Happy Father’s Day! For June’s Staff Art Pick of the Month, new dad Jeff Wills shares his favorite art object from the Museum’s collection. Read more below to find out why this Rubin dad loves the pot-bellied bird deity, Garuda.
What’s your name and title at the Museum?
I’m Jeff Wills and I’m the Assistant to the Executive Director & Board Liaison. That amounts to everything you might expect from an assistant position, plus extensive work with the Museum’s strategic-planning process, performance metrics, trustee relations, and other project coordination.
Which art object did you select and why?
My favorite piece in the galleries right now is Garuda, King of Birds! It is a relatively small sculptural piece depicting what I understand to be a fantastically large creature, and might have been a decorative element atop the back of what one presumes must have been a rather elaborately decorative chair or throne.
I love this object for a number of reasons. It is beautiful—golden and intricate—but initially I found it refreshing for being pretty funny. I see a bit of myself in this serious-faced man-bird. He’s sweeping up powerful arms/wings in mid-flight but he’s also kind of adorable, with a pot belly. That belly is probably indicative of something empowering in its original context but for me, I’m reminded of predilections of appetite that can be a daily struggle for a middle-aged guy such as myself and the juxtaposition is funny to me.
In a former life, I was an actor who specialized in physical comedy and the commedia dell’arte. Commedia concerns itself with characters who see the noblest in themselves, but are continually undermined by their own appetites. These characters are played by masked actors, and the quasi-human Garuda could be bird-headed, or simply wearing a beaked mask. I also have a certain fascination with cross-cultural commonalities in mythology and symbolism, particularly beast-headed people; I know Garuda exists in both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions, and carries over into the national symbols of Indonesia and Thailand. Finally, I just love birds—raptors and corvidae in particular—and the kites and eagles that are associated with Garuda are very much in-line with such birds.
I love our little Garuda for many things, and with an enthusiasm best expressed by an exclamation mark!