Spring Break –> Chicago III
12 March 2018
We began day three with the intention of being at the Art Institute of Chicago from open (10:30am) to close (5pm) – though we were there when it opened, we left about two hours to close. Nevertheless, the day started with a bus ride to the Magnificent Mile and a short walk to the AIC. We passed the Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership where they were filming something (we’re all hoping to see a commercial or scene in some new movie where our group is walking in the background). We stopped at the subway entrance gifted by the city of Paris, with its iconic art nouveau railing and arch, and decided to head over to Millennium Park since we were a bit early to enter the museum. I’ve been to Chicago twice before, but I didn’t quite remember the experience of walking around and under Anish Kapoor’s Cloudgate (aka the Bean), so it felt very new to me still. I suspect, however, that it always feels like a new experience when visiting this massive sculpture because it changes depending on the light and weather, not to mention its sheer visual impact.
We then walked over to the Pritzker Pavilion, and I was excited to see Frank Gehry’s design after learning more about him in my History of Modern Design course last semester. It was even more impressive in person, and now I really want to attend a concert performance there. As it neared 10:30, we headed up the walkway that led to the AIC Modern Wing, where we saw another angle of Gehry’s Priztker Pavilion.
Fr. N has a membership to the AIC, which meant free entry and coatcheck for our entire group! As he was took our pile of jackets to check them in, our group headed to the bathroom first and then a particular installation we did not want to miss: Philippe Perrano’s My Room Is Another Fish Bowl. In a large gallery lit with natural light were dozens of free-floating metallic fish balloons, requiring visitors to interact to fully realize the artist’s intention. We realized early in our week that any pieces encouraging visitor interaction held our attention a bit longer than the “do-not-touch” artworks, and this was no exception. I’d wager we spent about 20 minutes in there, playing with the fish, taking selfies and snap videos, until we realized we still had a whole museum to see.
As we were already in the Modern Wing, we headed to the top floor and began to work our way down through the galleries. At the top of the stairs hangs an iconic Francis Bacon, so as we sat and caught our breath on a bench – stairs are hard, yo – we stared at the piece as Fr. N discussed Bacon’s inspiration and message. The first gallery we entered held a large Picasso painting as well as some Alberto Giacometti sculptures and paintings; I was pleased to see one of this portraits, after encountering a different one in Madrid that quickly became a favorite of mine. As we walked through the museum, I became intrigued by the relationship between sculpture and painting, so a lot of my photos were taken with the intention of capturing that idea.
I enjoyed seeing in-person some of the famous Magritte pieces I’ve seen in books, as well the large case of Joseph Cornell’s assemblage boxes. The Modern Wing – well, the entire museum – has such an amazing collection. Though we had to fight our way through a tour group more than once, we took some time to wander through the galleries, stopping every so often so Fr. N could enlighten us with history and comments on a particular piece. There was one room full of Matisse paintings and a few sculptures that I enjoyed, especially because it was some of his earlier work; though I like his later cut-paper paintings, I liked seeing some of his earlier, more representational paintings.
We initially passed through one of the rooms to avoid a tour group, which I realized quickly I had to run back to – I managed to walk right past one of the paintings I was most excited to see that week! Giorgio de Chirico’s The Eventuality of Destiny is a large, gorgeous oil painting inspired by Classical art and the old masters. From the pulsating colors to his particular style, I love this painting through and through. I now realize that perhaps I had this in the back of my mind while working on my What Was True Is False series of oil paintings, which also explores Hellenistic and Classical sculpture. Thus, when Fr. N gave us a moment to wander freely, I immediately headed back to the room with the de Chirico.
