Performance Art

On our way home from our road trip, we stopped in DC for a day. I love to go to the Hirsshorn Museum, and on this visit I was anxious to recreate  with My Royal Consort the ecstatic experience that I had enjoyed there two years ago by myself.

The last time I was there the exhibit happened to be a very sensory bit of business involving multiple geometric shapes, prismatic colors, changing light patterns and string. Walking around by myself with my heightened awareness, I was so happy that my hair stood on end

This time around, the exhibit was all about destruction and mayhem and could not have been more depressing. The security workers appeared to be suffering from PTSD from their long exposure to the dissonant soundtracks that accompanied the doomsday video installations.

Depressed from consuming  footage of nuclear bombs, car crashes and exploding aircraft cloaked in the shroud of art, we made our way down to the basement level to relax for a moment in the peace and quiet of the restroom. The ritual of hand washing gave me a moment to access my sense of humor and take in the fact that on a beautiful spring day in DC, we were getting beaten about the head and shoulders by gratuitous exhibitions of mans’ inhumanity to man—as if we didn’t already know about that and needed to have our awareness raised.

Moping around the museum in search of something beautiful and inspiring that would distract us from the idea that our fabulous road trip was nearly at an end, I was reminded of yet another Hirsshorn experience involving gore.

We were on the first of several family trips to DC. Our kids were great travelers for their age, which was somewhere in the neighborhood of 9 and 7. They had thoroughly enjoyed the sculpture museum and were captivated by the architecture of the Hirsshorn so we decided to bring them inside.

As visitors to DC well know, it is a city of escalators. I have never been a big fan of escalators.  I dislike the fact that I cannot control their movement, and that they have those ferocious, toothy edges on each step. My hesitation to step on to them is a source of great hilarity for the rest of the family who love to demonstrate to me how gravity defying and free spirited they can be on a moving escalator.

On the day of our visit to the Hirsshorn with the kids, the fourth floor gallery was entirely devoted to a gigantic Christo-inspired installation involving (no surprise here) low swooping parabolas of white fabric. They would have loved nothing better than to get in there and bat at the pristine cloth,  but I held them back. The guard, probably a parent himself, read my body language and started to tell us a little about the piece, including what it had cost, which was around three million dollars.

My late mother had a very dangerous congenital condition that caused her to suffer frequent nosebleeds. I was the only one in the family who did not inherit the disease. Because bloody noses were so common in our house when I was growing up it seemed only natural and right that every sheet and pillowcase in our house was stained with blood. It was not unusual to see someone in our house walking around distractedly dabbing at his or her face with a bloody wad of toilet paper.

While it is probably unlikely that this actually happened, I could have sworn that the guard’s complexion changed from warm brown to a sickly grey as he gazed down at our youngest child.

Standing in the doorway of the gallery that housed the multi-million dollar installation of blindingly white fabric, was my oblivious child with  his adorable upturned nose gouting blood.

I am not sure exactly what the order of operations was that got us down to the first floor and onto to escalator that lead to the subterranean bathrooms, the only bathrooms that I know of in the Hirsshorn.

It was April vacation and the museum was packed. As we fought and clawed our way down the packed escalators, I longed to push the other visitors aside and assassinate Gordon Bunshaft for his architectural mischief. Thing 2’s nose was perversely spouting blood, and had long since overwhelmed the scrap of Kleenex that I had unearthed from the depths of my pocket.

Making our way down the three floors to the bathroom I tried to keep from dislocating Thing 2’s arm and roughing up the clueless tourists who selfishly insisted on using the escalator.

Mostly I wanted to slap a  woman who had the temerity to bring what I perceived of as ten small children into the Hirsshorn. She was clogging up the works trying to get them all safely onto the escalator while Thing 2’s lifeblood poured forth from his nose.

As I despaired of ever getting to the basement, the overwhelmed old-woman-who-lived-in-a-shoe-and-had-so-many-children-she-didn’t-know-what-to-do lost control of a stroller and it went rolling willy-nilly down the escalator like the baby carriage in Battleship Potemkin. Our messy situation paled in comparison to this horrifying scene. The seemingly somnambulant people surrounding us suddenly awoke from their collective torpor and rushed to help the poor woman and her unfortunate charge,  which allowed me and Thing 2 to slip past them leaving a Hansel and Gretel trail of blood behind us.

Our bloody nose experience came to its natural conclusion, and as far as I know the baby in the baby carriage was fine. Probably, being a baby, he thought the bumpy ride down the moving escalator was the bee’s knees. His mother was probably never the same again.


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  1. Hope Leeson says:

    LaVie, this is great! And could morph into a ‘series of unfortunate events’ so easily that I think you should carry on with this theme.

    I have a similar, though not so outwardly gory memory of a family ‘cultural outing’ at the RISD museum, when as you so deftly say, ‘youngest’ suddenly became aware of the need to expel everything intestinal. The bathroom at RISD is, when leaving the inner solitude of Buddha, down three flights, which when traveled at top speed seem to spiral. Each smooth marble stair meeting foot at just the right cadence. One hand for balance sliding over the metal rail we ran (or, I ran, child in arm) step by step to the coolness of the narrow cellar stalls; just in time.

    1. admin says:

      Aah I can so well remember those “tummy bugs” of yore.

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