Small Curtain, Michael Brophy

Michael Brophy Small Curtain, 1999, oil on canvas, 49 1/4 x 37 1/4 inches

Michael Brophy
Small Curtain, 1999, oil on canvas,
49 1/4 x 37 1/4 inches

ART IS A VISUAL MEANS of communication, but often what is not seen is as important as what is seen. Michael Brophy’s painting Small Curtain is an excellent example of how artists often suggest a narrative but leave the meaning ambiguous or hidden. Brophy sets up a mysterious scene that asks more questions than it answers. It makes us think.

Our eyes first see a red velvety curtain and a fallen tree stump. Behind the curtain is a forest. Is the curtain in the forest or is the forest on a stage? If the forest is on a stage, why? Perhaps the artist is suggesting that the audience (or viewers) are watching nature but not in it. Or – maybe that we see nature, as represented by the forest, as something to admire from a distance, something to entertain us, to add drama to our lives.

Two large trees in the foreground seem to be protective of the fallen tree. The fallen tree and the two strong vertical tree trunks just behind it visually block us from entering further into the scene. To the right, an opening exists for the viewer to enter and when we do we are pulled back by an S shape of light toward a distant background space that is full of backlit trees. If we could walk back into that space, what would we find? What would it smell like? What sounds might we hear? Or would there be only silence?

Is the curtain going up or coming down (on nature)? Is the play beginning or ending? Will we walk into the scene and become part of the play, or will we stay removed, waiting for the next act?

To me, the best art engages the viewer on many levels – sensory, emotionally, and intellectually – and is open to multiple interpretation. What’s your interpretation of Small Curtain?

— Mary Jo Maute, WM Education & Public Programs Coordinator

Union, Diem Chau

Diem Chau, Vietnamese-American, b. 1979; Union, 2008; Porcelain cup, silk, and thread. Gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Group, and Washington Art Consortium, 2010.53.11.

Diem Chau, Vietnamese-American, b. 1979; Union, 2008; Porcelain cup, silk, and thread. Gift of Safeco Insurance, a member of the Liberty Mutual Group, and Washington Art Consortium, 2010.53.11.

CLEARLY THE SMALLEST piece in the New Gifts and Acquisitions exhibition, Diem Chau’s Union, a tiny (just over 2 inches high) tea bowl holds its own amid much larger, bolder and more colorful works. Perhaps its minute size and simplicity is part of the attraction.

Attached atop the rim of the porcelain bowl, clay from the earth tested by fire and heat, is a scrim of sheer organza with hand-embroidered images of two hands — one male, one female — joined by a loop of red thread.

What does it mean? Diem Chau has created a tactile memory piece referencing her Vietnamese culture, her family history and the univer- sal importance of connectedness. As refugees to the United States in 1986, her family kept memories and traditions alive by storytelling and sharing contemplative moments over tea.

What makes it art? Art is always about something. If the metaphor or message intended by the artist resonates both emotionally and intellectually with the viewer the object has achieved its goal. Art does not have to be beautiful or even recognizable, but it must make a connection with the viewer.

Do you respond to this piece? Does it awaken memories of shared family times; the importance of taking tea and time with loved ones? Who might the two hands represent? Do you own a cherished keep- sake that carries special memories of places or people in your life?