I had some pretty high hopes going into this art show. I've been looking forward to it all year.
Just imagine: my child--who loves art--her art on display--in a real museum--at the tender age of 9. How cool will that be?
As it turns out--not so much.
The visual arts department of Bergen Kulturskole enrolls close to 1,000 students, and this one show was meant to showcase the budding talent of all those kids. I get how difficult it must be for the organizers to pull off such a feat year after year. And I get what a priviledge it is for these kids to have this opportunity to display their work in such a grand manor. I really do. I don't mean to imply that the event as a whole was laughably inadequate or rinky-dink. But I can't help it--I did expect much, much more.
Every year the show opens with a student procession from Bergen's central square (Torgalmeningen) to the museum (hardly more than a full city block, maybe a block and a half away). They have the kids make something flashy to carry during the parade. Last year they painted white umbrellas, this year they made flags. Here's EM holding the flag she designed and painted herself.
So far, so good.
The kids entered the museum first, through the upper doors. How nice. Very festive and exciting to watch.
We were ushered into a lobby--a sort of central rotunda, with a marble staircase sweeping through it. Perhaps 'rotunda' is the wrong word to use here. Congering up, as it does, images of grand, airy spaces topped with painted murals of heavenly clouds and chubby angels. That's not what this was. No, it was pretty much a glorified entryway in plain eggshell blue. But it was covered by a dome. Hence....rotunda?
Anyway, it wasn't big. Not nearly big enough for 2,000+ people. The organizers and parent helpers kept pushing us forward, urging us to fill in all the gaps between us. "We have to get everyone up the stairs," they'd shout, "Please move forward!" Being the good socialists we all are, we did as we were told.
And there we stood--cramped, hot, impatient--for the duration of two speeches, a couple of important annoucements about nothing very important, flowers were handed out to the teachers, a brass band from the music school performed something durge-like and vaguely Christmasy by Bach. And all the while we looked longly through the glass doors that led into the large, roooomy display halls of the main museum.
The glass doors were pad-locked.
Finally, a flutter of polite applause signaled the end of the opening ceremony pleasantries, and a side door swung open. The whole sweaty, bovine mass of us moved toward it as one.
I was expecting--I don't know--a wing? an auxillary gallary? maybe an elementary school gymnasium type space partitioned off with white board on which to display the art? What I saw once I finally got to the door was...well, it was none of these things.
It was a longish kind of room. For those of you who have been in Grandma Gae's downstairs living room--not that big. For those of you who have been in Grandpa Stan's basement TV room--about that big, only with very high, museum worthy ceilings and high-tech lighting. At the far end of this longish room was a door leading to another, much smaller room--think 'guest-room' here--and off of this, was a small nook which I never made it into. But over the heads of many I saw a widescreen TV mounted on the wall, so I'm guessing that's where the digital animation kids were displaying their wherewithal.
Into this cramped space--made even more awkward and small by the sculpture class's garden of green and orange ceramic cactii sprawled gaudily across the center of the room--poured 2,000+ tired and hungry philistines. "Which one is yours, Junior? Show me quick so we can get the fuck outta here."
I found it difficult to breathe. My family had been split apart by the general press into the display room. I had a hold of Boy's hand. I hoped to God someone had a hold of Little Miss. Elder Miss had darted ahead of everyone as soon as the doors had opened. She was hot, and desperate to find out if there were refreshments on the other side; there were not.
As I mentioned, I was starting to feel too hungry before the parade even started. So try to imagine the state of my blood-sugar level a loooong, boring hour later. Suffice it to say, I was not exactly my most serene and rational self. The only thought my mind had room for was, "Why here? Why here? Why on Earth hold this thing HERE?" They host a student art show every year. Every year the students and all their parents show up for the opening. That's 2,000+ people. WHY HERE?
And on top of that, I couldn't find anything that looked anything like something EM might have done. The walls in both rooms were covered with drawings and paintings, all in a pretty rainbow of various subjects and techniques. Even in the heat of my famished frustration, I had to admit that if only the room were empty of all these god damn people, it would look really quite colorful and lovely. But as far as I could tell, none of it belonged to my child. And I was getting pretty sick of Boy standing next to me pointing at everything and asking, "Did EM do that? Did EM do that? Did she do that? How about that, did EM do it?" NOOOOOO!
After pressing, squeezing, shoving my way through both rooms twice, I still hadn't found anything that had EM's name on it. I caught sight EM standing in a corner looking as bored and insouciant as ever a 9 year old could. I shouted across the room to get her attention, "EMMMM!"
Seeing me, she shouted back, "MOM! I'M THIRSTY!"
"WHERE'S YOUR WORK?"
"I ONLY FOUND ONE THING! THERE'S NOTHING TO DRINK HERE!"
At this point people around us started to understand that these two loud Americans were trying to have a conversation here, and that perhaps they could do it more quietly if they were standing next to each other. A path began to clear.
"Has Daddy seen it? Where's Farmor? Show me where it is."
"Daddy saw. Farmor gave me 50 kroner. I'm really thirsty."
"EM, show me your work, then go find something to drink."
Reluctantly she walked me over to her little patch of museum glory.
Before I show you what her teacher put on display, let me show you what she's capable of:
She sketched Mulan here, and her hapless victim Puff the Magic Dragon, last week while she was waiting for a friend to arrive for a sleep over. Sure, sure this is no finished compostion, and probably, therefore, not museum worthy, but still pretty impressive. Right? Surely she finished something of the sort during all those hours in class that would stand out well amongst the riff-raff.
Yet, this is what they chose to display:
Ya' got me.
It's not much improved from the rear-view. But at least now we know that whatever it is, the Norwegians are responsible for it:
They're meant to be bird houses, or some shit. They spent weeks collecting boxes and empty food containers, assembling them, gluing them all together, and then painting them.
In preparation for the project, they spent a few weeks sketching buildings around the city, and then drawing wonky fantastical buildings from their imagination. I saw those drawings and paintings. They were great. In my ever humble opinion, they were display worthy. I can't quite wrap my aesthetics around the finished product. Yet there it is, basking in the spotlight for all of Bergen to see.
And that's the story of EM's first art show. We went out for pizza afterwards. I took a couple of pictures on the way back to the car. Is it wrong of me to say that, in some ways, this is the prettiest thing I saw in town that day?