Spring Break –> Chicago IV
13 March 2018
Our final few days in Chicago took some strategic planning, for we still had a lot left to see. We decided to start the day early with a trip the iconic diner, Lou Mitchell’s. A basket of donut holes greeted us as we were sat at a long line of tables that could easily hold two dozen people. Although I know it’s a touristy spot, it still felt like “real” Chicago with our endearingly curt waiter and general vibe of the diner. After ordering – I split a waffle and a delicious, huge, fluffy Greek omelette with Alex – we all took a “prune shot”. It was a good bonding moment. The waiter brought over soft-serve vanilla ice cream after we had finished, too, so we were all pretty full after our meal.
After leaving, we headed over to one of the few buildings that survived the Great Fire of 1871: St. Patrick’s. Right at the entry was a beautiful little baptismal font with a labyrinth in the basin, and as we went further into the church we encountered many more details like this. The church is painted in spring pastels – lots of green and yellow, naturally – and is just covered in Celtic knots. The gorgeous stained glass windows were all in Gaelic, which I really enjoyed, and as I went around to read the donation plaques, I realized many of the families must have come over during the Great Famine. It would match up with the church’s founding (1846) and the fact that most of the families listed came from Co. Mayo, where the famine hit hard. Emily and I snuck into the basement, where two workers offered to turn on the lights for us to see the Stations of the Cross and asked if we were getting married there – we weren’t, but I certainly wouldn’t hate to get married in St. Patrick’s.
We headed out into the snowfall beginning outside, and began the long walk back to the AIC. It was cold and windy, but the fresh snow in the city created a calm, enjoyable atmosphere despite practically running to keep up with Fr. long-legs.
Having bypassed the American art galleries entirely our first day at the AIC, we started our second day in that section of the museum. I was excited to see Randolph Rogers’ Nydia, the Blind Girl of Pompeii after hearing Fr. N talk about it at least once a semester since I came to SNC. I enjoy Neoclassicism, which is probably why I liked this atrium of the museum and the Rogers’ sculptures it holds. I was really intrigued by Lorado Taft’s The Solitude of the Soul, which appears mid-creation, as if the artist could walk up and continue working at any moment. It reminds me of the Michelangelo quote about how the sculpture already lives in the marble, and he merely carves to set it free.
Continuing to the upper galleries of the American wing, we encountered the famous Nighthawks. Not only was this famous Hopper work much larger in person than I ever pictured, but the colors are so much more vibrant than photos seem to render. There was this small painting of a saw by Stuart Davis that caught my eye immediately, as well as Gifford Beal’s Spotlight. The next room held Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath, and after reading a fictionalized novel about her life in France, it was nice to connect more personally to her work by seeing it in person.
Since it wasn’t the free-admission day, the museum was less crowded and much easier to navigate, so we went back to the Impressionism gallery to view the works unobstructed by other bodies. The AIC had a show on about Rodin, and perhaps my favorite thing about it (apart from the portraits of Rodin by other artists) was that it held a few of Rodin’s multiples. I have seen many of his sculptures in other art museums, but seeing two next to each other – in this case, Eve – you could really notice the subtle differences between each iteration, as well as the sheer amount of work Rodin created.
Continuing through to the Impressionism galleries, I was alone in a room with many of Monet’s haystacks paintings for a moment, which always feels like a precious experience in an art museum. How often do you find yourself completely alone with gorgeous paintings by master artists? After more people entered the room, I headed into the next one which held art by one of my favorite artists ever (and arguably one of the most popular artists in the world): Vincent van Gogh. I knew the AIC had one of my favorites of his self portraits, which I managed to get in front of despite the large crowd it draws. I also enjoyed van Gogh’s Grapes, Lemons, Pears, and Apples still life, as I usually do. Although I can appreciate the technique and skill of still lifes by the great Dutch masters, I prefer the dynamic quality and amplified color palettes of artists such as van Gogh and Wayne Thiebaud.
Despite seeing so much, there were still some galleries in the museum we had yet to even pass through let alone linger in, so we headed down to the Medieval and Arms/Armor galleries. I’ve seen so much Medieval and Renaissance religious art over the years that I sometimes find my eyes (unintentionally) glazing over in those sections of art museums, and can’t call to mind many specific pieces unless they were quite unique or stunning. In just the first room of the AIC Medieval gallery were two such pieces: the marble piece below, and massive puzzle-like porcelain altarpiece.
After a jaunt into the Arms and Armor gallery, we descended a spiral staircase to the main level, observing the entire 360º of one the pillars in Xu Longsen’s Light of Heaven site-specific installation. These pillars, which reminded me strongly of fog and mountains in Chan Buddhism ink paintings, were scattered around and in the Asian art galleries. The Ando Gallery, named in honor of Japanese artist Tadao Ando, held more of Longsen’s pillars and canvases. In relation to the permanent installation in that space, the atmosphere the two works created was one of peace and calm. You enter the gallery through a “forest” of dark and towering pillars (Fr. N’s description), into a comfortably small space dominated by the airy landscapes Longsen created through layers of ink wash and his own tall pillars. While I certainly enjoyed the space, it seemed to be a total hit with my groupmates, more than one of them returning to it when we had our “free time” to explore the museum before leaving.
The last image in this particular post is from the photography exhibit on display in the underground level of the museum. I feel somewhat bad for the photography gallery, because it ended up stuck downstairs near the bathrooms, and I noticed it was largely ignored by the people passing through on their way to use the toilet or to see the Thorne miniature rooms. This piece really caught my eye, because what appeared to be a small mirror actually revealed a photo of a fireman when you shaded the light above it. I searched the museum collections online recently, and found out the piece is a daguerreotype, which is a photographic process that uses an iodine-sensitized silver plate and mercury vapor. The museum entry actually describes that, in order “to have his unit number read (almost) correctly, the fireman obligingly posed with his belt upside-down, sacrificing the N to get the O and E in the right place.” Pretty interesting.