Ensemble Member Lauren Cerkiewicz recently visited the new Modern Art wing at The Art Institute of Chicago. Here are her thoughts on this newest edition to Chicago’s art scene.
Modern Art is controversial. Just ask my Dad. To this day I remember a conversation that took place when I was 11 years old, between my father and my godmother in the Carnegie Museum of Art’s modern wing. My godmother, an artist and student of art history at the time, was trying to prove to my dad the artistic merit of a completely white painting. She told him that the all white canvas on the wall was “the epitome of minimalism.” My father replied right back that “the epitome of minimalism would be an empty frame.” She didn’t speak to him for the rest of the day.
The reason I mention this story is because during my first visit to the Art Institute of Chicago’s new Modern Wing, I overheard similar conversations taking place everywhere. I heard a father point out to his young son the contrast between the brush strokes and the poured paint in a Cy Twombly piece. I watched as a woman pointed out phantom images in Picasso’s famous Old Guitarist. I even heard a woman try to explain a set of all white paintings to her friend (whose reaction seemed to be much more receptive than my dad’s). And it was these conversations that led me to the realization that modern art is, and always has been, controversial. People forget that at the end of the 19th century, the reaction to the Impressionist movement was not entirely enthusiastic; today, I have yet to hear someone say that Monet’s Water Lilies doesn’t belong in a museum.
As for the latest additions to this long line of controversial art, their new Chicago home is both stunning and appropriately simple in its design. The light wood flooring combined with the metal light fixtures and glass skylights reminded me of an expensive version of Ikea. The translucent screens used to create a false ceiling in several of the galleries helped to establish a cozy environment while maintaining the loft-like theme of the central area. But my favorites spots were the outdoor sections. I can’t wait to eat at Terzo Piano (I predict that it will soon be a wedding hotspot). And the Pritzker Garden provided a welcome respite towards the end of my visit: I felt peaceful and uncomplicated sitting in my green chair, beneath the soaring “awning” and a robin’s egg blue colored sky.
So now I want you to see it for yourself. I’ll even give some suggestions for your first visit:
- Use the Millennium Park ramp entrance. The slow incline up 3 stories with the sight of a new condominium construction in the South Loop will fulfill every childhood dream of wanting to experience the sensation of boarding a rocket ship.
- Take advantage of Free Days or any of the other dozens of ways to get in free or pay a discounted price. (Check out http://www.artic.edu/aic/visitor_info/geninfo.html for more information.) Without the pressure to get your money’s worth you can enjoy the art without getting tired and resenting the fact that there’s so much to see.
- Take advantage of the Museum’s website. The Modern Wing’s webpage (http://www.artic.edu/aic/collections/exhibitions/500Ways/overview) has a section called “Interact” where you can download a self-guided tour on your iPhone, or learn Exhibition Insights under “Videos and Podcasts.” And educating yourself beforehand will help to make a piece seem familiar when you see it and create a connection, much like the one people have with American Gothic or A Sunday on La Grande Jatte.
- Don’t be afraid to look closely. When viewed from a distance, what looked like flowers in one sculpture turned out to be paper towels covered in paint and rolled into balls. And in one photograph, the sadness I felt at seeing the image of the World Trade Center in 1998 contrasted so sharply to the shock of suddenly spotting the image of two very small, very naked women on a rooftop that I laughed out loud.
Finally, take your time. Go more than once. Visit your old favorites in the main building before you head home. Find something new with each visit. Go with an open mind, and I promise, you won’t be disappointed.
But while you are at your computer, please check Polarity’s year-end appeal. Our art depends on your support.