Thursday, November 16, 2006

Grand Prize: Best Dream Involving Robert Hughes and a Sea Plane

In a recent memoir, Robert Hughes, former art critic for Time magazine, writes about the coma-delirium he was in after a horrifying head-on crash in Australia in 1999. He was in the coma for five-and-a-half weeks, in the care of an intensive care unit. Most of the time, he was unaware of his visitors, or unable to apprehend them accurately; he hallucinated, and spent many hours in pain and dread. Two lighter moments:

"At a certain point, Cathy reported, I started signalling wildly, miming the act of writing. Pencil and paper were brought, and with a shaking left hand I managed to write a sentence in Spanish -- a language that neither Cathy nor any of the doctors and nurses understood. Eventually a Filipino wardsman was found. 'I am dissatisfied with the accommodations,' my note read, rather formally. 'Please call a taxi and take me to a good hotel.'"

Later, after a dream in which he believed he was crewing a "Torres Strait pearling lugger," he imagined he was captured by Chinese pirates and then he found his means of escape.

"It was a World War II flying boat: the high-wing, twin-engine PBY Catalina, with its bony Art Deco lines and its twin gunners' blisters on the fuselage -- to me, one of the most elegant aircraft ever designed ... I was on board her ... before I quite realized that she was empty, rocking on the deep-water swells. But she was not the Catalina of my childhood. She was tattered and sooty, her skin faded and laced with dried-out fish guts. Her fabric was torn. Odd designs and images had been painted on her: stones, a fish, a falling parachutist, a ladder-back chair. Who had done this? Who but the artist I most admired among all the living -- my dear, benign friend of twenty-five years, Bob Rauschenberg.

"Inside, the Catalina -- whose interior spaces lengthened irrationally into tunnels and broadened into halls as I gingerly explored it -- was a small Rauschenberg museum, full of combines, cardboard assemblages, cast-off truck tires and even a stuffed goat, cousin of the emblematic beast from Bob's great signature piece of 1955, Monogram. It became clear to me that my task would be to fly the Catalina and its contents from island to island around the Pacific, a small traveling retrospective, landing in lagoons, mooring at rickety jetties, semaphoring the message of American art from the second half of the twentieth century to peoples who had no reason to give a damn about it."

--Things I Didn't Know
, by Robert Hughes, pp. 18 & 19.

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