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Mondrian’s Evolution

September 26, 2014 - 2:49pm

You might be surprised to discover 1) that these two paintings were created by the same artist and 2) that they were inspired by the same thing. They were in fact both painted by Dutch artist Piet Mondrian within just five years of each other and were both inspired by the landscape in his native Holland.

If you’re familiar with Mondrian’s work, you probably recognize the aesthetic of the top canvas: horizontal and vertical lines and a limited palette including black, white, and primary colors. Also, in this case, Mondrian has rotated the square canvas by 45 degrees to create even more contrast between the lines in the painting and the diagonal lines of the canvas. But these spare, geometric compositions reflect more than just an interest in abstraction; they represent a reduction in natural forms to create a pure new visual language. And often, the natural forms that were the jumping-off point for Mondrian’s work came from Holland’s flat geography.

But as he and other artists were experimenting with relationships between abstract lines, shapes, and colors, Mondrian was also creating more representational work, including this painting from 1916 called Farm near Duivendrecht. This is one of 20 views of the same farm that he created over about 14 years. In part, this was to please his patrons, many of whom preferred a more naturalistic style. But it also gave him an opportunity to balance his new abstract interests with the more straightforward approaches to landscape that he had worked on early in his career.

Make sure to visit (and compare) both of these works on your next visit to the third floor of the museum’s Modern Wing.

Image Credits:

Piet Mondrian. Lozenge Composition with Yellow, Black, Blue, Red, and Gray, 1921. Gift of Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. © Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International, Warrenton VA.

Piet Mondrian. Farm near Duivendrecht, c. 1916. Gift of Dolly J. van der Hoop Schoenberg. © Mondrian/Holtzman Trust c/o HCR International, Warrenton VA.

What May Come: Chicago and the Taller de Gráfica Popular

September 17, 2014 - 3:30pm

Some of the realist and expressive visual language employed by the artists of the progressive, mid-century printmaking collective, the Taller de Gráfica Popular (TGP), and currently displayed in the exhibition What May Come: The Taller de Gráfica Popular and the Mexican Political Print, may seem familiar to Chicagoans. With the 55th Street Metra underpass panel reproductions of works by Margaret Taylor-Burroughs (pictured above) and the countless Works Projects Administration-funded murals featured throughout the city, one is hard-pressed not to notice a very real connection in visual language between the Mexican printmaking collective and the Chicago artists of the time. It was the state-sponsored murals of José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siquieros, and Diego Rivera after all, that inspired the WPA federal-funded murals seen throughout Chicago and cemented a real interest in intercultural exchange and collaboration among artists, galleries, and arts-based institutions in Chicago and in Mexico.

The over 100 works on display in What May Come represent only a fraction of the Prints and Drawings Department’s rich collection of TGP prints, drawings, ephemeral handbills and newspapers, and portfolios. And since for the most part these works were collected and exhibited at the Art Institute during the 1930s and 1940s, What May Come seeks to not only bring the art of the influential collective to Chicago’s attention, but to also delve into the strong connection between the Mexican collective and Chicago artists, gallerists, and curators. This connection emphasized the intercultural exchange made possible by the opening up of Mexico in the post-revolutionary 1920s and 1930s, as well as the shared anti-fascist and pro-worker sentiments of the artists.

It is in looking through hundreds of letters of correspondence, departmental and board meeting minutes, bills of sale, and more from the Art Institute’s institutional records that the TGP’s international relations and activity truly came to life for the exhibition staff. Although a previously understood notion, these archives further illustrated the attraction that the TGP artists’ progressive, leftist politics, collective approach to work, and promotion of the democratization of information for all peoples held for an international assortment of artists and thinkers of the time. Famed Swiss Bauhaus architect Hannes Meyer and French-born artist Jean Charlot are just two of the many individuals to actively involve themselves in the cooperative workshop, with a number of Chicago artists finding similar reasons to visit or seek out work with the TGP.

