Voice of Fire (31DC2015)

Voice of Fire Hand

These nails, my entry toward’s day 27’s theme of artwork in the 31 Day Nail Art Challenge, may require a bit of explanation, as they’re slightly more conceptual in nature than usual. When I was in high school, I spent a couple of weeks one summer baby-sitting eight-year-old twin boys. One morning we biked downtown to the National Gallery to take in a bit of air conditioning and culture. One of the big draws at the Gallery then – and indeed, to this day – was the Voice of Fire, an abstract painting by American artist Barnett Newman that proved to be quite the controversial acquisition. Purchased as part of the Gallery’s permanent collection in 1989 for $1.8 million, the Voice ignited a firestorm of controversy surrounding mismanagement of taxpayer dollars in the arts (I’m sure it wouldn’t have been such an issue were the painting more than three vertical stripes on a canvas), while igniting that other age-old, endlessly debated question of how we measure a work of art’s true value. All anyone could really agree on was that there wasn’t much there – seriously, two acrylic blue stripes with a red stripe in the middle, standing about 213 inches tall.

The boys and I got to the Gallery that day just as the doors were opening, and we were the only ones in the cavernous room where the Voice of Fire is housed, but for one seriously unimpressed guard (do they come in any other variety?) The gallery where the Voice hangs is gigantic and bare – it is the dominant centerpiece of the room. As we approached the painting, dwarfed by its towering blue and red stripes, I bent down and asked the boys how much they thought the Gallery had paid for it. Knowing that it must have been a lot based on the way I asked the question, they came back with what was a lot for them – 1,000, 10,000, 100,000? No freakin’ way they paid over 100,000 for that! When I bent back down and stage whispered, “Nearly $2 million” there was this weird, loaded pause as the boys looked at each other, and then they burst out laughing, the sound echoing in the cavernous room like twin shotgun blasts, before falling on the floor in a fit of “adults are so stupid!” The guard, who surely had seen this kind of behaviour before – I refuse to believe the twins were the first, since I pretty much wanted to get down there and roll around myself – was not terrifically amused, so I hustled the guys on out of there, but they continued snickering throughout our gallery visit, and had a lot to tell their dad at the end of the day about how they were going to go up to their bedroom and dash off a couple of Voice of Fires for pizza money. Heh.

So these nails are a representation of that day – the Voice of Fire, standing tall in all its overpriced simplicity, surrounded by bare white walls and laughter.

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4 thoughts on “Voice of Fire (31DC2015)

  1. Love this story! I could never have guessed it from the preview of the post…

    Great blue color that one, btw….what is it?

      • That’s ok, I probably have something similar.

        You keep your EPs in a fishing tackle box?

        Sweet! Better than keeping actual fishing tackle in it!

      • I do! It’s pink and purple and made by a company called Plano. I have to store some of them sideways, but I’ve found they “wear” (you know, just by sitting there) just as well as they do sitting upright.

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