Up in the woods where I live, there’s a tall, dead branch hanging 40 feet up from an oak, shaped like an upside down slingshot. In the afternoon, I lie in my garden between beds of catnip and small blue flowers watching the branch and wondering when it will come down.
A painting that I most identify with, Andrew Wyeth’s Christina’s World, now hangs as an afterthought, right off the fifth floor escalator, at the Museum of Modern Art, a kind of lobby adornment on the way to the men’s room. Up close, it is not much, small and cramped in its frame, redolent with the dull brown palette with which Wyeth condemned the natural world.
The crippled girl within the painting remains a fleeting possibility of nature, a backwards totem of indifference. Yet, she resonates with me, transcends my selfish tastes, reminds me of the comfort provided by the flaws which characterize us all. How boring to be perfect or to live forever. Crawling over the edge of sentimentality into terror, Christina, in Wyeth’s cramped rendition, is the ultimate artifice, a backwards mirror.
It is fitting that she occupies a minor place in the temple of Modernism, where ordinariness is met with scorn. How many patrons will ignore as they pass on by, how many others will be surprised as Christina sneaks into passing view? There’s a woman on the hill and you will never see her face. Nevertheless, she is looking at you.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).