One of the galleries in the exhibition explores this connection explicitly, featuring works by Eleanor Coen, Max Kahn, Elizabeth Catlett, Mariana Yampolsky, and John Wilson. There were all individuals who had a strong connection to Chicago and who sought artistic stimulation and political refuge in the collective at some point during the mid-twentieth century. Their works further illustrate the aesthetically and politically informed dialogues taking place at the time between the Chicago-based and Mexican artists, with the TGP having a profound influence on much of the art produced. This influence was a direct result of the Chicago artists’ visits and correspondence with the TGP, as well as the collective nature of the TGP’s working environment. One example, Catlett’s And a Special Fear for My Loved Ones from the I Am the Negro Woman series (immediately above), first executed between 1946 and 1947 during her time in Mexico, echoes some of the more politically and socially engaged themes of the TGP. Though the topic of racially driven lynchings is more culturally specific to the United States, the TGP-shared message against oppressive violence is clear. There is also a shared visual language that was distinctly influenced by the expressive realism found in the dynamic and sculptural lines of TGP founder Leopoldo Méndez.

It is just across the gallery from these works, that visitors can explore the TGP’s strong connection to the Art Institute of Chicago that was initially sparked by the various Chicago artists’ interactions with the collective as well as the enthusiasm of museum curators Carl Schniewind and Katharine Kuh. Kuh acquired and exhibited modern Mexican art, further solidifying Chicago’s role in the intercultural exchange between Mexico and the United States. Additionally, exhibitions such as the 1946 TGP group show at the Art Institute cemented the TGP’s broad oeuvre for the United States public as not only politically engaged ephemera, but rightfully so, as works of fine art. A letter exhibited here from Méndez to Schniewind, found in the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries’ institutional archives, expresses the collective’s great appreciation for the TGP show held at the museum in 1946. The letter goes on to address the curator’s desire for additional prints, with Méndez gladly offering Schniewind new editions from the workshop for the museum’s collection. It is this letter, placed among works by Chicago artists in What May Come, which provides visitors with an intimate insight into the amicable working relationship of the Art Institute and the TGP—a relationship which played a large role in not only the history of the TGP, but in Chicago’s own art history.

Overall, this period of time was marked by great cross-border correspondence, cooperation, and exchange among American and Mexican individuals and organizations. And although McCarthy-era politics unfortunately slowed this exchange down during the 1950s, it is with great thanks to the largely positive Chicago-TGP relationships of the 1930s and 1940s, that the Art Institute is so fortunate to currently have on view such a rich collection of one of the most influential, politically engaged artist collectives of the twentieth century.

—Chloe Lundgren, Exhibition Intern

Image Credits:

Leopoldo Méndez, What May Come (Mexico, 1945), 1945.  The Art Institute of Chicago. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SOMAAP, Mexico City

Elizabeth Catlett.  And a Special Fear for My Loved Ones, from The Black Woman [formerly The Negro Woman] (published 1946-47), 1947, printed 1989.  Restricted gift of The Leadership Advisory Committee.

 

Feathered Knights in Shining Armor

September 10, 2014 - 2:01pm

You’ve been living under a rock if you haven’t noticed a certain level of Medieval mania within pop culture. Renaissance Faires and LARPs (live action role playing games) increasingly abound, not to mention the overwhelming popularity of HBO’s Game of Thrones series, which has resulted in at least one “reality show.” And here at the museum, we’re completely on board with some German Romantic escapism (with more than a touch of nationalism). The museum’s new Medieval and Renaissance galleries are still in the early stages of development, but until December, the nineteenth-century prints in Gallery 221a will be enthusiastically reenacting their own Renaissance.

Sadly, there isn’t room for a full-sized set of caparisoned jousters careening down the second floor hallway on their mounts, lances in hand. But the noblemen in this liminal space, (who could be students escaped from Lucas Cranach the Younger’s Art of Wrestling), parade by with swords, steeds, and armor nonetheless. Using the new medium of lithography, artists such as the Senefelder brothers and Ferdinand Piloty enthusiastically copied extant Germanic treasures including a manuscript of jousts held at the court of Wilhelm IV in Munich between 1510 and 1545, and invented others entirely. Piloty’s early nineteenth-century Saint George in Armor lithograph (below left) for instance, closely referenced a 1506 woodcut by Lucas Cranach the Elder (below right), but the lithographer outfitted his warrior saint in a glowing haze and simpler armor. Omitting Cranach’s ostrich-feathered helmet and adding a shock of corkscrew curls, he enhanced the figure’s soft, contemplative demeanor.

