Enjoying the most beautiful multicolored, burnt orange and pewter grey sun rising above Miami Beach’s emerald Atlantic Ocean, I saw why little great art has been produced there; art cannot rival what nature has wrought, and is gone from sight in an instant. The sun quickly rises as intense oranges and pinks disappear into pastel aquas; the ocean taking on a teal coloration. Yet art can maintain the memory of that sunlit intensity of dawn. That blinding light that can be reproduced is the value of art. We see it in Monet’s waterlilies and his serial paintings of the bridge on the Seine in varied light. We see it in the paintings of the Hudson River School painters and in the views of the City of Delft, where the light illuminates the city’s streets.
Only art can help us understand and remember the power and beauty of the natural landscape. We see in the work of Anish Kapoor in his show in Venice where dark matter retreats to a black hole of nothingness and everything, like the endless night sky, geometric shapes of the blackest black contrasting with the bright walls of Peggy Guggenheim’s palazzo. We see it again in the field paintings of Mark Rothko, which quiver in their intense layering of color, again leading down to wells unknown, the layers of earth itself. Like Kapoor, Rothko’s Houston chapel shows black to be the most intense admission that we seek deeply to know the power that controls the world but must delve down through layers to even broach the surface.
It is in this witnessing the beauty of our natural world and the revelation that, no matter how deeply we question and explore, we can never know, and quiver in the intensity of the search that keeps us coming back, that makes artists produce, so the image can remind us of the original natural scene and the quest.
I saw reminders that we may face apocalypse at the Bass Museum in Miami Beach. Blocks from the bright beach, a room-filling sculpted body lies on a bed of rock amidst reminders of the classical and recent past and a tribute to an unknown soldier. A show of Danish art at the Metropolitan Museum in New York shows landscape rendered in sepias, umbers and other brown tones, reminders that we and the earth are growing old hidden in the folds of brown, like cracked old paper, or crumbled dirt, after the growing season.
We need art. Especially in dirty, crowded cities, we need to be reminded that natural beauty surrounds us, and that we can and must delve deep into the mysteries of life. We need wide-open spaces, which Elizabeth Ashe writes about in the Faurschau Foundation Museum in Brooklyn, New York, with Yoko Ono’s installation full of living trees planted in caskets, reminding us that the living emanates from the dead, with birdsong, uninterpretable by us but comforting nonetheless, and a live performance by Miles Greenberg embracing life. Liviana Martin also notes how embracing  and images of water pervade
Bill Viola’s work. I cannot help but associate the work with the plight of refugees on wild seas and environmental disaster
Elga Wimmer writes about music and the absence of sound, without which there would be no appreciation for the sound that pervades music.
It is the contrast between knowing and not knowing but exploring, the contrast between nature and artist’s commitment to let us escape our built environment to revel in images of nature and find order in the chaos. Wimmer asks how we connect visual arts with music and explores the immateriality of sound, realizing, in Theaster Gates’ work and in Tamineh Monzavi’s films how the international language of film and movement draws empathy from us all, even when spoken in a language not our own.
It is Vija Celmin’s methodical drawings of spider webs that allow us to carefully inspect the intricate art of another species, melding the natural world with a true artist-made imitation of it. Perhaps we should look at Tomas Saraceno’s metal wire installations made to look like spider webs, encased in plexiglass boxes to see how well imitations stack up to the real thing. We are reminded that Plato wrote that all art is imitation, and cannot approach the real and the good.
Maryanto’s charcoal on canvas drawing, Palm Spirit, on view at Art Dubai, seen by writer Rafi Abdullah, shows so well the beauty of indigenous floras as the fair highlights threats to the beauty of the world’s environment, also analyzing and correcting the Eurocentric gaze on work and fauna from outside the western canon and environment. An international art fair brings us together to appreciate natural beauty in our world, and the global threat to its and our existence.
This is what keeps me going, keeps me looking for and at art.
It is not enough to see a sunset or mountain or ocean once, or to imagine. Art is concrete. As Plato reminded us, we can only imitate the good, but we must imitate the beauty that we see, so we retain the image, and the search. That is what art is and is for. Joyce Kilmer may have written: “I think that I shall never see a poem as lovely as a tree.” Especially in cities without easy access to the beauty of the natural landscape, art enables us to see imitations of beautiful nature, and to admire and seek solace in the reproduction and exploration.
Join us as we search and explore, casting the beam of light to illuminate the world of art. It will be a worthwhile journey.