It’s blank. I check my map again—retrace my steps and look again. Nope. Still blank.
I’m sure I’ve missed something—a sign, a turn, a floor. I look for a special notation on the map, a footnote that gives some sort of explanation. Finding none, I backtrack again until I’ve come to the entrance of the gallery. There’s no chance of taking a wrong turn now. I’m completely focused. Ignoring all the stunning work around me, I am fixed on getting to one spot. I see the arrows leading to the corridor and check the map to assure myself I’m headed in the right direction.
I come around the corner, the same corner as previously, I note. Again, nothing. Nada. It’s blank. Nothing left to indicate it ever was. Now I know I am not in error and start looking for a docent. When you don’t want one they’re everywhere—glaring as your toe gets dangerously close to an invisible line on the floor, clearing their throat before you take a photo (causing you to triple check the flash is turned off)—but now, when I have a question? Not one anywhere.
I don’t want to wander out of the line of sight—half afraid I will get turned around and must start the search all over again. I walk one way, then the next, never letting both feet leave the corridor at the same time. I search my bag for something to mark the spot. Nothing permanent, just a temporary reminder. I find an address label. It has a picture of a kitten in one corner and my name is spelled incorrectly. I tear off the half that would incriminate me and stick the orange tabby on the hardwood directly in front of the blank space. Then I pull out my phone and take a picture—flash off—of the blank space.
With no other choice remaining, I leave the corridor and follow the map to the info desk. A small woman, of undetermined age, asks me if I have a question.
“Yes, actually I do. I can’t seem to find the Frank Virtuna painting listed on the map.” I point to the spot I have circled as if I need to prove I was not making up the existence in the printed material they gave me when I arrived. “I was told I really needed to visit before the exhibit was removed, but it seems I may be too late.”
The attendant, Marsha, is a volunteer, according to her name tag. She doesn’t bother to look at the map I hold in front of her, instead, she consults the computer on the desk.
No, you’re just in time. The show in that gallery runs for one more day.”
“I see all the other pieces, but not the Virtuna.”
Marsha looks up from her screen and glances around the room. “Why don’t I get a docent to walk over that way with you. Perhaps you took a wrong turn. It can be pretty confusing in that part of the museum.”
“I’m certain I was in the right spot.”
“No need to worry,” She waved over a gentleman in a maroon jacket—a stern look on his face. “Ernesto will take you.”
Ernesto is given a quick synopsis of the situation which paints me as a hapless visitor with no sense of direction. With two fingers he beckons me to follow.
Ernesto takes the same route I followed to the Help Desk, cementing my idea that I was indeed in the correct spot.
We round the final corner. There are now three people in the corridor, all looking at the blank space. One girl sits on a bench on a far wall sketching madly. I spy the kitten, from behind the black hat of a woman standing directly in the spot I stood moments ago.
“Ma’am, this is the place.” Ernesto seems impatient.
“There’s nothing here, don’t you see?” I’m in the beginning stages of paranoia at this point, sure I am hallucinating or the whole museum is playing a trick on me.
The woman in the hat turns toward us. “It’s brilliant, isn’t it?”
The man next to her puts his arm around her waist. “It was worth the traffic. It’s stunning.”
I openly gawk at the couple, trying to discern what game they are playing. Ernesto turns on his docent/museum tour voice and speaks.
“Frank Virtuna is a contemporary American painter. His work can be seen all over the world. He painted his wall with a single can of paint and one roller, made from the wool of a lamb he helped deliver while visiting a farm in Tuscany. Notice the lines where the paint thickens and then thins? These are his overlapping rolls, where he reloaded his roller with paint, creating an uneven layer. He used an interior matte acrylic to show the contrast with the surrounding semi-gloss walls. He’s never worked in this medium before, preferring the traditional oils on canvas.”
The girl in the corner unfolds her legs from underneath her and walks forward, sketchbook in hand.
“I tried to capture the depth, but I’m afraid my talents fall short.” She turns the sketchbook in my directions and I pretend to admire the white page with close to imperceptible vertical lines in white chalk.
If I leave now there’s still time to see the portrait gallery. Nothing ever seems to be missing there.