Even more than Lucas Cranach, Albrecht Dürer’s art was considered a vital part of the distant Germanic past.  For one enormous Dürer woodcut coat of arms, only a single damaged impression had survived, and so the artist completed the missing lower right part of the composition himself.  The dozen peacock feathers atop this imposing crest also alluded to current tournament fashions suggesting prowess through luxury, exaggerated size and bright, distinguishing coloring.  The surviving print in fact remains brightly colored, though its copyist only reproduced the woodcut lines.

Feathers assume an even more active (or perhaps, proactive) role in the double-page Senefelder Jousters facsimile (above) showing a festive combat in Munich around 1545.  The Art Institute’s partially colored proof was never filled in with the blue and whites diamonds of the Bavarian arms or lavish hues of the combatants’ house colors from the original manuscript. Yet the contrast of shining metals (golden bells, silvery armor, brass fittings) make more of a statement about the types of materials on display without the distraction of color. The distinct metals suggest the ringing of the bells and the sliding of the armor’s lames (overlapping plates) in motion. These contrast with the quiet softness of the feather-tufted helmets and horse armor (detail below). Most functional of all is the pillow-like feather cover wrapped diagonally around the fallen lances at the bottom of the image. In tournament settings, these were used to keep the wood from shattering in all directions on impact, saving lucky nobles from splinters.  The soft, sketch-like touch of lithography makes these feathery accessories even more tactile than they would be in a woodcut, and draw the viewer into a vibrantly re-imagined, if slightly glorified past.

Image Credits:

Top left: Ferdinand Piloty after Lucas Cranach, the elder. Saint George in Armor, n.d. Gift of Dorothy Braude Edinburg to the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection.

Top right: Lucas Cranach, the elder. Saint George Standing, 1506. Clarence Buckingham Collection.

Bottom: Clemens Senefelder and Theo Senefelder. Joust, from the Tournament Book of Duke Wilhelm IV of Bavaria, 1817. Joseph Brooks Fair Fund.

Final Days: Josef Koudelka

September 5, 2014 - 3:51pm

Josef Koudelka is perhaps best known for images of gypsies and the Soviet invasion of Prague from the 1960s, but over the last 25 years, he’s been making photographs for publication exclusively with panoramic cameras. These large images (most are 4 to 6 feet wide) focus on landscape and are nearly devoid of people. But the evidence of people is everywhere. Whether it’s Greek ruins or mining infrastructure or barbed wire, the photographs illustrate a merging—for better or for worse—of the man-made and natural worlds. And because they are so large, they invite the viewer into the desolate landscapes, as if through a window.

Below are some installation images to get a sense of the scale. But to see them in person, you will need to get here soon. Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful is on view only through September 21.

Image Credit: Josef Koudelka. Jordan (Amman) from the series Archaeology, 2012, printed 2013. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.

 

Work of the Week: Labor Day Edition

August 29, 2014 - 1:48pm

 

It’s easy to consider Labor Day, and the three-day weekend it allows, as our given right: a reward at the end of summer prepping us for the coming winter, and a logical bookend complementing Memorial Day. We barbecue, sleep in on a Monday, and get back to work. Backyard parties aren’t really a great justification for a holiday, though, and Labor Day’s roots are much more serious. I won’t go into events like Chicago’s Haymarket Riot or the tradition of child labor, but we have it better than our ancestors—three-day weekends or not.

Which brings me to our Work of the Week: a photograph by Simpson Kalisher, A Brakeman Rides a String of Cars Down a Hump. “What does this have to do with my pool party?” you’re asking. Well, employers could once set the length of their workers’ days—twelve hours was common. In 1916, though, with a railroad workers’ strike looming, Congress negotiated with a committee of railroad labor brotherhoods and enacted the Adamson Act. We have the Adamson Act to thank for the concept of the eight-hour workday and time-and-a-half overtime pay. The idea of capping workers’ hours was not new—the “short-time movement” goes back to the Industrial Revolution—but this was the first time the U.S. Government regulated by law the hours of private workers’ days.

Give that some thought when you get back to work on Tuesday, whether you sit in an office or hang off the back of train cars.

