These days, it’s vital to think about perspective.
It’s been about a year since the start of the COVID-19 lockdown and – if I’m being completely honest – I’m sick of talking about it. There’s only so long you can live in a crisis before it becomes tedious, and by this point we all know the tragedy. We’ve forwarded our mail to the tragedy and stocked it with all our favorite snacks. And there’s an aspect of futility in clinging to pre-pandemic aspects of life – like, for instance, a column reviewing art exhibits in a world where the doors of museums and galleries are closed.
It’s a time to be creative. But god, I’m so tired of being creative, of adapting to a still-shifting New Normal. How am I supposed to write in a world like this, and in a column where I’m not even allowed to swear? These articles would go by a lot smoother if I got to spend a small paragraph listing my favorite profanities – you know, just to let some steam out.
Since I can’t be swearing constantly in my day-to-day life (Not for lacking of trying, I assure you), I’ve been studying the nature of creativity. And that’s how I came across The Art of Noticing, by author and journalist Rob Walker. It’s filled with lots of great exercises to bring an aspect of focus and appreciation for your day to day life. One of them really stood out to me. It was titled, simply, Make it Art.
It described Marcel Duchamp, who signed a urinal (Fountain) and submitted it to the Society of Independent Artists, and Walker connects that act of elevation and used it to create a possibility to find art in anything. That struck me immediately, and over the next few days I slowly realized that there was one gallery out there still open 24/7.
So welcome, friends, to the Musee de Caravalho.
It’s a small, very indie gallery located in the suburbs of San Jose. It’s a sort of communal art project that’s been changing and adapting since the mid-nineties in a form of radically intimate street art, both functional and impermanent. The exhibits housed within its walls are experimental, but fully immersive with no glass or guards to keep you from interacting with the works directly.
The experience starts the moment you step onto the doorstep and are greeted with the muffled barking of what the curator calls Guard Dog. It’s a menacing noise, but when you brave it and open the door you will find its source to be a Vienna sausage of a canine, a German Shepard-Corgi mix with panicked, haunted eyes. This is the tragic juxtaposition of Guard Dog, which showcases the veil of aggression that often covers something much sadder and abstract. Guard Dog does bite if you get too close too fast, but if you feed her enough treats (Or little pieces of broccoli), she just may allow you the honor of scratching her rump.
The central exhibit in the Musee de Caravalho is in its small kitchen, bathed in a clean glow of natural light from each passing day. This is the most heavily-trafficked space by the house’s artists. They collaborate on pieces like Magnetic Phrases, which are impromptu lines of poetry formed and rearranged out of magnets. Displayed now is a collaboration between C. and M. Caravalho. It reads as follows:
tiny black elaborate smear
death delirious and our whisper
And, for those missing the sculpture garden in museums like the SFMoMA, the Musee de Caravalho boasts its own cross-medium garden, the brain child of the house’s matriarch. It’s a space lush and esoteric with not only greenery, but stone and concrete, and large inflatable balls placed strategically amongst the flora. It’s a pristine warmth, like a book left open at the foot of a bed, and it is as maintained as the shrubs and bushes that boarder along the fence.
The curator will occasionally accompany you into the sculpture garden, and if you stay there long enough, you may catch her with her guard down and enjoying a simple roll along the paint-stained patio.
I spend a lot of time in the Musee de Caravalho – a LOT of time. And it’s easy to stop really seeing the space after long enough. But that’s a shame, because even after two decades there’s still a lot to see. The texture of the paint in the hallway is very interesting, for instance. And every framed print and odd tchotchke seems to have a story behind it.
And when you sit very still, and the curator slinks into the room and crawls up into your lap, it really does feel like art. But it’s more than that.
It feels like home.