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Museum of Modern Art – Bucharest

November 21, 2013

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The Museum of Modern Art was mostly empty.
Aya and Roland left their bags in reception and picked up a guide book. Romania was still pulling itself out of oppression, it said. And only now were artists operating under real freedom of expression.
“I prefer oppression art,” Roland said, looking at a picture of one of the exhibitors in the guide. The man had a flawless face and a long list of credentials from other countries. Apparently he’d done something hugely impressive in Holland ten years ago, and now he was back home, making art in Bucharest.
“You don’t prefer oppression art…” Aya said, looking at the guide.
“Do too.”
“No, you don’t. You think you do, but you don’t.”
“And why’s that?”
“You know.”
“I do?”
“Rols…”
“What?”
“Come on, let’s just…” she pointed forwards into the nearest room.
“Fine. Lead the way then.”

The first exhibition was a collection of household objects like chairs, forks, tables, all of them painted gold. Roland stared at each object with no expression. They were things he knew, yet also gold. What was the point?
Aya was different. She got close to each one, putting her hands out to touch and feel the objects then pulling back when she remembered where she was.
When the room was done, Aya turned and asked him why he didn’t like them.
“You could tell by my face, huh?”
She smiled. “And speed.”
“Well, honestly…it was shit.”
“Really…”
He stopped and pulled her over to the blank white wall between the room of golden shit and whatever was coming next.
“No, I get what it was…what it was saying. It’s not that.”
“What was it saying?”
He smirked.
“Ha, because art’s beyond me, right? Okay, yeah, I don’t know much, but I understand simple metaphor.”
“I never said you didn’t.”
“You want me to tell you?”
“No, I believe you.”

She pulled away and started walking to the next room. There was a poster on the wall just before the entrance with a picture of convicts and dogs, and a question: ‘Who’s afraid of a dog bite?’
Roland caught up with her by the first part of the exhibition. A cage with various objects strewn across the floor. A TV, books, magazines, food wrappings. Someone was supposed to be living in this cage.
“The gold was…it was there to show how people are, you know, covering their old normal lives and things with money and…what’s it…materialism. They’re showing how people are becoming materialistic, but underneath they’re still the same people and…the gold is just a surface, it’s not the total of it…the totality.”
“Uh-huh.”
She moved onto the screen next to the cage. There was an animated film playing, with black, featureless dogs lined up in rows and having their throats slit.
“That’s right, isn’t it?”
“Rols, it doesn’t matter if it’s right or not. It’s what you feel.”
“And understanding, too. The artist is saying something, right? And it’s my job to try and figure that out. And I did, I have.”
“But you don’t like it.”
“Like it? No, not really. It’s simple, repetitive. I could have done it if you’d given me some paint and furniture.”
“You said you could’ve made Blade Runner, if you’d had a camera…”
“I could’ve…or something like it.”
“Sure.”
“Seriously…with the same money and script, I could’ve…”
Aya turned and flicked through the guide until she found the artist responsible for the gold. She read out some of the artist’s biography, saying some parts, the qualifications, louder.
“Yeah, and some artists had no training at all,” said Roland. “What’s your point?”
“They had training. Just a different kind, that’s all. My point? That art isn’t easy. That it deserves a bit more respect. You don’t just pick up a paintbrush and paint. You work at it. You work at it a lot, for years, decades even.”
“Decades? Come on…”
“You go to college, you learn…”
“And there it is…the ‘C’ word.” He took the guide book and looked at the colleges the artist went to. “Wow, look at all these colleges he racked up.”
“Rols…”
“No, it’s very impressive, amazing even…”
She took the guide book back out of his hand.
“College isn’t a scarlet letter, you know. It shows a commitment, that’s all, to what you want to do with your life.”
“And…let me guess…I’ll know it when I’ve done it.”
“It won’t hurt. That’s all I’m saying.”
“Won’t hurt you…”
Aya breathed out heavily and folded the guide in half.
“Forget it then.”
“What?”
“Just…forget it.”
“Forget what? College?”
She didn’t answer.
Roland looked at the screen and saw a new image. A line of white dogs were waiting patiently to walk off the edge of a cliff.

As they were leaving the Museum, Aya stopped and pulled some pieces of paper out of her bag. Roland tried to see what they were, but couldn’t get a clear view. They looked like leaflets.
Aya talked to the woman at the front desk and gave her some of the leaflets. They smiled and laughed at something.
Roland walked ahead to the exit and waited. She hadn’t told him about any leaflets.
“What was that all about?” he asked when they were outside.
“Nothing.”
“Come on…it’s not a soap opera. What were they?”
“They were fliers. For my exhibition.”
“You’re promoting it here?”
“And everywhere else. It’s online, Rols, and in live space back in the States.”
“You didn’t…you never told me.”
Aya looked at two of the guards walking past, with guns tucked into their belts. They were talking loudly in Romanian, arguing about something.
“I don’t tell you everything,” she said, when the guards had passed. “Sorry if that’s too soap opera-ish for you.”
Roland put his hands deep in his pockets and kept walking. First the college manuals, now the fliers. What next?

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