This year, like the others, I took Veterans Day off. I figured a day off is one of the small things that I can rightfully claim after having served my country – or at least having done what my country asked.
Instead of calling old army buddies, watching war films, or engaging in one of the myriad tasteless Veterans Day sales, I instead headed to the VMFA. They’ve got a new Jasper Johns and Edvard Munch exhibit and were letting members in prior to the general public.
“Love, Loss and the Cycle of Life” is an exhibit every bit as dreary as the title suggests, though you’d be remiss if you were caught off guard, because the exhibit starts with Johns’ early crosshatch work – much of which is very bright – lulling the visitor into almost a false sense of security, of ease.
Johns’ spent the better part of decade working with the crosshatch pattern – a system and study that can seem abstract at first, but rewards those who pay attention with (of all things) patterns. As noted, Johns made those patterns deliberately and without meaning, as if he was trying to induce Pareidolia .
It takes a special kind of madness to spend an entire decade focusing on the same pattern, especially one knowingly devoid of meaning. It’s almost an act of mechanical nihilism rendered as obsession, but the exhibit does a great job of showing the fruits of that obsession – even if that work is as dark as the obsession that preceded it.
The overall curation and layout of the exhibit does a very solid (and thorough) job of showing how the study of a meaningless pattern gave way to a pattern embed with meaning, itself creating a meta-meaning, a narrative stretched across five rooms. Meaning can come from meaninglessness, but that meaning cannot retroactive grant itself upon the past. The meaningless event that creates meaning does not, by proxy, itself becoming inherently meaningful.