Take a look at this painting by Authur G. Dove. It’s called Movement No. 1 and it is part of the Columbus Museum of Art’s permanent collection. To see the real thing, pop on over to CMA’s Secrets and Stories Gallery.
You’d think that in the 99 years since it was created, someone would have figured out which side of the painting is the top.
Not even the experts know for sure so CMA hung the painting with the curator’s best guess along with two reproductions so that you can see it both ways.
Catherine Evans, Chief Curator at the Columbus Museum of Art, says arts matters because even after decades working in the field, this painting surprised her and reminded her that art continually leads to surprise:
“It’s a wonderful kind of puzzle. Art can bring us to a puzzle and an unraveling of that puzzle that can take you in a lot of different pathways.”
Evans reminds us that the creation of art isn’t a linear process; in fact, the artist is someone who is trying to understand the world and all it’s cultural, economic, political and social dimensions. That journey is rife with detours. So should be the experience of art:
“Once you think you’ve got everything figured out..it only leads to a more complex picture, which I think is really healthy.”
So instead of deciding for the viewer which way Movement No. 1 should be hung, the museum decided to keep the question of its orientation alive and part of the presentation. That’s a change from the way museums operated in the past.
“We’re encouraged to constantly question what is the bigger story, what was the context. It’s a great time now to be engaged in these questions. For a long time art history and photo history was very much about a linear story. And we know that’s not true.”
And one detour can lead to another. For example Movement No. 1 is a very important painting. It is one of a series of completely abstract works called the Ten Commandments.
“The series is one of the first completely abstract works produced in western art,” says the panel next to the painting.
Whether or not Wassily Kandinsky influenced Dove is unknown. Kandinsky at the time was a Russian painter also experimenting with the abstract. It would be years before Kandinsky would be heralded as the father of the abstract movement.
Dove might have arrived at abstraction all on his own. If that’s true, the history of the abstract movement is much more complicated than any one of us, including the experts, have thought.
Just another surprise.