The New Contemporary

This past weekend I drove down to Chicago with my sisters and my mom -- a girls' weekend, which we hardly ever get to do anymore now that one of us is usually flung somewhere across the globe, another one is about to have a baby, and we've got all the usual schedule conflicts with jobs and school and so on. But we finally made it work. We found a kickass Airbnb apartment on the 44th floor overlooking Marina City -- some of my favorite architecture. And of course made an obligatory stop by Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate ("the Bean"). And we (or I, in this case) managed to hit two birds with one stone: girly weekend in Chicago (shopping and fancy dining) and a much-needed trip to the Art Institute of Chicago.

Let me just say, I miss Europe's generally free public museums. Paying $30 (as a non-Illinois resident) is painful, even if it includes admission to everything. I remember taking field trips to AIC when I was in high school, when it would be free on Tuesdays. Since then, of course, they've expanded and expanded, and is still certainly one of my favorite museums in the world. But one has to make the day worth it at that price. This is one time I can say for sure that I got my money's worth.

We all agreed that we wanted to see Van Gogh's Bedrooms, a gigantic blockbuster exhibition based around three paintings. It includes other objects and paintings as well, so from a curiosity standpoint it's a great study of the artist's time in the Yellow House. With that said, I thought most of it was like an amusement park ride and the buildup to the actual Bedroom paintings was kind of overwrought. As someone who curates, I get that there is some sort of vision for how these shows should be experienced. But it mostly looked like this:

Blockbuster museum exhibitions always rankle me a bit. On one hand I think it's wonderful in this technological age that fine art still draws crowds this size. On the other hand, I firmly believe that the amount of showiness that goes into an exhibition like this diminishes the pure power of the work itself. I know I made a couple of security personnel a little anxious when I was buzzing backwards through the rooms, as opposed to going with the flow. There is obviously a crowd control factor to the way these exhibitions are designed, but I also don't feel like it's necessary to hound people for viewing works in the order that they make most sense. Personally, I could absolutely do without the scale models and the bright projections. All of that interpretation is just a huge distraction. But it's also up to me, and me alone, to decide how I experience the work -- as with anyone. If you want to take a photo of it, fine. If you want to expound on the technical details to your friend, fine. If I want to stand close and see the impasto, then let me do it. If I want to see them in the opposite order, I will. Obviously all the while being respectful of others, but my point is this: even in a gigantic, overwrought blockbuster exhibition, art should be experienced the way one needs to experience it (within reason). 

And seriously, look at that brushwork. Who wouldn't want to put their nose right up to that?

So there. (Haha.)

Actually even more exciting to me than the Van Gogh exhibition was the New Contemporary galleries, recently updated thanks to a large acquisition of seminal Pop Art works by the biggies like Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Joan Snyder, Cy Twombly, Andy Warhol and more. This was where I felt that AIC earned the vast majority of my admission fee that day. The galleries are robust, fresh, and absolutely marvelous with some of the best examples of these artists' styles all in one place. It's a merry-go-round. And much less crowded. ;)

The Martin Puryear exhibition was also absolutely fantastic.

Make the trip if you're in Chicago! In fact, make a trip to Chicago. Do it.


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