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  • Joanne Platt

GALLERY CONNECTIONS

Time spent in the gallery for a Cross Currents tour can yield profound and unexpected connections between guides, visitors and the art, as Joanne Platt found out last fall.


Portrait of José Mojica, by Macena Barton, Oil on Canvas The Ray and Carol Bergeson Endowment for Art Acquisition, 2018.69.1 • Credit: artsmia.org


Image of José Mojica as a young man and as a friar • Credit: DiscoverSMA.com


Throughout my years of touring, I have experienced many wonderful instances of visitors connecting with the art, but none so profoundly moving or memorable as what occurred over Labor Day weekend. For a “Hispanic Heritage”-themed Cross Currents tour last September, I was stationed in G322 in front of Macena Barton’s Portrait of José Mojica. If you are unfamiliar with the life story of the man in this painting, José Mojica was born in Mexico and had been a very successful opera singer and Hollywood actor before promising his dying mother that he would give up his career to devote his life to the church as a priest. Mojica lived out his remaining years in a Franciscan monastery in Peru, but would continue to perform occasionally in films (always as a singing priest) and in concerts to raise money for the church.


Toward the end of my two-hour shift, a couple walked into the gallery. I introduced myself and explained that I was a museum guide assigned to this gallery to talk about the two artworks which related to Hispanic Heritage month. The couple, Cesar and Brunhilde, were visiting from Des Moines and were very interested in exploring these artworks. We talked about Rufino Tamayo’s The Family first, and when I moved over to Barton’s painting and mentioned that it was a portrait of José Mojica, Cesar exclaimed, “The singing priest!” I replied, “Yes, so you are familiar with him?” And with tears in his eyes, Cesar responded that yes, he had heard him sing at the Colosseum in Juárez, Mexico when he was a little boy back in the late ‘60s. He said that he hadn’t thought about this concert in decades, but the memories just came flooding back, and then he began to cry. He mentioned that he hadn’t wanted to go to the concert but that his mother was insistent and he couldn’t disobey her so he got dressed up in his little suit and tie and accompanied her to the show. He recalled how the priest appeared distinguished and tall, but quite old, with a full head of white hair, and how charismatic he was as he stood on stage and sang in his beautiful tenor voice to his ardent fans in the packed venue. Mostly, Cesar remembered feeling so happy and grateful that his mother had made him attend the performance. And over fifty years later, in our museum in Minneapolis, I witnessed the power of art to elicit memories and to create a magical moment of emotional connection.

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