Image Credit: Simpson Kalisher. A Brakeman Rides a String of Cars Down the Hump, n.d. Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Jack Galter.

Work of the Week: French Anteroom of the Empire Period

August 22, 2014 - 4:37pm

This Thorne Miniature Room was designed in the haute Empire style, reflecting the lavish and elaborate Neoclassical tastes of Napoleon, the reigning emperor. The green Roman columns on the walls, the use of materials like marble and simulated gilded bronze, and the stately severity of the lines were all hallmarks of this architectural and decorative style.

And there are Napoleonic references everywhere. Emblems related to the emperor—like eagles, bees, laurel wreaths, and the letter “N”— were often included  in rooms like this one. In this case, check out the laurel wreaths in the ornamentation above each set of doors. A bust of Napoleon also watches over the room from the mantle and as you look down the fireplace in the detail below, you’ll see images of the sphinx, which also pop up on chairs and tables throughout the room. According to Mrs. Thorne (who conceived of the rooms) herself, Napoleon’s campaign in Egypt resulted in “a perfect orgy of Egyptian design.”

The bold colors also reflect the prevailing style of the early 19th century. Color schemes that included gold, black, and crimson were popular and in this room, the niche is painted in Pompeiian red and the chairs and curtains in a shade of green called “Empire.” The rug was also copied for a portfolio of designs for rugs that Napoleon commissioned for the palace of Fontainebleau.

But style often comes at a price. As Mrs. Thorne said, “It lacks [a] livable quality, but it is 100 percent Napoleonic, and that is what I was striving for.”

Image Credit: Mrs. James Ward Thorne. E-26: French Anteroom of the Empire Period, c. 1810, c. 1937. Gift of Mrs. James Ward Thorne.

A View from Below, Part Four

August 20, 2014 - 11:05am

Sophie and I are now in our fourth year of touring the Art Institute’s galleries together. It’s my favorite annual event because she continues to force me to see something I’ve already seen a hundred times in a new way. . . which is exactly what the Surrealists—and especially Magritte—strove to do in their own work.

Magritte wanted to—in his own words—make “everyday objects shriek out loud” and encourage the viewer to continually question the world around them. One of the ways he accomplished this was by keeping some mystery around the narratives in his paintings and letting the viewer use their own ideas, associations, and opinions to develop a story. Sophie loved the fact that Magritte didn’t give anything away and had no problems imagining what might be taking place. She told me tales of acrobatic mangoes and flying turtles and candles turning into snakes.

She also extended her narratives outside the art. In The Secret Player (home of the aforementioned flying turtle), she invented a character off the left side of the painting who was throwing a ball to the men pictured. This makes complete sense as you look at the painting—the figures in white are looking off in that direction, tensed as if they’re waiting for something—but I had never thought to go outside the canvas, to think about what else is out there in Magritte’s strange world.

And so as you visit Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 this summer, I encourage you to think like Sophie and let your imagination run wild. It’s what Magritte would have wanted, after all.

Renaissance Wrestling Matches and Colorful Codpieces

August 15, 2014 - 12:16pm

In early 16th-century Germany, the elite youth turned to wrestling coaches for necessary life skills including lessons in dexterity, elegance, and sportsmanship, not to mention the helpful ability to break arms when actual weapons weren’t at hand. A recent gift to the Art Institute of Chicago from the drawing, book, and print collector Dorothy Edinburg celebrates all these things, and you can page through it in its entirety online here! The book will eventually be on permanent display near the arms and armor in our upcoming reinstallation of the Medieval and Renaissance galleries.

Lucas Cranach the Younger’s masterful woodcuts from 1539 delight in showing grappling bodies in motion in this exceedingly rare Renaissance wrestling handbook, Ringerkunst, or The Art of Wrestling. Fabian von Auerswald, the then seventy-five year old wrestling master of the Duke of Saxony (whose arms appear on the title page) wrote the text. He refers to the images as “artistic and amusing paintings,” and presumably oversaw the production of these designs for the woodcuts of the eighty-five different wrestling holds, given their specificity and accompanying step-by-step instructions. Even at his advanced age, Auerswald is shown subduing significantly younger opponents through his superior footwork and knowledge of advanced techniques. An ode to the nobility of unarmed combat, the aristocratic youths seeking to learn this art appear well-heeled and expensively garbed. None appear to have suffered the last resort Auerswald described on the verso of page D1, the “not very companionable” option of stressing or even breaking the occasional limb to get out of a stranglehold (such as the one seen on the verso of page C6). Indeed, he reasserts at the end of the introduction that the book (and the wrestling moves it teaches) are guaranteed to please, stating, “A good fellow who ventures to wrestle boldly and well cannot fail.” This particular copy was bound later in seventeenth-century leather, but is otherwise almost unblemished, a pristine (if not heavily consulted) and beautifully printed testament to Auerswald’s art.

