Sometimes, objects will tell you what they are. Knives and chairs are like this. Tea kettles, too. Other objects are less obvious, like Alma Allen’s “Untitled,” one of the many untitled sculptures in his and J.B. Blunk’s new exhibition at the Nevada Museum of Art. Sitting on two square beams, the white, marble sculpture is shrub-sized and blob-like with two protrusions sticking out at frog-eye angles. Walk around it, and you notice that the eyes are off center and different shapes. From one vantage point, they become belly buttons. From another, they are alien ears, pig snouts, or medieval chalices.
I like it. I also don’t really get it, so I decide to do a quick meditation but notice that a security guard is standing between me and the sculpture. I send him a mental image picture of himself walking to the other end of the room and talking to the museum-goers who have just walked in. He ignores my psychic communication and leans against a wall. I look at the other pieces in the gallery, then gather the courage to sit down in front of “Untitled.” I’m not going to touch the sculpture or anything, I just prefer privacy and always feel self conscious when I do weirdo art meditations in public. But whatever. Last night my neighbors had a raging party that went until 1:30 a.m., and I was too nervous to talk to them about it until late this morning. Clearly, I could benefit from facing uncomfortable situations more directly.
The sculpture exudes mass. I know it has to be heavy because it is marble, but when I close my eyes, the space it takes up is mental as well. Flecks of gold fall from the ceiling like rain. They fall on me and everything else in my meditation space. My daughter, the Truckee River, and—inexplicably—a pan of brownies. When the gold drops into the river, it is carried downstream, and the thought comes to mind that I don’t know how to exist with my blessings. I don’t know how to sit with them, be in their presence, or receive what religion calls “grace” and what I call “gifts”—something for nothing and for no reason.
More from Josie Glassberg’s “Matching Picture” series:
Around 1 a.m. last night, I started frantically making budgets to purchase my neighbors’ place, thinking about where I can cut spending on my teacher’s salary while still saving for my daughter’s education and retirement and travel plans. I think about how quiet it will be without such close neighbors. I think about how the loft will be perfect for hosting my family when they come into town, even though my stepmom is deathly allergic to our cat. I figure out a way to never touch my emergency bank account and only spend $100 a month on groceries. One hundred dollars a month! At one point, I hatch a plan to rent out my newfound space to the person I have just started dating. After all, he is thinking of moving to Reno full time, and what could possibly go wrong with this plan?
After 10 minutes of sitting, I realize that the protrusions aren’t frog eyes at all. They’re impressions left behind by a giant hand that has picked up the sculpture, pinched it, and set it back down again—an absent-minded tick we perform as a substitute for real action. A compulsion to change something about our outer surroundings while ignoring the inner stuff that causes the tumult in the first place. I wish I could touch the sculpture like the giant hand has, but I can’t do it. Even if the security guard wasn’t watching—which he is—the museum guilt would follow me forever. I imagine touching the sculpture instead. It is hard and smooth and cool, calming.
Later in the afternoon, I sit in the kitchen with my daughter and we pretend our cat, Mittens, is running for President. He has some truly crazy platforms (“No Dogs Allowed!”, “Everyone Gets a Feather”) and some not-so-crazy ones (universal healthcare, climate change legislation). My daughter will be his handler, and I will translate. We are laughing as we hear our neighbors come home next door. They are trying to be quiet, but they are laughing too, possibly at something even funnier than our thing. I run my fingers along our white countertop. It is hard and smooth and cool, calming. I receive millions of blessings.