MIA's Arty Party, free...Larry the Rug Delivery Guy, priceless!

The rugs that I’d sent out for cleaning last week were due for delivery at noon Friday. After several botched scheduling attempts (neither his fault nor mine), Larry showed up at around 4 p.m. with my rugs.

Larry looks like a rug delivery guy: low-hanging pants, faded sweatshirt, baseball cap, substantial paunch. The look is deceptive. Larry is a rug delivery artist.

Before placing the Persian onto my dining room floor, he asked if I’d intended for the Dan Mason painting on the wall to be centered there. “It…well, yes…,” I stammered. “Hmph,” he replied, critically surveying the painting.

His eyes darted from corner to corner of the space. Hoping to be useful, I tugged at the carpet pad. “Uh-uh-uh,” Larry said. “Let me do that.” Tap dancing over the pad, he put it squarely in place. I watched him place the heavy log of carpet at the narrow end of the room, lifting and dropping repeatedly until it was centered and straight. Then he rolled it out with his hands, and I knew better than to interfere.

I carried one end of the dining room table and we set it down onto the carpet. Larry stepped away and shook his head. He pointed. We moved the table an inch. He wasn’t happy. We moved it again. He pointed to a leaf pattern. “Put the leg right in that V,” he instructed. (Is he a tango teacher on the side?)

In another place and time, Larry may have run the king’s livery stable. Or he may have been a sculptor or cartographer. The man has an eye for detail, a mind for mathematics, and the work ethic of someone getting paid more than he probably is. But there he was, making sure that the center plank in my table is exactly aligned with the diamond-shaped medallions in the center of the rug. “It’s not where it should be, but nobody will notice, probably, when you’re eating” he said, referring to a flaw I could not see. I had to tell him three times, “It’s good. It’s perfect. Really.”

Walking into Arty Party at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts two hours later, I thought of Larry and wondered if he’s been there. Display cases filled with ancient Chinese artifacts form a runway to the rotating galleries on second floor. (Rotating in that the art exhibits change, not in the way that some restaurants revolve while you’re eating, which makes me nauseous.) Everything is perfectly aligned. No doubt the Golden Ratio was employed.

Disco music, ballet dancers, pineapple martinis and a tattooed man…not the images you’d typically conjure when someone says “museum,” but I saw that and more at MIA tonight. Development staffer Sean Breininger and scores of docents were the hosts with the most for the Carnivale-themed event, providing tours and fabulous hors d’oeuvres and desserts for corporate supporters and friends of MIA.

Amidst the usual suspects from Target, General Mills, Supervalu, Best Buy and Cargill, my 100.3 KTLK badge got more than a few suspicious glances until I explained that Rush Limbaugh is not the only talk show host on the station and that by tuning in at other times of the day, you will hear diverse voices. In this art-smart crowd, there were sighs of relief, and I hope that folks to whom I handed my card will be listening on Saturdays.

They’d given out a tour schedule (mine was the purple tour), and just as the purples were getting started, I spied a sculpture so compelling, so intriguing, so alive that I strayed from the flock. I couldn’t help it. It was as if a big, warm hug awaited me in that room full of porcelain, stoneware and bronze. And then I saw her. A photo of the artist: Ruth Duckworth, an 86-year-old modernist and a Holocaust survivor. In a film about her life, I learned that Ruth is a divorcée and that she hasn’t sought another male companion because there is not room, she says, for both a husband and her art.

There are four rooms devoted to Ms. Duckworth, and there is not one piece I wouldn’t want living with me. Her work is powerful, sensual and viscerally joyful. If you’re tempted to take Prozac, come here first—you might not need it. There is a humor and a wisdom in her work that bears witness to the benefits of age and of life’s trials. It’s all so uncentered and asymmetrical that I’m sure it would drive the rug guy nuts. Ruth is a strong and tender woman, and I like her.

One of the docents tipped me off to the secret of Ruth Duckworth’s open vessels: look inside them and you’ll see little plant forms seeking light—or maybe the antennae of some alien emerging from its egg—I don’t know what they are, and it doesn’t really matter. They made me smile. In fact, I burst out laughing when, in the third Duckworth gallery, I came upon a delightfully perky slug-like creature fashioned out of black-glazed porcelain and looking inquisitive. Also, I was tempted to embrace the rotund “mama pots” (but don’t—there are signs to remind you).

So now I have a new goal for 2006: meet Ruth Duckworth at her Chicago studio, a renovated pickle factory. I wish you all could meet her, too. You can come to the exhibit, at least. It runs through April 16.

“If it means something to you, and if it moves you in some way, then it’s art.”
—Ruth Duckworth

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