Today I went on a little solo adventure. I am currently in Chicago, having tagged along with Mom, who is here on business, with “college visits” as my convenient excuse. So while she was at a meeting all day, I went into town and visited the Art Institute of Chicago. It was a day well spent.
My motivation was primarily to apply some of the knowledge I gained at art school and experience some masterpieces first hand, which I did. I also remembered quite quickly my fondness of captioning works of art; consequently, my snapchat story is obscenely long and, in my opinion, exceedingly witty. I went through most of the museum (more on that later) at varying paces, so I’m going to focus on the highlights.
I decided to start from the bottom up, mostly because the bathrooms were on the lower level and I am staying committed to my resolution to stay hydrated. So I started out at the paperweight collection. That is neither a joke nor a misrepresentation of the gallery. It was just a bunch of paperweights. From there I went to an abstract photography exhibit, where a less-than-impressed docent advised me that the miniatures were really where it’s at. So I took her advice, and she was not wrong.
The miniature gallery was a collection of rooms that were, you guessed it, miniature in size. They were designed after different architectural styles from different regions and time periods, and they were absolutely charming. The Southern US rooms reminded me of Savannah, and the decadent, mansion-style miniatures of Europe made me imagine a tiny Mr. Darcy sitting on the itty bitty sofa opposite the Bennett sisters. Some of the rooms had little adjoining rooms you could see if you looked from an angle; they were meticulously crafted and far more delightful than the elementary school kids running and screaming throughout the hall like their field trip was the only group of people there.
Upstairs, I looked through a gallery of drawings and etchings. It wasn’t the most exciting part of the museum, but I did see some works by Rembrandt and a piece from Los Caprichos, a series of prints done by the same guy who painted this uplifting masterpiece:
I’m sure none of you are surprised to hear that I am quite the fan of Goya, so it was really exciting to see a piece by him. Luckily for me, the whole “seeing works and artists from my art history classes” thing was only just beginning. I threw off my game plan a little bit and went to the top floor, where I was promised European art before 1900 and Impressionism. The former is my favorite type of art to caption, and the latter is my favorite type of art period.
Walking into a gallery filled with priceless paintings by renowned artists is breathtaking. Literally, it took my breath away. I stood gaping in the entrance as I took in the sheer size of some of these pieces and appreciated the magnitude of the collection. And it’s one thing to be impressed by artwork, but actually having a basis of knowledge about the pieces adds a whole new layer to the awe. I could walk into a room and immediately say, “Yep, this is Baroque” and know what that meant. That was pretty cool.
This part of the museum didn’t include as many familiar artists and pieces as later areas, but I could identify the styles, themes, and symbolism of a lot of the works. I correctly identified four of the five characters in a deposition scene, and I saw pieces by Jacques-Louis David and Nicolas Poussin (specifically a Poussin piece we talked about in class, nonetheless) up close and personal. Also I got some great material for my snapchat story.
From there, I went across the way to the Impressionist gallery, but not before I ran into Sky Above Clouds IV by Georgia O’Keeffe, one of my top 3 favorite artists. Guys, it’s massive, and it is phenomenal.
Don’t worry, this isn’t the last we’ll see of O’Keeffe. But in the meantime, I got to go meet my other two favorite artists in the Impressionist gallery.
I love Impressionism. I love their prioritizing of color and their commitment to immortalizing the moment with authenticity over geometric accuracy. There’s just something about the devotion to the fleeting and determination to get it just right– Monet painted over 30 pictures of the same cathedral in Rouen just to explore the way sunlight hit the facade at different times of the day. He is the second of my three favorite artists, and I met him today. I even got a chance to answer a question about why there were two Monet paintings of the same bridge– art school!
The real highlight of the day though was meeting my #1 fav, Vincent. I know he’s the easiest and most cliche “favorite artist” of the 21st century, and as a former art student I should dig a little deeper, but I don’t care. I love him. I love his story and who he was and how hard he tried to put himself into his work. I value authenticity over most everything, and there was nothing inauthentic about Vincent van Gogh. And I got to meet him.
The Art Institute of Chicago doesn’t have any of his super high profile work, but they have a self portrait and The Bedroom, among others. I’ll be honest, I teared up a little looking at his work. I’d been wanting to see his work face to face for years, and I finally got the opportunity. Next I’ll be going to Amsterdam.
There were also some pieces by Paul Gauguin, but he was kind of an ass and I’m not a big fan of nonlocal color so I didn’t really care.
Next up was modern and contemporary art. This is where things get interesting. A quick debriefing– contemporary art is newer than modern art; modern art started around the turn of the 20th century. I don’t get contemporary art and it kind of annoys me. I don’t get a lot of modern art either, but I can at least see where they’re coming from, and I learned a lot about it in college, so I was eager to see their work.
To make a long story short: I saw works by Warhol, Dalí, Picasso, Magritte, Kandinsky, Mondrian, and Pollock, to name a few. (If you don’t recognize the names, I promise you’d recognize their work.) There’s a few things I’d like to get off my chest about some of these pieces: I hate Cubism and think Picasso is overrated. Dalí low key freaks me out. I have this terrible problem about touching things I’m not supposed to touch and it took every ounce of self control in my body not to run my hand over the entire Pollock painting I was looking at.
I also had a wonderful moment with one of the docents regarding Christ and the Lamb, a piece by Jeff Koons. We were given to understand that it was sort of an abstraction of Jesus with a lamb, specifically based off of a piece by Da Vinci, but neither of us were really seeing it. So I looked up the Da Vinci piece, and we had a lovely time translating it to the piece of art before us. It took some teamwork, but we both finally understood what we were looking at and, I like to think, gained some appreciation for the artwork in the process.
By this point, my feet were getting tired and I was ready to pick up the pace as I went through the last couple galleries. After seeing Sky Above Clouds IV, I had a feeling there would be more O’Keeffe pieces, and I set out to find them.
Naturally, her work was in the American Art After 1900 gallery, which I wasn’t particularly interested in, so when I saw a skull with flowers through an arch I made a beeline to my fav. The Art Institute has a really nice sampling of her work; there was the skull, the clouds, a cross, and one of my favorite flower pieces: Yellow Hickory Leaves with Daisy. I thought about doing this piece for an assignment to recreate a masterpiece, but I ended up going with an O’Keeffe with less shading to cater to my abysmal painting skills. I still like this one better, though.
Now, about a third of the way through my day at the Art Institute of Chicago, I kind of had the impression that each exhibit I went to was the last one to see. Every damn time I was wrong. I kept trying to get back to the main entrance, but every time I thought I was somewhere familiar I kept encountering new galleries that I hadn’t seen and needed to. I had a great time looking at Indian and South Asian sculpture. I had flashbacks to my first quarter ever of college as I wandered through the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine sections. I put hilarious captions with marble sculptures.
However, I started to get the feeling that I was trapped. No matter where I went, it wasn’t back to the beginning. I began to have the terrible thought that I was in a sort of art purgatory, one which I couldn’t leave until I learned to appreciate contemporary art. Fortunately for me, though, I did find my way out– which is a miracle indeed, because I don’t think I’ll ever learn to appreciate contemporary art. And that’s okay.
In the end, I got to spend an afternoon appreciating art at a world-renowned museum. It was an opportunity I hadn’t had since I started (and ended) at art school, and I’m so thankful I was able to go. Next up: the Louvre.