The wind outside has become cold and biting, dark and worrisome. But I can’t feel it, not even the brittleness of my fingers that beg for warmth once they find solace in a building. I am here, on the feathery edges of winter, but I am also there.
There — in front of some paint and tiny thoughts of artists dead and alive — I can feel it.
It’s sunny. In the museum, filled with strangers, there’s no need for gloves or a coat or anything else. Just you. Just me. It might also be the heater.
But, I’m telling you, it’s warmer than a Georgia summer in there, in front of that piece or this one or the other across the room, because when I stand there, facing something that has taken my heart (or I might’ve given it to them for free — I don’t know), I can feel it. My heart picks up and golden strands stretch across my chest until they snap, and I smile and everything is just so wonderful.
This happened recently, and the weather is dreary now, but I really don’t mind because I really do feel quite warm still. I walked around the wooden floors of the exhibit, my little red shoes tap-tap-tapping among hushed whispers and shuffling sneakers, waiting to escape the cold. Soon enough, I found myself under the sun.
German artist Gerhard Richter created “Tisch” in 1962 to embody a bridge between the styles of East and West Germany. “Tisch” was a whirlwind. I stood there, warmed by the embrace of violent streaks of gray and black. Germany was nowhere near — I saw a girl, dull and cold and falling to the ground in a frenzy. The hug grew tighter. Sunnier. Her little dining room had become a little cage colorless and deathly enough that dinner had already rotted away. I’d imagined her preparing three ripe clementines to eat, but their insides were now dark and boiling, burying itself in the depths of the table. She was dust, a whirlwind of a woman, skeleton and all, her fury and screams twirling around the same four walls, forever.
A girl’s wrath, or a girl simply mourning and weeping, is like the sun. It’s there, always. It’s you, safe and acknowledged. Susanna Kaysen knows this. There’s a scene in her memoir, “Girl, Interrupted,” where she goes to a museum with a boy and finds a painting that brings her warmth. She’s trying to get out, Susanna tells him. “I see you,” she thinks. He tells her she doesn’t understand anything about art.
Maybe, in front of the Richter piece, Susanna was the sun. Maybe it was her who had flattened my goosebumps and held my freezing hands. We saw the table — the girl’s table — but what we really looked at was her. There was nothing in her little room except godly grayness and melting night, nothing on her body except bones and the hurricane of destruction around it. Susanna could see her. So could I.
The sun lives in art like this. Or I might’ve put it there. Or Susanna did. Who knows.