Mixed Media

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My name is Mario Santa Maria. On Tuesday, all of the paintings at Vos Museum were black. The works in the visiting gallery had names like Surreal Forest, Submissive Ocean, and Cloud Ninety-Nine (As Seen from Easy Street). Their placards extolled the sensuous representation of Nature. The nihilism was gutsy, and I wondered why there hadn’t been a bigger media splash.

The Contemporary Art exhibit was in the next room; it was well-lit, and the floor creaked with familiar goodwill. Color exploded from the canvases, brighter than a Technicolor dream. O’Keefe’s southwest yellow-orange-red swelled near Rothko’s angular green-blue-brown. It was all as I remembered it, as colorful and mind-expanding as I remembered -- and then it wasn’t. The encroaching black slid over the Contemporary masterpieces. The yellow-hued Ashley to my left went blank. There was no yellow on the canvas. No yellow, no red, no green-blue-brown, not even a pastel. Just black.

“Sir, are you all right?” a security guard asked.

“This isn’t art.”

“Guess you’re a traditionalist. Not saying I understand pieces like that one, though.” The canvas he indicated flared with color and shape. When the guard shifted his gaze back to me, the painting went black.

“Did you see that?” I asked.


“It changed, was colorful.”

“You don’t look good.”

“Maybe I’m sick.”

“I can call an ambulance,” he offered.

“No! I just need to some sleep. I’ll go home.”

“But you’re shaking.”

“It’s nothing, nothing.”

I hurried away from the solicitous guard. Near the front door, the souvenir shop’s neon sign caught my eye like salvation. Shelves of colorful baubles drew me inside. A bin of stuffed bears wore bright t-shirts emblazoned with the Vos logo; I picked one in turquoise for Darla. A cup held water-filled pens with museum cut-outs floating from writing tip to button-nub. Vibrant hues draped the bears, pens, stickers, coloring books, cheap bags, and gaudy hoodies. My shoulders relaxed with each breath.

“Oh, hello! I didn’t know anyone was here.” A woman wearing glasses and a volunteer vest emerged from the stock room. “Are you ready to check out?”

“Yes. Wait, no. Are there any posters for sale?”

“Of course! Follow me.”

The poster display was an oversized book, opened to a page in the middle. Good, clear font labeled a black rectangle. My fingers left smears on the protective plastic where I touched the missing image.

“Don’t see what you’re looking for?” the volunteer asked.

“Funny,” I said. “Really funny. What’s going on here, a psych experiment?”

“Excuse me?”

“None of this bothers you?”

“I may not like every piece we have here but, no, none of it bothers me,” she said.

“You’re serious.” I set the stuffed bear next the register.

“Every object in Vos goes through rigorous qualifying review.” She rang up the bear. “It’s better than the mess in some boutiques where just anyone can decide they’re an artist.”

“I’ve shown pieces in a couple of those smaller galleries.”

“Maybe someday you’ll make it into the establishment.”

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