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Women of a generation.
Love Letter Day 19.
Today’s letter is late because I spent the entirety of my day looking at art with Christina, one of my favorite people to look at art with. I did manage to get this in before bedtime, though! I refuse to break my streak, though in fact I do not know why the streak is so important. You likely wait to collect these letters and read them as a packet. That’s one of my fantasies.
Well as I was saying, Christina and I went to Washington, D.C. to see the big Laurie Anderson show but we saw work by several major artists in the national galleries. Many were attributed to a Smithsonian initiative called something like “all thanks to her” or “she made me do it” or “pretty rad for a girl” or some kind of hashtag to do with American women in the arts. I’d joked with Christina on the ride down how funny it would be if Laurie Anderson gave herself “you go girl” type pep talks with a Shania Twain affect.
So The Weather. I mean sorry, THE Laurie Anderson show, The Weather. It’s really good. Like, really good. I really like her writing. Like, really like her writing. Her “Story about a story” will haunt me forever. The Sidewalk.
Afterward, we saw the extraordinary work of Hung Liu in Portraits of a Promised Land at the National Portrait Gallery, and somewhere in between we caught the Carrie Mae Weems “Conversation with the Shaw 54th Regiment Memorial.” I mention them together because in some didactic copy in one of the galleries, I found out Carrie and Hung were friends. I love that for them.
*Sigh* I have so much to say about the art I saw today. Oh I can’t wait to tell you more. Even with a little voice in me that worries you’ll find I’m so corny for being impressed by a major exhibition, it feels important for me to describe in person.
But this is a love letter, so I’m going to talk about something else. Like the fact that Laurie Anderson and Hung Liu were born the same time my mom was. Did I ever tell you how my mom doesn’t know her real birthday? I mean she’s fairly sure she knows the month and date, but it’s actually the year that’s questionable. Isn’t that bananas? It has something to do with the fact that she was a Korean migrant, and her family had to fake her papers to keep her above board. She was born in either 1947 like Laurie or in 1948 like Hung.
As I experienced The Weather, I kept thinking to myself, “god, I’d have loved to see Laurie Anderson perform in the 1980s or 1990s.” And just so I’m clear: I would have been too young and in the wrong part of the country to have seen her perform, so when I say I’d have loved to see her perform, I mean it the same way I’d like the ability to fly. It’s a fantasy. Not like that time I refused a free ticket to Oingo Boingo’s Halloween concert before learning it would be their last one ever and then regretting it solely because it was over forever.
As I fantasized about going back in time to see younger Laurie Anderson, I also found listening to her and reading her words really penetrating because I felt a younger version of myself staring back at her in absolute awe. Perhaps I call this person staring in awe a younger self precisely because she was in awe. Anne at this ripe age cannot really be in awe, could she? (The little voice that worries I’m being corny must actually be the older self. How strange.)
As the exhibition culminated, I thought about the things I’d heard about the putting together of this show, and the challenges of using a word like “retrospective” with her. But I get it. How do you delineate time at a person who has studied the bardo this closely for that long. (I mean they totally do it anyway with timelines all over the show lol)
By the time Christina and I get to the Portrait Gallery to see Hung Liu’s Portraits of a Promised Land, I am sore from walking around the national mall, chapped from sunshine and bad news about the R’house trial verdict. I’m literally scared we won’t be able to get back home because we must surely be planning an immediate revolt.
I feel like glue waiting to gel. Did I mention I was a little hungover today? Whenever my body knows I’m going to get on a train, it starts getting me tanked the night before so I am guaranteed to be green in the gills by the time I’m all aboard. Coffee and hunger sustained me through the Hirshhorn but I approach the Hung Liu show feeling aged like paper and now the glue is a gem.
Hung Liu’s work is new to me and I’m embarrassed that it is new to me, but grateful to see it now. Actually, I’m grateful to have been able to see it only now.
Her large scale painted portraits of mostly Americans of color, are based on historical documentation and famous photography (she has a series of paintings based on the photography of Dorothea Lange for example). I joked to Christina that Liu’s Lange variations are the antithesis of Yassification. But there’s something about her maximizing the material visibility of the subjects of national documentation; and then that new variation being exhibited in a national portrait gallery, a floor above the president’s portraits where Donald Trump is sitting inside a pretty frame…it is like an existential palimpsest. I wonder if Laurie has thought about Hung Liu ever. Hung Liu, I found out through Christina, died mere months before her show opened last year. She was in the literal bardo while Laurie was painting The Weather. Therein, another existential palimpsest
Anyway, I wonder again: how did I miss such an important body of work representing the aches of my people—Asian women—until now? But my reaction to her work is the equal and opposite of Laurie Anderson. I think when I see Hung Liu’s work, “I really don’t think I could have appreciated this ten years ago. Wow am I glad to be alive precisely today in this sequence of lived lives.”
What might it look like when we experience art ten years hence? I cannot wait to find out. Time is designed so that I am literally unable to wait. Time keeps advancing. We will simply have to move forward with it to find ourselves on the other side.
And Mom. My mother who is the age of these two artists. I wonder each time I see my mother’s generational peers, what they would have thought of her (hash hash hash because of her, she made me do it, she’s rad for a gal, Twain Twain Twain). They could be one of her. She could be one of them. She’s really the coolest person I know. You could be my mom and I’ll be yours.