A Lesson in Physics and Heaven, Courtesy of Art


In a museum, the least striking exhibits are inevitably the ones I see last—usually whatever occupies the lowest floors since I typically work my way down. By the time I reached Hannah Black’s screen series in the New Museum (which didn’t take long, with three floors closed for new exhibit installation), I was tired.

Before descending into that guilty boredom, however, I found a highlight in the New Museum’s high (7th floor), light (coming in through the walls of windows) Sky Room. My companion astutely pointed out that the space is probably used for private parties. But since I expected an art installation, that’s what I saw. It was the empty room itself; its blankness emphasized possibility. (Perhaps I could only see this on a rainy day. On a sunny day, that room with a view would have felt like a cage.)

The last work that was able to hold my attention in the museum, before descending down the last stairway to Black’s films, also struck me for its potential energy. It was Mario Del Curto’s photograph of Richard Greave’s “Cathedral,” a haphazard architectural piece made of jagged wood. Seeing potential here struck me, after the fact, as counterintuitive. Wind, rain and time had clearly already taken their toll on the haphazard looking structure.

Potential energy is the energy possessed by a body by virtue of its position or state.

Yet, the “Cathedral” with its tee-pee like shape, still stood. (Stood still, waiting.) To me, it looked just like a campfire set up: quick-ignite kindling under larger logs. I imagined the whole thing engulfed in flames, then razed to the ground.

How’s this for Physics 101: an object’s potential energy isn’t entirely expended in kinetic until the object has fallen as low as it possibly can.

This seems to be an allegory for my museum strategy. By the time I’m ground level, I’m spent.

 Or, for life. If you peak early, you can only move down. Better to work your way up to somewhere high and light. Heaven, we assume, is up.

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