Rendezvous with Art, II: Hemingway Between Two Wars

By Dakshayani Shankar

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Via Graham Herber for WSN

Fervent perfectionist, disillusioned writer and passionate lover are just a few of the adjectives we can use to describe one of American literature’s greatest craftsmen, Ernest Hemingway. Hemingway was always celebrated for his gory, realistic but also minimalist-styled short stories that talked about puberty, war, corruption and true love.

However, here comes the interesting part, the part where you fall off your chair, scramble to pick up your apartment keys and rush to the sumptuously ornamented Morgan Museum.

We have always judged Hemingway on what he has painted of himself in his short stories and novels. Now, the Morgan Museum has unleashed America’s first major exhibition devoted entirely to Hemingway to present us with rare glimpses of the ‘real’ Hemingway’s life.

And believe me, the real Hemingway paints a far more heartwarming story than his characters do in his novels.

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F. Scott (Francis Scott) Fitzgerald (1896–1940), Autograph letter to Ernest Hemingway, signed. By permission of Harold Ober Associates Incorporated on behalf of the Fitzgerald Trust

The exhibition, titled “Between Two Wars,” recounts monumental private moments in Hemingway’s life when he realized he was on the brink of reaching heavenly perfection but couldn’t do so because of his own internal confusion. Multiple notes, scribbled with 10 to 12 title possibilities for cherished works, like The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms provide miniscule hints into what the author originally thought his novel would represent. Vital letters – love letters and letters of critic from Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, J.D. Sallinger and Hemingway’s publisher Chenery – punctuate the exhibition with spasms of Hemingway’s exciting but dark reality, marking the highs and lows of his emotions and life.

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Agnes von Kurowsky and Ernest Hemingway, Milan, 1918. The Ernest Hemingway Photograph Collection. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum.

If you are a fan of Farewell to Arms, it would be an absolute horror to miss the heart wrenching break-up love letter he receives from Agnes von Kurowsky, who tells him that she will no longer be coming to America from Italy. It’s epic, tragic and a tearjerker all together. This is where the Morgan Museum masterfully pulls off the exhibition– it successfully makes you feel what Hemingway felt at that point of time.

From the deleted chapters of some of Hemingway’s most distinguished stories to the recovery of his passport, the exhibition shatters the reflective glass between you and Hemingway, affording you with an opportunity to understand why Hemingway did what he did in his life and in his novels. The alternation between the opulent midnight blue walls and murky forest green walls of the exhibition may seem a bit uninspiring and soulless, in comparison to the angel-adorned walls of the Museum. However, the colors smashingly complement the different facts of Hemingway’s personality, almost creating an effect as if readers and viewers were encased in Hemingway’s very own mind.

Nevertheless, where the exhibition masterfully produces an orchestra of emotions, it confuses in its form of organization. Most of the documents are arranged in a chronological order. However, there are times when readers and viewers have to pay close attention to where the document lies in its chronological order, rather than the actual material of the text. For some, this could be frustrating.

However, the exhibition easily squashes this minor flaw with a bucket load of Hemingway treasures that can make even the harshest of Hemingway critics feel something. And it is through emotions that this exhibition wins!

Dakshayani Shankar is a Highlighter Staff Columnist. Email her at entertainment@nyunews.com

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