In contrast, at least one copy of the book survives in resplendent color (Walker Library, Connecticut), though it is not known whether the color was applied by the seller or the purchaser.  Given the sumptuous outfits the wrestlers sport in each successive contortion, it seems only fitting to imagine their doublets, leggings, and even codpieces arrayed in jewel tones.  Indeed, amateur colorists were rampant in the early sixteenth century.  A didactic woodcut showing ways to measure distances on foot in an example of Peter Apian’s Cosmographia of 1524, which now resides here in Chicago at the Newberry Library, demonstrates the care with which the book’s owner colored in the codpiece and other details:

While the Art Institute’s gift shop is unlikely to offer an Art of Wrestling reprint as a coloring book to a new generation, screenshots of the digital version can serve in a pinch.  If you can stay within the lines, send us a picture.  Or even better, have fun recreating some of the poses, bearing in mind the immortal words of the girl who “Cain’t Say No” in Oklahoma!:  “Every time I lose a wrestling match, I get a funny feeling that I’ve won!”

Colorful codpieces optional.

Image Credit: Courtesy The Newberry Library, Chicago. Call # Vault 7 .A7 1524.

Unthinking Admission

August 13, 2014 - 3:12pm

A teacup set too close to the edge of a table, bumping into a teacher at the grocery store, walking into a room and forgetting what you were supposed to be doing there. . . these situations can evoke a feeling of strange unease. The teacup might fall and break! Teachers exist outside of the classroom? Why am I here again?

And I find that looking at a Surrealist artwork can give a similar uncomfortable sensation. Which is kind of the point. Surrealists strove to present absurd, fantastic, unreal ideas to people. They wanted to put all of the crazy thoughts and images floating around in people’s minds out into the world, which resulted in strange, weird, and even unnerving images.

In this spirit of surrealism and inspired by the museum’s current Magritte exhibition, we wanted to invite people to engage in an activity fitting the theme of Magritte’s paintings: Surrealist Pricing. Instead of paying for a ticket to the museum, we asked guests to bring in objects of surrealism in exchange for free admission to the museum’s Magritte exhibition.

On July 24th, people were (ma)greeted at the Monroe entrance by museum interns and Teen Council members ready to accept their items. Some people brought in art, some brought in cans. One person gave a giant beach ball! At the end of the night, there were carts full of knick knacks, art, and various everyday items that had been exchanged for tickets to the exhibition.

Then last Thursday night, all of the objects we received (all 490 of them!) were put on display during a one night pop-up event. The Teen Council members worked with the Magritte exhibition’s curatorial team to set up and arrange the objects. Some of my favorite pieces included: foreign currency, a cat’s bed, a wallet complete with ID, credit cards, and $23 (the price of regular museum admission), a broken cookie jar, decorated shoes, a ladle, a shovel, and a stuffed bear made into a musical instrument.

And at the end of the night, all these seemingly ordinary objects combined together for one very surreal display.

—Stephanie Zhao, Museum Education Intern

Artapalooza

August 1, 2014 - 12:55pm

Break out your jean shorts and your flower crowns. . . Lollapalooza starts today! Over the course of the weekend, more than 130 bands will grace the stages of the giant music festival, which is located just across the street from the Art Institute.

And for the fifth year in a row, we’re bringing you our Lollapalooza challenge. Match these works from the Art Institute’s collection with the band name from Lollapalooza’s line-up that you think they represent. The first person to get all eight correct—in the blog comments—will be the winner of an Art Institute prize pack.

Happy guessing and festival-going!

