180 Lincoln, NE: Life Imitates Art

While I was admiring it, in walked a couple. She was short, with bright red lips, big glasses, and crisp graying auburn hair. He was tall and stooped with gray hair and beard; he looked like a kindly school teacher--which he was.

"We typically stop on school trips here," he informed me, "and look at the permanent collection. Sometimes we'll look at a special collection."

"Special exhibition," his wife corrected him, with a distracted air.

"[The students] like the color," he continued, " And they definitely relate to people. They talk about the fact that the lady's face is not completely seen. The kids think there's just been a fight. The kids like trying to figure out what's going on between the characters. I don't know if they get it or not. I don't even know what it is. They sense there is some strain in the relationship. Just as they get what's going on between their parents on an emotional level if not the details. They like to bring in the fact that we're eavesdropping."

"Voyeurism," his wife offered.

"They don't use that word," he objected.

"Of course," she spat. "They wouldn't."

I felt suddenly as uncomfortable around these two as I did in front of the couple in the painting. Or as I might have in the presence of Hopper and his wife Jo.

The man continued, "I sure enjoy his work. I'd like to see more." He suddenly squinted hard at the painting. "Is that a mirror?" he asked, and I wondered for a second whether he meant of his and her relationship. Then I saw a small square on the back wall of the room in the painting.

"Do you feel isolated like the characters in the painting?" I asked.

The woman barked out a laugh. "Is that a typical marriage? Yeah," she sighed, "that's a typical marriage. I couldn't do it." It took me a second to realize she didn't mean make a marriage work.

"Oh, so you're a painter?"

"Yes." She used her middle finger to wisp away her hair from her face. "I studied Art History and Art Studio. And this is a very good painting. People in a small room and dressed for a night out."

"For it to relate to Nebraska," the man said, "I think that would have to be a farm window."

"It's much more urban than here," she concurred.

"The setting is," he stressed, "but the relationship..."

Sensing another battle developing, I thanked them for their time.

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