchstone.
Objectively I knew it was a cinematic thing to do, spinning through the gallery. I was keenly aware of the visuals (even if no one was watching). But it was more than just aesthetics. It was actually my reality in those days, stealing moments out of my life just to be me, the way people go to a movie in the middle of a busy week.
Now 30-ish years later, I find myself across the country at MOCA, in a room full of Ellsworth Kelly color field paintings. I have that same visceral response, but all I want to do is be perfectly still. The vastness of a single color, the expanse, the openness to possibility, the limitlessness, the ability to fly and the quiet invitation to come look more closely. This is my life now. I recognize it, I know I’m home, and yet it’s still new enough that I just stand there inhaling it. The brightness, and the subtlety.
The green could go on forever, or it doesn’t have to. Nothing is externally imposed, not lines or shapes or extra colors. It is its own reference point. There’s endless space to just be, and the energy of movement is endless too --- floating, stretching, soaring, air rushing in my ears, ballet turns for miles; and stasis. There’s a feeling of the sacred in standing here too, not quite an act of worship because I’m not dependent in the same way, but an act of reverence for sure. Thank you (canvas in Kelly green), the Spirit in me recognizes the Spirit in you. Namaste.
Denise Berger is a Los Angeles based writer, with a background in dance and anthropology. She contributed multiple chapters to the Peoples of the World series, and won Honorable Mention for poetry in the Writers Digest Competition. Articles and creative essays have appeared in Heritage Southwest Jewish Press, Detroit Jewish News, Beth Am Review, and Shambles Literary Journal.