#1

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Fashion Photography as a Battleground

July 16, 2014 - 8:00am

Relatively recent films and television shows like Pret á Porter, Ugly Betty, and The Devil Wears Prada offer extreme views of publishing in the fashion world. Fraught with danger, conflict, and misadventures, the stakes seem unnaturally high for each glossy issue. And yet, aspects of Edward Steichen’s influential take on modern fashion photography could be said to have originated in the very real, international conflict of World War I. Sharp, Clear Pictures: Edward Steichen’s World War I and Condé Nast Years, a fascinating show now open in the Art Institute’s Galleries 1-4, maps the ways the artist’s outlook on photography changed after becoming deeply involved in establishing an aerial photography program for the U.S. military during World War I.

Steichen started out the early twentieth century as an Alfred Stieglitz protégé, perhaps most memorably photographing Auguste Rodin in Paris in an evocatively lit haze, sitting in profile opposite his statue of The Thinker. This image is nonetheless a key opening to Sharp, Clear Pictures, as Rodin had a connection to the important album of aerial photographs Steichen assembled after the war, and which makes up about half of the exhibition. Indeed, Steichen inscribed this book of over 80 views of artillery-damaged European towns to a friend whose family included some of Rodin’s major patrons.

The book has been disbound, so visitors can see all the album sheets with his handwritten captions in the order Steichen assembled them in 1919. This was just after he left his position as commander of the Photographic Section for the United States Army Expeditionary Forces Air Service. The approach varies, from comparisons between oblique and vertical shots of bombed-out locations with “practically not a roof left in the town,” to masked-out and collaged negatives honing in on specific enemy locations and airport installations. In several cases, the images have been juxtaposed and spliced together, often out of necessity to give the illusion that planes could fly high enough to take in larger expanses, with jagged edges rimmed with black borders. Although Steichen and his colleagues borrowed this technical approach from the French and British, he also seems to have utilized the same idea of image construction in publishing later on. In two intriguing instances in the show alone, he produced a double spread for a magazine by taking two separate pictures with a similar center, which allowed him to splice them together and crop the overall image to his liking. It also allowed him to reuse his favorite models on both sides of the page, or as in a fashion shoot from a biblical musical show, to double the size of the cast of singers by reorganizing them from the left to the right! Interestingly, one of the few sheets in the album that is not aerial photography taken under his command is a fashion plate of sorts, involving a caricature of officers making fun of each others’ uniforms. Its inclusion may have been arbitrary, or an attempt at comic relief, but it would be in fashion that Steichen found his next muse.

Similarly honing his skills, Steichen made several self-portraits over the years, including one from 1917 before heading to war-torn Europe.  Although he probably did not in the end act as a photographer on live missions, here he posed himself with his camera in a self-assured and more matter-of-fact manner than an earlier one developed gradually in painterly strokes. The result is also more cinematic, even bearing a striking resemblance to a 1990s Aidan Quinn and so to modern eyes, suggestive of his future in celebrity portraiture.

Many of the actors and playwrights he would portray had enlisted in World War I, even if they had not necessarily seen live combat. Nöel Coward was one of those given an early honorable discharge. Steichen poses him here in gloriously modern attire and a feline grace within a sleekly abstract architectural interior in 1932 for Vanity Fair. Coward was by then the successful playwright, actor, and songwriter of the titillating Private Lives, which had already been turned into a Hollywood film. Oozing glamor with each puff of his cigarette, Steichen’s evocation of Coward as the man of his age is absolutely seamless, just like his rethinking of photography.

Image Credits:

Photographic Section, US Air Service, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF), and Major Edward J. Steichen, ASA. In Chateau Thierry Sector showing service bridges destroyed by retreating enemy forces, 1918. Gift of William Kistler. © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Edward Steichen, Self-Portrait with Camera, 1917. Restricted gifts of Brenda and Earl Shapiro and the Smart Family Foundation; Laura T. Magnuson Acquisition, Comer Foundation, The Mary and Leigh Block Endowment funds; restricted gifts of Sidney and Sondra Berman Epstein, Karen and Jim Frank, Marian Pawlick; Ethel T. Scarborough, Hugh Leander and Mary Trumbull Adams Memorial Endowment, Betty Bell Spooner funds; restricted gifts of Vicki and Thomas Horwich, Robin and Sandy Stuart; Samuel A. Marx Purchase Fund for Major Acquisitions, S. DeWitt Clough, Photographic Society, Irving and June Seaman Endowment, Morris L. Parker funds,  © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Edward Steichen. Noel Coward, 1932. Bequest of Edward Steichen by direction of Joanna T. Steichen and George Eastman House. © 2014 The Estate of Edward Steichen/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

