I was going to start off with the story my dad always tells about how he almost knocked over a Giacometti once. I don't know if it was the one that recently sold for just over a hundred million dollars, but it was one of the Walking Man bronze sculptures. My dad lost his balance or something and stepped backward, not realizing the Walking Man stood there. It teetered and wobbled, but did not fall.
And then I remembered the time at an art show at Timbrespace, after two too many martinis, when a cup of beer slipped out of my drunken hand dangerously close to Luke Whitlatch's painted wrapped canvas blocks on the floor in the middle of the gallery. I liked his work, but if I was going to have to buy one of his pieces, I didn't want it to be because it was beer-soggy. The cup hit the hardwood at just the right angle to propel the beer away from the closest piece. I haven't drunk a martini since.
But the story I wanted to tell you is about my teenage fingers. It must have been during my yearly summer writing camp at Pitt. We would go over to the Carnegie sometimes for a break or a little inspiration. One day a particular piece struck me. I don't think it was a Mondrian, but similar. Maybe a Burgoyne Diller. Geometric straight lines, primary color blocks. The closer I looked, the more fascinated I became with the texture of the paint on the canvas. The colors were so smooth, so straight, slightly raised off the white in defined lines, almost as if sculpted and laid on top.
Even though I knew I shouldn’t touch any piece of art, part of me needed to experience this piece in a more tactile way. Looking at it alone would not do. Before my brain could tell my arm to stop, I touched the painting. An involuntary reflex. My fingers needed to feel the ridge, the edge of that block of blue paint. The voice of a security guard startled me as it yelled, warning me to not touch the painting. I knew I shouldn’t have done it as soon as he said it, and I snapped back to reality. I was a good kid who didn't go around fingering things I wasn't supposed to touch.
I still picture my greasy fingerprints on that painting. Part of me worries that I ruined its purity. Part of me is thrilled that something I can’t quite explain took over and gave me the chance to experience the piece in a way I needed to, in a way not many people have. Part of me hopes my fingerprints are still there, now part of the perfection.