Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Introspection at the Mint

I go to the Mint Museum on a rainy day in February. The museum is empty without the occasional security staff floating through and on the second floor, there is an exhibit titled, “The Shape of Life: Contemporary Native American Ceramics.” The room is rectangular and white and aseptic and somewhere near the room, maybe in the walls, something mechanical drones as ambience. Encased in glass around the room, an assortment of ceramics sits barely perceptible. That is, until you stop and notice them.

The ceramics are of various shapes and sizes and each jar, bowl or vase is painted with deep browns and earthy reds, sharply contrasting blacks and whites. They are aptly referred to as vessels as they truly are vessels through which something deeper is transported to the third-dimension. It’s difficult for me to imagine that these impossibly intricate vessels aren’t formed in some machine and mass-produced miles away from trees and dirt and rivers. I’m humbled to learn—as noted in the plaque on the wall—they are all handmade without the aid of a potter’s wheel.

In the center of the room between two doors that don’t open, lead to nowhere, a vase the size of a large beach ball sits on a platform. As I move closer, the rest of the room fades away, leaving only the vase and the droning sound as the center of my focus. The vase slightly resembles a headless white swan and although I can’t touch it, I want nothing more than to feel its pearly surface. I circle it slowly and read the description: “Asymmetrical Jar” by Jacquie Stevens. 

First, the artist dreamed of this vase and tried many times to re-create it but her efforts were unsuccessful. She alleged that the vase was a divine gift bestowed only once. The longer you stand there, the more you begin to know it as a gift. It makes you want to break the glass and run your hands over the smooth surface. I read somewhere that introspection is the ultimate goal of all noble works of art and I leave the room.

The rest of the museum is muted after the vase. Walking to the car, introspection creeps up. It’s colder now and rainwater has massed into puddles in the parking lot. I notice the manufactured lines and curves and the advanced paint jobs on the twenty or thirty cars that have now filled the lot. In our world of cookie-cutter models and identical lines and angles, you may seek perfection but flawlessness comes at a price. The vase is a reminder that there is still imperfection in the world and not nearly enough of it.

-Alex Clark

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