Last night I dreamed I was in a museum, not any museum I knew from waking life. It was somewhere in the Detroit area, and it was mostly focused on late-20th- and 21st-century art. It was early evening, a little before twilight in summer, and the museum was crowded with people who'd been let in for an opening or some other special event. Like the identity of the museum, I was fuzzy on what sort of event it was exactly, but I was glad to have been let in. It was my first time there, and I was more interested in roaming the entire building, looking at as much of the entire collection as I could, than in focusing on whatever the opening or special event might happen to be.
Unlike the Guggenheim or a museum designed by Frank Gehry, this building seemed to be made deliberately in order not to compete for attention with the artworks it contained. The building felt new, but it was reminiscent of the Mies and the International Style: very rectangular, very subdued.
Just as I didn't know what museum it was or what the evening's special event was, so too I didn't recognize any individual artworks or know which artists had made them. There were a lot of paintings in monochrome and/or subdued colors, reminiscent of some of the less-colorful work of Marden, Martin, Soulanges and Motherwell. I liked these paintings very much. Then I came upon an artwork which completely covered all four walls of a very large room with a translucent grey-ish substance which looked like plastic which had melted, or like some sort of sugary candy in the process of being cooked -- but no, that's the wrong way to describe it, because it seemed neither warm nor sticky. On the contrary, the overall impression was quite inorganic and cool. Nor was there any smell of plastic. I had never experienced anything like it and I was quite impressed.
Not long after walking through that room, suddenly, my brother was walking along beside me. This was quite surprising, because in waking life, I have never known him to have any appreciation for, or curiosity about, modern art. He's always been a representative of the "my-5-year-old-daughter-paints-better-than-Picasso-did" school of art criticism, Picasso being one of perhaps only three artists, modern or not, whose names he knows, along with Leonardo and Michelangelo. In the dream, he didn't saying anything at all, appreciative or not, about all the non-representational and abstract art all around us. But the museum did contain some pre-modern art, and my brother said something positive about a painting which looked as if it was from the 17th century, showing a man with a grotesquely oversized chin a la Habsburg, astride a white horse.
My brother said he liked this painting, but pointed to the crude and unconvincing depiction of the horse's head, saying he thought this picture was probably made while the artist was still very young. A more mature painter, he said, would have painted the horse in a more realistic manner.
I tried to get my brother to look at the plaque on the wall beside the painting, giving its date and the dates of the birth and death of the painter. It had, in fact, been made when the artist was an old man. I tried to explain to my brother that artistic representations of animals generally had grown much more sophisticated since the 17th century, as mankind's knowledge of biology became more sophisticated. But I wasn't sure whether he was listening to me at all.