Notes from the Field

…the headlines make it look serious… and I guess it may be. However, the earthquakes come and go without too much trouble. We just felt, today just before 11am, our second strong tremor. Not nearly as the couch surfing shake we had on Friday, but enough to make us sit up and wait.

I am trying to get to the Tikal story… and the pictures… the stunning vibrant photographs we took. Things happen in between my need to get that written…

Yesterday, Iniyal and I went on a day trip to Museo Nacional de Arte Modern (the Museum of Modern Art). We have a plan to try and go to as many galleries as we can find throughout this city, and others. This was a great first trip. If you are expecting the MOMA… if you are expecting the Tate… if you are expecting the Vancouver Art Gallery or the Art Gallery of Ontario… drop those expectations. The Museo Nacional de Arte Modern is a small, quiet, rather low key gallery, that reflects, more than its name would imply, the possible differences in which art and artist is recognized from nation to nation. Artists, of every kind, every discipline are everywhere… they are simply (complexly) perceived differently by different nations, different society’s. Guatemala has a wealth of art and artists… of every kind, every discipline… but where they are is not as easy as asking where the “gallery district” is…

Our taxi pulled into what appeared to be an almost abandoned parking lot. A few vehicles at the far end of the compound gave me the impression that someone may at least be working here. The buildings were Colonial. Each housed a different gallery or museum. We found the gallery and were relieved to see that the front doors were wide open, and across the lot, at the History Museum, a family filed out into the bright sunlight. Apparently they were indeed open. Iniyal had telephoned earlier to no answer. I paid the driver. We climbed the short steps to the entrance and went inside.

10q each was the entrance fee. This amounts to around $1.30 cdn – at least during the current days of Canadian Monetary Super Power…. well… rather US Dollar under power… I am not an economist. We paid the fee, were giving two receipt tickets and were directed to our left. We wandered through a wide opening into the belly of the building. The building iteslf, inside, was divided into rather well placed. connected rooms, by walls that only reached perhaps fifteen feet. Beyond the top of the walls was a wide open space stretching another 30 feet to the ceilings. I am guessing. The ceilings were very high.

We followed the paths connecting the rooms… pausing at each painting, turning to the opposing wall. I was immediately struck with a troubled sense that the works were in the best possible place they could ever be here. A strange feeling. The first pieces we saw, paintings, dating from the mid to late 19th and early 20th centuries. The were terribly cracked. Roughly stretched, or placed casually behind frames, rumpled. Dirty. These paintings were the kinds of pieces that would be found by chance in an attic.. hidden away for decades… a layer of dirt or dust coating the surface giving them a dull, dark appearance. A close look reveals some very good technique… but many of the first pieces we saw were in desperate need of cleaning. Cleaning paintings is a complicated procedure sometimes. You just cannot casually run a cloth over the surface and return the painting to its natural brightness and splendor. I suppose sometimes you can… but, when a painting has been left for some time, the dirt embeds itself into the surface. The dirt takes up residence. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe it is very easy… no… its not… it can’t be… especially when a painting has cracks and peeling paint. The risk of removing paint is increased with cleaning and it becomes a time consuming, delicate and possibly expensive procedure. Depending on who you speak to… depending on perspective… art has a place… historical art has a place.. and that place isn’t held in as high regard with everyone. This is not to say that the gallery itself is not holding the art in high regard – on the contrary. Galleries are expensive institutions to run… and in many cases there simply is not enough money to allow for such detailed restorations. Perhaps in some cases, the work isn’t worth restoring. Its a matter of opinion I suppose. Ignorantly, I do not know the historical significance of any given work that I saw in the first few rooms. Perhaps there are pieces that are placed to help “fatten” the collection. Perhaps there is not enough work surviving. I do not know.. but.. I will try and understand a little bit better. I hope.

Beyond these first pieces, many of which I admired immediately -looking past the damage and soiled surface, were a step forward in time various examples of abstract, cubist and surrealist works. Continuing on we found stone sculptures, beautiful, heavy. I was enjoying my self… finally having a moment to take in a history of some of Guatemala’s art and artists.

Mr Hryhorczuk