Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Retirement Observations - Venice Expo as Metaphor

The inspiration for today’s post came from the New York Times review of the 54th Biennale in Venice, one of the world’s most respected art expositions. What caught my eye was the headline: “Old Patina Encircles Fresh Art in Venice.”

My immediate thought was: “I know what they mean. I feel like I’m an old patina encircling the young people I meet, now that I’m retired.” Not surprisingly, I was motivated to read the entire article. Talk about a treasure trove of metaphors for retirement! Let me give credit in advance to Times contributor, Carol Vogel, for being such a rich source of material and for my liberal excerpts from her write-up.

In her first paragraph, Ms. Vogel describes this Biennale as “more subdued and less experimental” than past ones. Compare my years immediately post-college with my current life and you’ll find that phrase is an appropriate subtitle for my autobiography. Vogel also calls the expo “a nostalgic meditation on life,” which could be a generic subtitle for almost any retiree’s reflections.

The Biennale’s curator, Bice Curiger, installed 16th century Venetian art at the expo’s entrance, specifically, works by Tintoretto. She described the “demolition of a static order, the loss of harmony” in his “Last Supper,” as evidenced by the fact that “Christ is no longer at the center of the scene, and the table lies diagonally across the painting.”

If that isn’t a metaphor for my retirement, I’ll eat my AARP membership card. I’ve come to terms with the fact that I’m now more likely to be on the sidelines of events than at the center. And I readily confess that if you put me anywhere near a horizontal surface about an hour after I’ve had lunch, you’re likely to find me lying diagonally across it before the mail has been delivered.

The Biennale has been described as bigger than ever, which is exactly what my internist found when he weighed me at my recent checkup. To use his words at the end of our semi-annual get together: “Your blood pressure’s fine. You’re generally in good health. It’s just that there’s too much of you.” Speaking of which…

One of Vogel’s more colorful items about the expo is her description of Jeff Koons’s sculpture “Fait d’Hiver,” as “a busty porcelain woman in a fishnet top being ogled by a porcelain pig and penguin.” Now that’s cutting a little too close to home. Oh, wait. It says “busty,” not “buttsy.”

And while we’re close to home, some of the language reminds me of my house during the staging process. Per Vogel, the Biennale had many off-site exhibits, “stuffed into abandoned churches, disused palaces and empty industrial buildings.” Or as I’d like to say of my belongings that the Realtors’ stager banished: “Stuffed into abandoned storage trunks, disused closets and empty drawers.” Fishnet stockings, anyone?

Japanese artist Tabaimo said his exhibit was about “receding into isolation in the face of globalization.” There are days when government functionaries and multinational corporations have me thinking Tabaimo is on to something, but the last thing I want to become is a hermit curmudgeon. There are already some role models for that in my life, and they’re not what Martha Stewart would call “a good thing.”

A similarly glass-half-empty point of view was expressed in the environmental commentary of Swiss artist, Thomas Hirschhorn. His installation was comprised of old computer screens, cell phones, plastic chairs and such, reflecting “a world of high-speed obsolescence.” I have nothing to say about fellow Swiss artist, Pipilotti Rist. I just love the name and wanted to include it in this post.

I prefer to focus on the commentaries of the glass-half-full members of the art world. Thomas P. Campbell, director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, reportedly enjoyed the exposition, describing it as “chaotic, kaleidoscopic and exciting.” That sounds a lot more like the life I aspire to lead once I settle fully into retirement. I could do without the chaotic part, but I’m a realist. No matter how much I declutter and downsize, it’s unlikely I’ll completely escape chaos.

Vogel ended her review with a quote from Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, reflecting on the Hirschhorn installation. He described it as “an elegy toward postindustrialism.” His poetic observation: “As we glide into the simulated universe, real things take on a different, maybe even talismanic significance.”

Now there’s a thought I can sink my mental teeth into: real things becoming talismans in my retirement. So, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to pour a generous glass of wine and glide off into a simulated universe. Preferably one without a porcelain pig.

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