Portland, where we spend a weekend, is a city of few shadows. It is a city of overcast, where light filters frequently through fine mist. In the Portland Art Museum, a contrasting—hard, bright—light surprises me. I sit in one gallery, resting my back, where my attention is drawn more to shadows than to the artworks on the walls. Beams from ceiling lights strike the art at acute angles, and the ornate frames from the 19th century cast hard, distracting shadows.
The shadows are like tableaux, emblematic arrangements set not to be enactments or exact replicas but more as evocations. Some shadows evoke stone eroded by the actions of waves and others the mosaic of stem, leaf and sky that I might see when looking through a forest. Another shadow evokes the New York cityscape seen across Central Park from the top of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
I watch other visitors to the gallery look at the shadows. They point to the shadows. People touch the shadowy grades on the walls. Some think the shadows are part of the art—like gray drapery suspended from frames. People talk about the shadows. The curious crane necks to find the light source and point to the light and then the shadow to show companions.