Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Art Matters

What would it mean if we could walk into any Marriot, any Hilton, any Ramada Inn and see Chihuly chandeliers hanging in the lobby as I did at the Marriott Renaissance Hotel in New Orleans. It was early on a July Sunday morning, and I was exploring the arts district, an old warehouse area which had gone from a center of industry in the 19th century to an urban wasteland in the 20th century. The transformation began in 1976 with the opening of the Contemporary Arts Center, closed when I climbed the stairs to look inside, seeing gallery after gallery and wishing I had the time to return. I was searching for Tchoupitoulas Street, trying to get that Marriott, and when I did I couldn’t figure out where the art gallery next door ended and the hotel began, for there in the lobby, I saw three Dan Chihuly chandeliers, their vibrant colors, their geometric shapes, cascading and forming sculptures. I stood breathless, hardly believing what I was seeing. “Are those Chihulys?” I asked the desk clerk, a young woman with dark hair and a ready smile.

“Yes,” she said, obviously pleased to show them off.

I lowered my gaze from the ceiling. “Do you mind if I look around?”

“Please, do,” she said.

And I did, walking slowly, looking at chromatic prints on wood, the work of Luie Cruz Azaceta, an award winning artist whose work is in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, facts I did not know that Sunday morning, when I stood mesmerized by a large collage with grids of snapshots that seemed to me to chronicle Hurricane Katrina’s devastation or perhaps any human devastation, scenes of broken buildings, a photo of a man, a child and a dog, the man mournful, wearing a hooded sweatshirt, the child standing slightly behind him but leaning into him. The dog, too, seemed to need the man, and the man the dog, his arm around the animal’s body. All three were survivors, and all three, even the dog, seemed understand the dilemma of surviving. Another Azaceta work was Beads No. 2, a piece full of color and zest. Mardi Gras beads? Prayer beads? I had never heard of Azaceta. Now, I loved Azaceta.

And I loved this lobby, soft piano sounds coming from hidden speakers, a table that formed a pedestal for displaying ceramics, sitting areas with rugs, chairs and sofas that echoed the various shapes and vibrant colors of those Chihuly chandeliers. And so I sat, and I wrote in my small notebook, and I watched. Sitting in the adjacent dining area men, women and children, ate breakfast. They talked, softly, as if absorbed by their surroundings. Beauty soothes us. I had never seen art woven into the fabric of a corporate enterprise in this way. This was not simply art on display; this was an environment, and I was sitting inside of it. And I thought. Let’s do it. Let’s move art into the corporate world; let’s move the corporate world into art. Let’s come to together, so that each of us can save the other, the artist from anonymity, the corporation from devouring us all.