Curator, Anne Umland: That figure at the center, in his beautiful red coat, is so evidently the center of attention. The magician’s face is the shape of a pentagram a symbol of enlightenment. And I believe that’s made out of mother-of-pearl?
Conservator, Anny Aviram: Exactly. She takes the mother-of-pearl, and she slices a piece and polishes on the back to be as thin as almost a millimeter, and then she actually paints the face on top of the mother-of-pearl.
The little table to the left of the juggler with elixirs that the magician’s using. The little bird that’s sticking out of a box next to him. They are all painted with such perfection. And then you know that the sails on top that’s what’s moving the cart from town to town.
Anne Umland: I love thinking of the magician’s cart as a sailboat on land, right? Because that’s just the perfect, contradictory image that I think Varo excels at creating, a picture of a place that declares itself to be fantastical.
Anny Aviram: And then we wonder the people there inside the cart — what are they doing in there? Do you think that’s a portrait of her?
Anne Umland: Some people have speculated that the figure inside the cart, with the closed eyes, is a self-portrait but that the magician too represents another sort of aspirational self-portrait, because Varo was interested in the theories about stages of human awareness: so you have someone who’s sleeping, the figure in the cart who is still completely unaware. You have the spectators, who are conscious but haven’t reached a plateau of heightened awareness, and then there is the magician who has transcended it all, and is working in another realm.