by Brooks Riley
Personal experiences of art should not be foisted on others except in small doses, given that words can only provide semantic guideposts to such an experience. That’s why I never wanted to write a companion piece to my earlier one‚ Holding Albrecht. But recently I found myself longing to see Albrecht Dürer’s Paumgartner Altar again, which was nearly destroyed by an acid attack in 1988, removing it from view for over twenty years. After my earlier epiphany at the Staatliche Graphische Sammlung in Munich, holding and beholding the Dürer engravings up close in an empty room, with all the time in the world to delight in their intricate wit and daunting craftsmanship, I felt uneasy as I slouched over to the grandiose Alte Pinakothek, shouldering a dread of crowds, dread of the official museum-going experience, dread that my memory of Dürer’s paintings might have let me down.
It was one of those cold spells in May, some of which have names. Not the Eisheiligen of mid-May (five saint days of chill), and too soon for the Schafskälte of early June, this was just a no-name dreary day. I would be visiting old friends, not just the paintings themselves, but also the faces in those paintings. If you live in Germany, you see Dürer’s faces everywhere, the genetic variances of a Volk, still in circulation 500 years later. Just look at Oswolt Krel, a young businessman from Lindau. His eyes have darted to the left, his face a mask of worry over some transaction gone wrong. Is it 1499 or 2008?