This post was written by our guest blogger Mirjam Frosth. Mirjam describes herself as “a multi-hyphenate professional in the arts with a background in poetry, visual art, and bookmaking.” Mirjam’s previously published works and other projects can be found at mirjamfrosth.com. You’re more than welcome to say “hi” to her and follow along for updates on her Instagram profile @mimmble.
Frank O’Hara, poet and curator at MoMA in the 1960s, took endless inspiration from everything that made up his life. Paintings, lunch, Coke, oranges, avocado salad, yogurt, work trips, the movies, and most importantly, people. For him, all of these forces were tools for what really mattered — human connection.
I’m a bit like O’Hara in the way that I’m also a poet and a cultural worker. It’s common that this combo is met with confusion or even irritation — I went on an interview once where the interviewer called me “distracted” and “unfocused” for being both a member of the literary arts and the visual arts. People think I’m a journalist or an art critic. People think I write ekphrastic poetry in tribute to paintings. And in their defense, I do, on occasion. When I was Writer-in-residence at the Harn Museum of Art, I wrote haiku in conversation with pieces in the Tempus Fugit exhibition.
But these lines between the painted making and the written making are not as boldly defined and separate as you would think. I’d go as far as to say they’re deeply connected, one in the same, a two-headed dog that greets you at the door. I was asked once how I juggle the two worlds. I said that I don’t — it’s all the same connective force.
I’m thinking about a series of Artist Rooms I saw at Tate Modern, in London. It was a collection of art based on text. Lawrence Weiner’s sculptures, made entirely out of words, take form in the mind of the reader as they’re read. In the room beside it, laughing teenage tourists accidentally sat on the art — Jenny Holzer’s marble benches engraved with poetry by Anna Świrszczyńska. The walls featured more text-based art, like Douglas Gordon’s piece, written directly on the wall in ballpoint pen, which read “I am the curator of my own misery.”
I didn’t remember all of those names, though. I had to look them up as I wrote this. What I do remember is this: The security guard who laughed with the teenagers who unwittingly sat on a piece. I remember what I wore, and the nearly inedible sandwich I bought for lunch that day at the museum cafeteria. I remember the buzzing sound of the tower made of old radios, (Cildo Meireles’ 2001 sculpture, Babel,) and I remember the sound of people chattering as they stood around it. I remember walking into a room and seeing a dozen kids drawing on tablets, and I remember their tired parents sitting in chairs behind them. I remember the art student sketching in a corner of a gallery. I remember her shoes. She had painted stars all over the white toes of her Converse. I remember the way she looked up at the people. She wasn’t sketching the art on display. She was sketching us.
I’m thinking about how I looked into a gallery at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and saw two women sitting on the floor, leaning into each other and whispering. Two tangled strings of lights hung down from the ceiling and curled into a pile on the floor. It was Felix Gonzalez-Torres’ 1992 Untitled (A Love Meal). The strings, like two people, are entwined and lit until the day the bulbs burn out. I went and had a salad at the cafe in the museum’s enormous white atrium with my partner afterwards. We people-watched the other people eating, we wondered about the distracted servers, we talked about that one really devastating piece (Özgür Kar’s 2019 At the end of the day) and we went back to our hotel and I worked on a poem, but it wasn’t about any art I saw that day.
At Moderna Museet, in Stockholm, they have a robot. It brings art to you on command. You say to the operator of the robot that you want to see Guerrilla Girls or Picasso, and it brings down a wall of art for you. It’s called The Study Gallery. It puts the patrons of the art into focus, giving them the opportunity to control their experience within the gallery. They get to come up close to the pieces brought down, and then they go to lunch at the museum restaurant. They have coffee, and bread, and butter, and salad, and salmon, and bananas, and oranges. And they talk about the art, or maybe they talk about school or work or their love lives or their friends.
I suppose what I’m trying to say is that inspiration and the connection between visual art and literature isn’t particularly simple. They’re the same in the end, the words and the paintings, because they have the same thing in common — people. Literature and art are a connective force between people. We read, we write, we view, we make, and then we all go get food together afterwards.