In a nook in the basement of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, I stumbled upon this curiosity:
It is a shiny silver storage cabinet, not a painstakingly chiseled sculpture or a painting in an ornate gilded frame. It doesn’t scream “art!” to me. The skeletons make me wonder if it belongs in an anatomy class or med school, and then I notice all the sharp things: every kind of scalpel, scissor, and surgical device for removing your spleen that I never imagined. I always cover my eyes during the gory operating scenes on TV and in movies, so I am not too familiar with the tools of the trade.
You can zoom into professional photography of the work on Hirst’s website, to get a better idea of all those sharps: http://www.damienhirst.com/end-game
There are also cleansers and latex gloves and such, sure, but man oh man! The tools for prying and slicing and … ouch! So many! The ratios seem off to me. Maybe it is just my wishful thinking that hospitals ought to be full of candy stripers and nurses changing bandages, but there seem to be far too many gleaming cutting implements for the amount of wound dressings. I don’t have any idea the number of scalpels used in the average invasive surgery. The little tray in operating rooms on movies always seems to have about six sharp things on it before I avert my eyes, and I would think they need a lot more gauze and gloves and sterile antiseptic to repair the damage from those half-dozen blades. Why does this cabinet have so many cruel torture devices per gentle healing item?
Here is the shot I took, with a family eyeing the goods. See how big it is? Though you already knew that—because those skeletons aren’t just life size, they are real. Who is in that cabinet? Who is that hanging in the MFAH as art?
The thing that struck me most, though, isn’t apparent in the professional photograph, and that is how I am part of the work. Standing in that basement nook, near the corridor to the other building, every time I looked at “End Game” I saw myself in the mirrored cabinet.
Here I am, looking small next to Mr. and Mrs. Bones. (Pardon the poor photography; I didn’t think I would be using these images when I took them.)
This is where I start to think End Game speaks artfully. I don’t get to just admire the scary medical supplies in their sterile box and be on my way, but I have to think, really see myself in the box with all those ominous surgical tools. I keep being reminded of myself as I look at them—they are almost threatening me, or at least my mirror image. I feel solemn. I hope no one will need to use them on me.
Sometimes art is very different in person than it is in a photo. What have you seen that was more meaningful in person than in pictures? How do you feel about seeing yourself in a cabinet full of sharp things?
Here is an article about some folks who did a scientific study comparing how we look at art in a gallery versus on a computer screen.
Next week: the Mona Lisa. (Spoiler: she’s not my favorite.)