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Photograph by Eric A. Carlson

Notes From the Underbelly

True Colors at Triton

By Eric A. Carlson

"Cormac McCarthy fortis me fieri fecit. A.D. 1446."

--inscribed on the Blarney stone

LIKE UNEXPURGATED ALVISO, or unsung Black Pearl singing at the Dolphin Cafe, the Triton Museum in Santa Clara offers splendid fare, free parking and no admission charge--yet toils in relative obscurity. Which is a shame. The museum is, more often than not, filled with wonders. Mark Robinson--guide, guru and media archivist--pointed outside to spacious gardens brimming with shade trees and statues and no people, and quipped, "Home to 25 squirrels."

Near the entrance to the museum stands the grotesque and frightening Benny Bufano ICBM obelisk. The rocket is dedicated to children--whom Benny felt would save the world--and is constructed entirely of tin soup cans. This mother-of-all-kitsch space needle is a whimsical accoutrement to the museum proper.

Inside, Mark took me in tow. I normally don't succumb to the idea that art needs explaining--it either looks good on a wall (or floor) or it doesn't. But Mark, a decipherer of the obscure, has kissed the Blarney stone and fondled the muse of fine arts, and his heartfelt interpretations would convince a Missourian. Even a butt-ugly statue has a story and needs love.

The current main attraction, Khachik Khachatouryan's Tribute to Bach, is lyricism on a grand scale. Even a coarsened fellow such as myself can detect something special when thrust into a room with greatness. Eight eagles, a boy standing on the prow of a long canoe, a rising sun, the Christian cross, two lovers, an owl and Bach--15 pieces arrayed in precise harmony. It is serenely mysterious, like the Ugandan supermodel I caught a glimpse of at the Fairmont the other night. All this beauty--free to those willing to pull away from their TV and venture out. (When Mel Kiper's hair is televised, I realize this may be difficult--that pompadour demands attention.)

Susan Hillhouse, the chief curator, and Mark are involved in a project to create a documentary film about Theodore Wores (1859-1939)--Santa Clara Valley's consummate blossom painter. Theodore's paintings are precious images of what the valley looked like before being paved over with strip malls, Hewlett-Packard "temp" factories and Cisco sweatshops. That his paintings are now available is due in huge part to Drs. Ben and A. Jess Shenson, who "rediscovered" the painter and had the sense, taste and financial means to resurrect the man and his works--or at least his works. Many of Wores' paintings were gifted to the Triton Museum by the Shensons and will be on display from time to time. Don't walk, but run to the museum when this is advertised.

In 1908 Leon Trotsky wrote: "... visiting art museums is a terrible act of violence that we perpetrate on ourselves. This way of experiencing artistic pleasure expresses a terrible barracks-capitalist barbarism." That is beautiful. Objets d'art plucked out of context and placed into an artificial environment (museum) allows for, quoting Trotsky once again, "a concentration camp for color and beauty." Such are the obstacles placed before the chief curator. By employing "explainers" such as Mark, and acquiring provocative and resplendent artwork such as Khachik's Tribute to Bach and Wores' blossom paintings, gallant progress is made. Ennui and museum glass checked to the boards.

Arise from your couches, O unwashed proletariat, and refresh your spirit with Triton. And even though it's free, drop off a couple of bucks, for God's sake.

Final Note No. 1: Mark Robinson is photographed in his Dr. Frankenstein laboratory--a la beret.

Final Note No. 2: Because of surly service and an incomplete refill of ice tea, I will not be dining at El Faro on Murphy Avenue anymore. Esperanza's Market Restaurant is across the street--with a sunnier disposition.

Final Note No. 3: David Vossbrink of the mayor's office graciously returned my call re: "demands for answers" about the idiotic Fallon statue imbroglio. We ended up talking about Sunnyvale. Let's face it: it's much funnier with the statue locked up safe and sound, somewhere in Oakland.

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From the May 3-9, 2001 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2001 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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