One of my repeating fantasies is that of returning to the past, where I can see and interact as the person I am now, with the people I was fond of then, most of them family. On Sunday, though, I got a taste of the experience, and it was strange.
I must be one of the few people in America today whose family never shot videotape of each other. Still photos, sure, but nothing that moved. So we don’t have those embarrassing videos of relatives and friends with bushy sideburns and strange hair, doing odd things. And we don’t have the precious ones of children we love, moving and talking as they did. (Oh, I’d give a lot for that to be otherwise.)
Well, on Sunday we went to the Menil Collection, where they're showing a film shot in 1973 by Francois de Menil, and edited more recently by his son, John. It documents the preparations for a major exhibition of the de Menils' collection of works by Max Ernst. For an hour we watched Dominique de Menil "hang" the show and get ready for the opening. The camera was in the style of just lurking around, focusing on the faces a great deal, as you’d do if you were there. That made it easy to pass through the plane of the screen into the scene.
So, in that fashion, we accompanied her and the artist to the pre-opening party and then to the opening of the exhibition, and all along we heard Dominique or Ernst making little comments, or arts patrons trying to converse, some of them a bit awkwardly, with this iconic master of 20th century art. Of course, on the periphery, the camera inadvertently captured glimpses of Houstonians I once knew, most of them--sad to say—now dead.
During the time of the film, I was pregnant with my son and married to a museum curator. So I knew a few of these patrons of what passed in Houston then as the artistic avant garde. And it was distinctly odd to have them appear suddenly, briefly, before me, the nuance of their faces displayed as it cannot be in memory.
Even more peculiar, though, is the way it feels today—as though on Sunday I actually spent time inside the large white room at Rice where the exhibition was held, a room I remember as much for its chalky emptiness, as for the art.
It seems as though I was there, as Maisie Marshall attempted to put Herr Ernst at ease, with a little graceful inclination of the head that I instantly recognized, but had forgotten. There were a number of others, too: Daphne Murray, looking surprisingly sad as the camera caught her behind Dominique; Elsa and Bob Kaim; David Adickes—the only one of the people I knew in the group who is still alive. And Dominique, herself, lovely in an elegant strapless gown (at sixty-seven) speaking to friends who milled about as people do at openings, and finally exiting the building, with her escort, Miles Glaser—an old friend of mine, as well—strolling diffidently in her wake.
As the images linger, fading slowly, it feels more like a dream I had than a documentary.
(This is the formerly full moon going to bed on Monday morning.)