Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Modern Wing at the Art Institute

This is Saturday, May 16, 2009.

Opening Day
for the new Modern Wing
of the Art Institute of Chicago.

So, I started out in Millennium Park
and walked south
(as seen here)

crossing the Nichols bridgeway over Monroe Avenue
to the new entrance on the third floor.

is a view from that bridge,
and I guess I'm not overly impressed.

not that pretty photos cannot be taken
(the above is from the AIC's own website)

But couldn't this
also be a hospital
or a laboratory?

or a corporate center
for a Saudi oil company?

It's so severe,
and the facade
seems to be serving as a screen
(like the ones designed to conceal
air conditioning units on roof tops)

Off in the distance,
you can just barely make out
an architectural relic,
saved from the demolition
of the Stock Exchange building
designed by Louis Sullivan

Here's that Sullivan fragment close up,
reminding us that not a single
curved line can be found in the
new building right next to it,

and that the entrance to the new building
is treated
as a barrier rather than an invitation.

Appropriate to this festive occasion,
a company of African dancers
was hoofing it up
in this small amphitheater
beneath the bridge

They were so lively.

You go girl!

Here is the first work of art
that one sees when entering from the bridge,
just outside the
Terzo Piano Restaurant.

A very handsome ceramic by Andrew Lord.

and this is the first artwork label
one encounters,
reminding us that these are not just beautiful objects,
but also examples of comtemporary art theory and practice.

Here is the rooftop sculpture garden,
facing north
towards the magnificent
Streeterville skyline.

Can any sculpture compete with those buildings?

Here's a piece from the first exhibition,
the chairs of Scott Burton.

You can see that visitors
would much rather look at the skyline

except that the chairs are fun for kids

Taking the escalator down to the first floor,
this is looking north down the main entrance hall.
(from the balcony with a snack bar)

the architect specified
that he wanted no works of art
cluttering up this area.

So it feels quite solemn to me.

Like a columbarium.

solemn, except for manic crowds
on opening day

who were too much for
the stairways to handle.

And it does seem curious that
there's only one stairway
running from the first to the third floor.

(but probably it will be adequate for
the traffic on most days)

The entire north wall is glass,
yet the galleries adjoining it are dark
because the windows have been screened
to keep views of the park
from drawing attention away from the art work.

So why make a wall of windows in the first place?

And as one can see by the example of art shown here,
a giant checkerboard (?) on the floor,
the view out the window still remains
far more interesting.

Here's one the signature pieces of contemporary art
that will be on display for a very long time
(it's too big to be moved,
and had to be installed before the building
was finished)

Do you notice what has drawn the attention of the crowd?

The label.

Because without that label's explanation,
who would give a second thought to this
meticulous reproduction of a rotting log?
(commissioned by Charles Ray)

And the light in the gallery is so dim and flat,
if the carving on that log were actually beautiful,
you would never know it.

(I've noted elsewhere that visitors are liable to trip over it --
and apparently this keeps the guards very busy)

More contemporary art
from the second floor (1950- present)

This pattern was repeated,
like wallpaper,
over an entire small room.

Got it?

Something about racism and national guilt.
If you can't figure it out,
read the label.

This piece,
Kerry James Marshall
is working a similar territory
and the label tells us that:

"Kerry James Marshall's paintings, drawing, and installations examine the representation of African American popular and historical culture. Grounded in the tradition of history painting, his work employs a narrative structure that formally addresses art-historical themes and references while recontextualizing African American societal issues."

But they don't recontextualize those issues for African Americans
outside the contemporary artworld.

I think his handsome paintings
of beautiful people in love
can live quite happily
without any such explanations.

Fritz Glarner (1899-1972)

Climbing up to the third floor,
I finally get to the stuff I really like,
Modernism 1900-1950.

This is Mondrian
after a few glasses of wine.

Jacques Lipchitz

modern classical and expressionist
figure sculpture
has been completely ignored in this exhibit
(although a bit of it appears in the American wing)

Lipchitz is here because he's called a Cubist.

and this piece is shown
because Brancusi
eventually would drop the human figure.

The sculptures of Matisse and Modigliani
are shown because they were famous painters.

Why is this museum turning its back
on 20th C. European figure sculpture?

(Maillol's "Enchained Action"
is no longer on display.
But it wouldn't fit
in these clinical display rooms anyway)

And of course,
the chances of finding any
traditional European
portraits, landscapes, or still life
in this wing
are about the same
as finding a statue of the Virgin Mary
in a Presbyterian Church.

Rushing out of the modern wing in anger,
I come across one of its benefits:

a new (though small) area
devoted to Medieval Islamic ceramics
and painting.

Ahhhh -- the visual delights of work
that does not require
explanatory text!

Athough much of the space vacated by modern painting
has been filled with the new
"Eloise W. Martin Galleries of European Decorative Art"
... i.e. a lot of furniture, with some ceramics,
most of which fails to excite me.

Which reminds me
of one final question:

why is the museum director (James Cuno)
"The Eloise W. Martin Director" of the Art Institute?

Shouldn't he be called
"The People of Chicago Director" of the Art Institute?

I mean.....

how can the Eloise W. Martin Director
say "No"
to Eloise W. Martin ?


Blogger Cam said...

Thanks for your review. I'm no less eager after reading it to see the new wing though I didn't disagree with what you said. I just wish it weren't true.

Noticed a large multi-story window at the ArtIC last winter that had those cutout bird decals on the window -- the kind that one puts up to keep other birds away. (this was nearby the members only area). I don't think the architect planned for that. The decals weren't doing much good, though. Three birds went splatt against the window in the few minutes I was standing there. The Art Institute is setting a direction in eradication of the pidgeon population. Apparently.

May 28, 2009  
Blogger chris miller said...

Hi Cam.

Hope you'll blog about your visit.

(But wait until the end of June when the Japanese screens will be on special exhibit)

May 28, 2009  
Blogger dorian allworthy said...

I love the tree sculpture, I love it - in fact there are some gems in the New Wing - HowEVER ! WHY are the curators always trying to make us feel so bad - - When I go to a museum I want something spiritual - I want to be raised - up and energized - put back on the right track ! Only beauty can do that.

February 05, 2010  
Blogger chris miller said...

In a probably abortive attempt to reach out to the public, the AIC has begun this blog, to whom such questions might be addressed.

February 05, 2010  

Post a Comment

<< Home