Sometimes a person just wants “to be alone.” Those words, drumming a dramatic tattoo in my mind with film icon Greta Garbo’s sultry Swedish accent, fueled my solo drive this morning to the Milwaukee Art Museum for a morning by myself. Never mind that when I looked it up later, Garbo’s exact quote was actually “I want to be left alone.” And that I was seeking solitude in a public museum. A gal’s gotta do what a gal’s gotta do.
I didn’t need to just “take a moment.” I needed to take an entire day. The past six months have been challenging in the extreme. Physically challenging, emotionally exhausting, utterly depleting. Just a couple of weeks after I had happily announced my retirement plans last winter, my elderly mother suffered a hip fracture. As the only family member in this hemisphere available to respond, all responsibility fell to me, and many things went wrong in serial fashion. My mother is now doing much better, and has relocated to a safer place, but I am still trying to regroup.
And so a morning at the Milwaukee Art Museum seemed like the perfect place to recharge. The grocery giant Meijer sponsors free admission to the museum every “first Thursday” of the month. And it was the first Thursday in September, and the sun was shining. I love art. And I love “FREE.” And the combination of those two things was as irresistible as catnip to a kitten.
Just how much walking on polished marble floors I should be doing was sort of an open question, though. Only days into finally closing up my mother’s apartment and beginning to cautiously let myself feel “retired,” I had managed to accidentally drop an old-fashioned metal trash can full of yard trimmings edge-first on the bare bridge of my right foot. An X-ray managed to show that nothing was fractured, but six days later my foot was still tender and beginning to turn some lovely shades of greenish yellow, with purple accents. Still, I knew what I needed, and so I searched my closet for my most comfortable shoes and set out to drive to Milwaukee.
This time, for a change, I was going alone. I am usually considered a pretty convivial person. I like to schmooze. I like to travel. I like to chat! Visits to museums usually involve friends, and lunch, and sometimes a little shopping afterward. Not today. I was entirely off the leash of social convention. And relieved from my end of keeping up a conversation, I stopped and stared for as long as I wanted, at anything that caught my eye.
First, it was the collection of art glass that lines the part of the Quadracci Pavilion, designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, leading into the original modernist War Memorial Center that houses both permanent art collections and various time-stamped exhibitions. I could stare at the miraculous shapes this brittle substance has been conjured into for hours. I took my darn sweet time appreciating every piece.
Then, upon entering the museum proper, curiosity led me to check out a temporary exhibition called “Goya and the Art of Engraving.” Not my usual thing. I’m usually drawn to color, and scenes of natural grandeur, and seascapes, and Impressionism, and even sculpture. But as I soaked in every word on display around these works created in black and white by means involving metal and resin and wax and acid and ink, I was spellbound.
Since the exhibit had been up for several months, the gallery was not crowded. And so I took advantage of the magnifying glasses provided by the museum, and got my full “art nerd” on, going nearly nose to glass with etching after etching and engraving after engraving, admiring at length the incredible detail and drama and depth rendered on every single one of these small surfaces. I learned a lot. And in my unlikely solitude, I could feel my soul start to replenish.
Finally finished with staring at etchings in black and white, I meandered at will and in no particular order through more familiar halls of the art museum, through seascapes and portraits of the Madonna, epic visions of nature and Renaissance depictions of well-heeled Flemish burghers. I even felt replenished enough to pull out a copy of my Finnigan the Circus Cat book and indulged in some “photo bombing” for Finnigan’s Instagram account, which has been sadly neglected along with nearly all other writing projects, since winter. The tide is starting to turn!
Finally, after two hours of wide-eyed amazement and total saturation by beauty, my aching foot told me to call it a day. I limped (slightly) back to my car, and then stretched out the self-indulgence (or self-care) a bit more, driving along the Lake Michigan shoreline for several miles and stopping along the way just to watch the waves and the horizon.
It was a day very well spent…even without the usual conversation, lunch and shopping!