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Art Installation

dear max,

Today’s Max Portrait is one of my favorites in the series so far, for all sorts of reasons. Your focus in the moment illustrates what I’m aiming for in my daily work, really seeing what you’re doing, where you’re going. Careful strength and concentration. And the form of the photo, the composition is really nice, that side-lit Vermeerish effect, your large amorphous shadow, the calm physical act captured.

And your short-sleeved dress shirt and the task of carrying the large framed painting reminds me of my acquaintances Peter and Evan, guys I knew long ago who had the enviable jobs of hanging and lighting the shows at the local art museum, framing things in need of framing, and doing whatever each new show required. They got paid really well, had lots of time for each task, and they were forever buying new tools and equipment, the museum well endowed and then expanding wildly with the coming of big money to town. 

They always dressed nicely, casually nicely, and went about their business in a careful measured way. They took lots of breaks and were often “working” when I’d run into them at a favorite café. They were both artisans before landing their museum gigs, Evan a jeweler, Peter a woodworker. They were both so hip it sometimes made my teeth ache.

They would occasionally hire me to help with installations requiring an extra hand or when the work was beneath them. One time they hired me and another guy to assemble an installation I may have told you about, but I’ll briefly tell you again. It’s kind of a cool story.

So an artist had come up with this installation and made several kits that were doing the rounds of art museums all over America and the world. The installation was a big art museum hit because it gave museum visitors something neato to experience and talk about.

The kit made a rectangular plywood room sixteen-feet-long, twelve-feet-wide, and eight-feet-tall with a flat ceiling, the pieces of plywood screwed to a simple frame of two-by-fours. There was also a little anteroom, four-feet-long, four-feet-wide, and eight-feet-tall, the larger room accessed from the smaller room by going through a thick lightproof floor-to-ceiling curtain.

Once the room was assembled, we had to apply two layers of gray duct tape over all the seams between the pieces of plywood, inside and out. That was tiring work, and doing the ceiling seams was a killer.

When the box was done and all the seams sealed, a large triangle of plywood was placed in a corner of the room farthest from the entrance creating a small well behind it, and in the bottom of that well was placed a tiny light source so dim you could not see the light at all outside the room or even in the room until you had been in the room for at least fifteen minutes, and then, somehow, our eyes and brains, with just that miniscule light source, could see quite a lot in the otherwise pitch black room.

And that was the point of the box. People went in, experienced total darkness, and though encouraged by museum docents to sit down and stay a while, most people found the total darkness unnerving and got out pretty fast. But if you stayed for twenty minutes or longer, your sensory system adjusted and you could see other people quite clearly, not just their vague forms.

For the first seven to ten minutes you could see absolutely nothing. But if you stayed for a half-hour, you could see incredibly well. And then there was the experience of returning to the outside world, which, for several hours after being in the box, seemed almost too incredible, too full of fantastic parts. A seriously trippy experience.

Your nice shirt and your purposefulness with that framed canvas brought it all back to me.

Train of Thought

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