Updated May 31, 2020
Many people notice the art in the background of this photograph which features the chrysalis hanging on a dill stalk by a strand spun by a caterpillar. It is my fervent hope it will metamorphose into a swallowtail butterfly.
I went to Frieze London 2018, an annual spectacular art exhibition, and I see a group of people gathering in front of something. Getting closer, I could see what had attracted so many people. I, too, become totally captivated.
The infinities of the arm and the bridge give me the feeling that I am inside the work. It is very intense. I ask the dealer who is exhibiting to tell me about it. The artist is Glenn Kaino. On each side is a vertical row of lights with a sculpture of the arm of Tommie Smith to the left side. Mirrors create the infinity effect.
I remember as a child going to the office of the family optometrist, Dr. Stanley Vogelfang, and the wonder of the infinity effect created by his having two round mirrors face each other on opposite walls. Glenn Kaino had created the effect inside the work. As many times as I have looked at it, I still think it’s magic.
Tommie Smith and The Art
I know who Tommie Smith is. I remember the moment I saw live what became the iconic image of he and Jon Carlos, gold and bronze winners of the two hundred meter race in the 1968 Olympics, as they raised their hands with a Black Power sign at the medals ceremony.
I have my sister check with Alison Green of the Museum of Fine Arts Houston and learn the dealer has a good reputation and, by the way, the museum would love it if I would give them the piece. That’s all the validation I need. I purchase it on the spot.
It would be many months before it arrives at my home. Two weeks after I return home, however, I’m flipping channels, and CBS Sunday Morning comes on. There is “the arm.” Tommie Smith and Glenn Kaino are being interviewed, discussing the series honoring the fiftieth anniversary of the moment. An exhibition of another version of the sculpture about one hundred feet long is on exhibit at the Hyde Museum in Atlanta.
The raising of their fists by Tommie Smith and Jon Carlos on the victory podium was a stirring politicized moment. It was also an instant international incident. Smith and Carlos were stripped of their medals. Whether one was enthralled or offended, the moment did not disappear from the minds and hearts of many.
Colin Kapernick said it inspired him to take that first knee during the Star-Spangled Banner. (I always thought kneeling was a sign of reverence.)
I never turn the lights of the art off. The work is positioned so that when I enter my home, it is the first thing to draw my attention.
If the chrysalis becomes a butterfly, will it be drawn to it as I was?
After I wrote this, two things happened:
First, I notice the cocoon is empty. The butterfly did head for the light, but not the light of the art, the light of the sun, between a glass door and a shutter.
I photographed it and then videoed it as it soared to freedom. Having observed it first as a caterpillar munching on a dill plant, then seeing it tether itself to the stripped dill plant and the metamorphosis itself into the chrysalis stage, then seeing the empty cocoon and finding the beautiful swallowtail butterfly is an awesome experience, one that I would have likely missed if not for my coronavirus self-isolation.
Then, George Floyd was horrifically murdered in Minneapolis.
The symbolism of Tommie Smith’s arm becomes even more powerful.