Before we left the top floor, Fr. N stopped us at Picasso’s iconic Blue Period painting The Old Guitarist. As he discussed what was occurring in the artist’s life prior to and during this period, we began to gather a crowd intrigued by his obvious knowledge and amiable personality. Even the guard in that particular gallery floated over to listen. Before he became a sensation, Picasso was a poor artist, as many of them are, and so he had to reuse canvases often. Fr. N essentially blew everyone’s mind when he pointed out the remnants of an old painting visible under the elderly figure – a woman’s face can be seen in the man’s neck and the back of his head. The young museum guard was astonished, remarking that she’s spent hours in the room with this painting and never once noticed the face.
We headed down a floor to see the rest of the Modern Wing galleries, where we encountered not only many famous pieces but also quite a few people we knew from campus! We had some more free time to wander around, so I went off to find the artist’s work I knew was nearby: Gerhard Richter. He’s fast becoming one of my favorite artists ever, and I’m completely obsessed with his technique and motifs and everything about his photo paintings. I was excited to see Hunting Party (below), but I had no idea just how large it is. It was given its own wall, extending nearly 6 feet in height and width. I was overtaken by the immensity of it, and I studied his brushwork for some time since it was more clearly visible at such a scale. He is definitely becoming an inspiration for me, and I can’t wait for the next time I see more of his work in person.
After finishing up in the Modern Wing, we decided it might be best to take a short break to grab food and give our eyes a rest. Even for those more accustomed to visiting art museums, visual fatigue is a real thing, and we realized that a single day at the AIC was simply not enough. So, when we got back from lunch and knew we would be returning to the museum again the next day, we decided to take our time and not worry about seeing everything that first day.
We made our way through the European galleries, bypassing the Impressionism collection for a moment since it was quite busy. There were some prints on display, and I enjoyed seeing the Doré and Goya, whom I’ve liked since visiting the Fantastique! exhibition in Bordeaux, France. Fr. N was astounded to see the Claude Mellan engraving of Saint Veronica’s sudarium, which is apparently rarely on display. This print is quite incredible, for Mellan carved a single unbroken, spiraling line with varying pressure to create the image of Christ’s face (look below for a zoomed in photo showing the detail).
The Impressionism gallery was still very busy in our second pass through it, but we still decided to stop and discuss a few pieces in the front room. One of the guards watched our group go around the room, pausing in front of a Degas and Renoir and eventually Caillebotte’s huge Paris Street; Rainy Day. She stopped us and explained that she was going to show us a secret cat in the painting that most people didn’t notice, but she did after spending so much time in that room. She posed us standing in a line in front of the painting, and took a photo, showing it to us and asking where the cat was. We were stumped, so she it pointed out – see below Ellie’s outline of the figure, plus the tail that I noticed:
The same guard also took a video of a Berthe Morisot’s Woman in a Garden in order to show us how, no matter what direction you look at it, the woman’s eyes follow you. After a quick pass through the back rooms of the Impressionism gallery – where I stopped quick to take a photo of this beautiful sculpture Jeanne d’Arc by Antonin Mercié – we headed back to the Modern Wing because Fr. N realized we missed one of the side galleries and a Félix González-Torres. Though I was disappointed that Portrait of Ross in L.A. was not on display while we were in Chicago, seeing Golden almost made up for it. A curtain of glittery, kitschy golden beads span across the room and tower to the high ceilings, cutting the gallery in half. Felix has this way of elevating a “low” material into something transcendent, and we were all mesmerized by Golden. From the sound the beads made as they swayed, to the shine of the glitter flakes on the floor, to the feeling of walking through it, the entire installation was just beautiful. We probably spent another 15-20 minutes taking photos and videos, walking through it, and watching the beads move – in addition to dodging the security guard who curtly ordered us to watch it so we didn’t step on the glass sculpture in the middle of the floor behind Golden.
After seeing FGT’s installation, we decided to call it a day and head back to Hyde Park and the dinner waiting for us at the Norbertine house. That night consisted of planning the final two days of our trip in order to maximize our remaining time, see everything we could see, and of course, schedule when we would eat where – Lou Mitchell’s wasn’t going to wait for us forever!