I came home from the gym one day last week to find that my houseguest, a woman with good taste and a sharp eye, had rehung several pieces in the Teachout Museum. We’d talked about it a few days before, so it didn’t come as a total surprise, but I was still startled to find Degas’ Dancer Putting on Her Shoe on the north wall of my living room (directly beneath Neil Welliver’s Night Scene), Vuillard’s Petites etudes dans le square next to the bathroom door (directly beneath Jane Freilicher’s Late Afternoon, Southampton), and Hans Hofmann’s Woman’s Head in place of the clock that used to hang over the door to my kitchen (it now hangs over my stove).
Like most art collectors, I spend an inordinate amount of time fussing over what to put where, and I tend to leave things in place once I decide where they “belong.” It had been at least six months since I’d hung anything new, and longer still since I’d moved any of the pieces I already owned. Because of this, I’d forgotten the emotional effect of moving a familiar piece of art, which is not unlike moistening your index finger and inserting it in an electrical outlet: first you’re horrified, then you’re thrilled. Moving just one piece makes the whole room look different, and moving several pieces can freshen an entire collection–if you move them to the right places. Fortunately, my guest hit the bull’s-eye three times in a row. The only catch was that I had to straighten up the living room at once in order to properly appreciate her handiwork, but no sooner was I done than I sat down on the couch and spent ten ecstatic minutes doing nothing but looking at the walls.
Several days have gone by, yet I still feel a buzz whenever I open the front door and step into the living room. It’s as if I’d bought three brand-new pieces of art. “A change in the weather,” Proust wrote in The Guermantes Way, “is sufficient to recreate the world and ourselves.” That’s what my guest did: she changed the weather inside my apartment, and now I’m basking under a new sun in the sky.