#367: The Startling Discovery of René Magritte

September 1st, 2014

“I believe that I have made an absolutely startling discovery in painting – a new potential inherent in things, their ability to gradually become something else.”

– René Magritte, 1927

This is not a René Magritte exhibit.

It has all the trappings of one, of course. It has the paintings on the wall, the lines on the paintings. It has the old man in the wheelchair pushed around by his daughter, it has the little girl exclaiming “It has clouds!” as her daddy hoists her past “The False Mirror” (1928).

It has the security guards cracking down on iPhone photos, the lines, the wait, the gift shop full of bowler hats and umbrellas, but these words are no more an exhibit than a few sketch marks are a pipe, two shrouded lovers or a guy with an apple right in the face.

The real exhibit, currently at the Art Institute of Chicago, is, of course, magical. It’s magical and dreamy and wonderful and surreal and everything else the ad campaigns flooding Chicago are saying.

It’s beautiful and marvelous and open through Oct. 13.

But these few lines aren’t the exhibit, or even really about the exhibit. They’re not about the paintings on the walls.

They’re about the dudebro looking at “The Lovers.”

He stared at the painting in the darkened corner, point-lit from above like Dracula’s eyes. The dudebro in the khaki shorts and novelty T stared at the surrealist painting of two lovers in shrouds.

He had stock sandy-blond hair and was white. He was of an age and economic class where a goatee seemed a clever substitute for a jawline starting to droop. He was a dork, a douche, an aging fratster.

And he was transfixed by the art.

He stood staring. He cocked his head slightly, a third figure in the scene.

He was as beautiful as the painting.

We all were beautiful, the crowd milling around. We were beautiful when we watched the art, some gawking unashamed, some nodding slightly as they composed future Facebook statuses to humblebrag that they went there.

“All patrons please make way for the wheelchair,” a guard called, to which an elderly man already embarrassed by being pushed around by his daughter winced, “It’s all right. It’s all right.”

“He paints his dreams!” a perfect hypothetical son of about 7 or 8 squealed before flinging into a more conventional child narrative of “Carry me,” “You’re too big,” “I am NOT.”

Three people in wheelchairs – three separate people who came separately – lined up in front of 1937’s “This is a Piece of Cheese.”

It was beautiful. We were beautiful. In an exhibit curated in darkened halls to be dreamy, wonderful and all right, all right, we were it and it was us. The crowd milled among art. Art milled among us.

I try to end these stories with conclusions, a thought that carries through the Chinatown dinner, the drunk lady on the street corner, the group of friends gawking a beau’s ex’s author photo or whatever the tale might be.

But René Magritte doesn’t lend himself to conclusions. Nothing’s so pat. Nothing’s so boring.

This is not a conclusion.

This is not a René Magritte exhibit.

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