I rented a painting called `Orange Alert'

I am not well educated about modern art -- or contemporary art or the avant-garde, whatever the proper term should be. But I have had some lovely experiences with it. Years ago, when people looking at paintings of splashes, swirls, squares on squares, often said, ``I could do better than that,'' my curiosity was aroused.

What were these paintings about? How could I -- or should I -- relate to them?

I went to an exhibit of modernists, but the exhibit failed to answer my questions. I was too shy among the gallery-goers to free my responses -- to laugh aloud, or frown, or feel moved to sadness, as I was by familiar paintings in familiar styles.

Not only could I not free my responses, I could not form them. I needed more time. I needed privacy.

I turned for help to the rental gallery of the Detroit Institute of Arts. I passed over prints of Van Gogh, Renoir, Mary Cassatt, artists who always claimed my heart, and chose the most ``far out'' painting among the bins.

It was the work of Richard Haas, who now has a New York studio and has achieved considerable fame for his paintings and architectural murals. At the time I rented his painting, however, he was teaching art at Michigan State University in East Lansing, and his career was young.

Haas's painting was called ``Orange Alert,'' and that is all it seemed to be -- orange on orange on orange. I took it home and hung it on a bare, white wall.

I challenged it: Do your stuff -- if you have anything to do.

I went in and out of that room for days barely noticing it, perhaps deliberately trying not to do so. But one morning at dawn, as the sun streamed in the windows it bounced orange from the painting around all the walls, as if the room were on fire.

I gasped. ``Orange Alert'' was alive!

Once I went to a fiber exhibit arranged by Ellen Leepa and held at the same Detroit museum. The weavers went far beyond the traditional place mats, shawls, and bolts of cloth, creating sculptures -- figures, buildings, a room made of white rope.

In the center of the exhibit were two interesting lines of white nylon panels strung on wires. A placard invited viewers to walk slowly through them.

I gathered my courage. It seemed a rather silly thing to do, but people at the far end invariably emerged smiling, and I wanted to know why.

I started walking through the nylon panels. They enveloped me so I could see nothing else, nor could I be seen. As I inched along, I stirred enough air so the panel ahead would part almost imperceptibly to allow me to pass -- and so would the next panel and the next, on down the line.

It was eerie. I drew in my breath. I was fascinated by my involvement in this fragile work. It gave me the sensation of floating in wispy clouds, everything else muffled and far away; a sense, I dared think, of ascension.

That thought gave me joy.

An outdoor sculpture -- a tree of red metal by California sculptor Marcello Petrocelli -- was installed at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., during his residency as a member of the faculty. The tree was planted at the edge of a woods on the Cranbrook grounds.

In summer, its red metal branches blended with the leafy branches nearby. But in winter, when the rest of the trees were stripped bare and stood stark black or brown, the red metal tree came into its own.

It shimmered in the pale winter sunlight, as if coursing with lifeblood.

I loved to see it, lone and grand, above the frosted, snow-covered fields.

When I moved far from that red metal tree, I often said how much I missed it. Last Christmas my daughter gave me her version of it -- a tree branch sprayed red and set in a pot of white stones.

Her symbolism, too, promises continual life.

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