Andy Warhol, “Mount Vesuvius”, 1985, acyrlic and silkscreen ink on linen,
The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh


A teachable moment is an unplanned opportunity that arises unexpectedly, offering insight or revelation. It may be a sidetrack from some initial intention or expectation. It occurs organically and may take one by surprise.

Most museum exhibitions strive to teach us about a specific artist, a movement or a time period. Wall labels, instructional videos and audio guides educate and offer valuable information. I enjoy learning about art from the voice inherent in the work itself and from the context in which the work is placed. The trigger for a deeply felt connection often comes from one’s own interpretation and association with individual works.



Pierre Henri de Valenciennes, “The Eruption of Vesuvius”, Aug 24,
A.D. 79, 1813, oil on canvas, Toulouse, Musee des Augustins


Mark Rothko, “Untitled”, (Seagram Mural Sketches), 1958, oil and acrylic on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation

An exhibition from which I least expected a jolt is “The Last Days of Pompeii” at the Getty Villa on view until January 7. Focused on the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in A.D. 79, the show explores themes of decadence, apocalypse and resurrection as it has been depicted in painting, sculpture and even film, from the 19th century until more recent times. Artists in the show range from Piranesi, Fragonard and Ingres to Duchamp and Dali. Half-way through the show, I was keenly involved in examining a representational image of the eruption from 1813 by Pierre-Henri de Valenciennes. As I backed up and turned around, I was stunned to face two fiery, burnt orange canvases by Mark Rothko. The shift from 1813 to 1958 was shocking. And yet, the entire history of painting seemed present in that moment. The molten lava spewing from the volcano in de Valcenciennes’ painting exploded into Rothko’s intense and billowing abstraction. It was so unexpected but clearly illustrated how these two decidedly different visions were telling a similar story. Indeed, the Rothko paintings, Seagram Mural sketches, were actually executed after his return from a visit to Pompeii. They were the preparatory works for a commission initially intended to decorate a dining room in the Four Seasons restaurant in the Seagram Building in New York. But that ended in it’s own explosion. Rothko became increasingly disenchanted with the idea of his work becoming décor for diners and eventually cancelled the commission.

Shozo Shimamoto, “Work”, 1951, paint on newspaper, 16 x 12.5″, collection Axel Vervoordt, Belgium

Otto Muehl, “Untitled”, 1963, sand, plaster, stockings and emulsion on
sackcloth, 30-3/8 x 28-1/2 x 4″, Collection Walker Art Center, Minn.

“Destroy the Picture: Painting the Void, 1949-1962, is Paul Schimmel’s powerful and final exhibition for LA’s Museum of Contemporary Art, on view until January 14. Drawing upon artists internationally, the exhibition considers the deep-seated affect of the postwar social and political mileau, particularly the aftermath of the atomic bomb, as manifest in 20th century, abstract painting. The ripped, gouged, burnt and beaten picture plane of the traditional two-dimensional canvas becomes the interpretive body of evidence for multiple horrors. The assault is so consistent within the show, its’ collective impact on the viewer is visceral. The show manifests the degree to which visual language may speak louder, longer and perhaps more memorably than many attempts with words. This is not a new idea, but it becomes profound in this exhibition.

Teachable moments are frequently present, as long as we stay open to them. While I am often in the role of the teacher, I am equally delighted to be in the role of student. Life-long learning is a personal passion. Fortunately for all of us, art is a constant source.


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