When Richard Serra re-created his famous act of throwing lead in 1995 at the San Francisco MOMA, part of the deal was that the several pulled out negatives couldn't be moved. Now, whenever a temporary show is on that floor, Serra's room has to be walled off.
The piece, being walled off so frequently, had been hidden from my mother's less than frequent visits, and she showed delight and interest as we strolled by earlier this year. "So, what is it?" she asked, and before I could even get in to my index-vs-icon speech, a startling "what do you think it is?" came from behind us.
Neither of us had noticed the docent lurking in the corner and his eagerness turned to patient dismissal as she referred to them as "waves". Obviously excited about correcting her with the true background, he told of them being evidence of an act and then went into a short minimalism primer.
The thing is, they do look like waves, albeit of the dirty, low-rent variety. My mom had seen them from a view unclouded by my artucation. I can't remember whether I had said or just thought "her explanation is so much cooler that yours!". Not that it is, necessarily, but it's her idea on it and the very friendly docent's singular take came off as, well, singular. There was a lesson to be taught and he was doing his job to the letter.
The index/icon/symbol Mexican standoff still energizes creative practices, but all three results gain a life of their own when enlivened with the narratives a thousand eyes will put on them. Even when a symbol is misinterpreted from a specific intent, it becomes something new. Can a misread be keener than an intent? Were the people of the "new world" so far off base when seeing the Christian symbol not as a cross, but a sword? Do artists really want to speechify from a lectern? Or are they sending something out to join the world?
Maybe it was all because my mom is English.
Coming: Is index American?