Monet Goes Digital

July 9, 2014 - 2:07pm

On July 1, the museum quietly released Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, a scholarly catalogue covering 47 paintings and drawings by the famous French Impressionist. “No big deal,” you might be saying right now. “The Art Institute is known for their Monet collection, and they publish books all the time. This seems like normal news,” you might follow up with.

Think again, wise guy. First of all, this is no standard book. It’s a digital scholarly catalogue accessible on any computer or iPad with an internet connection. Funded by the Getty Foundation and the David and Mary Winton Green Nineteenth-Century Research Fund, Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago is our first complete volume for the Online Scholarly Catalogue Initiative (OSCI), started in 2009 by the Getty. At the end of July, we’ll release a volume on Renoir; volumes on Pissarro, Manet, Gauguin, and our Roman art collection will follow in 2015.

But back to Monet. Now, if this were a standard printed book (which we still love!), we estimate it would be at least 1,300 pages. Moving to an online platform isn’t just a matter of size, though. It also allows us to include a range of tools and features that would be impossible on a sheet of paper. Entries on each artwork include high-res imagery that readers can zoom into close enough to see the artist’s brushstrokes. “Slider” images allow a reader to move smoothly between, say, a standard view of Monet’s The Beach at Sainte-Adresse (the second image pictured above) to an infrared reflectogram of the same painting (the first image) to gain a deeper understanding of Monet’s process and techniques. With this technology, you can see that Monet once intended to have a group of people walking along the water near the bottom right corner of the painting. Those people were painted over in the final version.

Of course, we’ve also included everything you would find in a printed book—in-depth curatorial entries, impeccably-detailed conservation reports, an expansive glossary, loads of comparative and archival images, footnotes galore, and comprehensive biographies of the collectors who helped build the Art Institute’s collection. Plus, the volume is peer reviewed and fully citable (we don’t take the “scholarly” in OSCI lightly).

Finally, remember that theoretical 1,300-page book I mentioned? It would weigh at least 15 pounds and would probably cost hundreds of dollars. Monet Paintings and Drawings at the Art Institute of Chicago, on the other hand, is completely free and, as mentioned, available right now on your computer or iPad.* So, what are you waiting for?

*Use the latest versions of Chrome, Safari, or Firefox for best results!

Image Credit: Claude Monet. The Beach at Sainte-Adresse, 1867. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection.

 

Celebrity Doppelgängers

July 2, 2014 - 1:59pm

One thing you might not expect to find while browsing Rembrandt van Rijn’s prints is a doppelgänger for the veteran actor Paul Giamatti. But that’s just what I found in the midst of an intensive Rembrandt project!

The print in question is a 1641 etching depicting the Dutch Mennonite preacher and cloth merchant Cornelis Claesz. Anslo. A celebrated citizen of his time, Anslo was not only memorialized by Rembrandt in print form; he and his wife were the subjects of a 1641 double portrait painting, also by Rembrandt. In the print, Anslo is shown at a desk with several heavy tomes, looking up from his reading, perhaps addressing a congregant outside of the composition.

As far as the celebrity resemblance goes, it is easy to see something of Paul Giamatti, best known for his performances in The Truman Show, Sideways, and Cinderella Man, in the face of this 17th-century figure. Particularly, Paul Giamatti’s be-hatted, bearded look as Chief Inspector Uhl in The Illusionist (2006) is a pretty good ringer for the stoic, similarly attired Anslo.  Additionally, the intensity in their eyes and their close facial structures lend to this celebrity doppelganger comparison.

Though he doesn’t have the same Chicago pedigree as our first doppelgänger, Bill Murray, Giamatti has been recognized by our own Chicago Film Critics Association for many of his supporting roles.   Additionally, The Negotiator (1998), a thriller featuring Giamatti in a supporting part, is set in the Windy City.

Although Rembrandt’s “Giamatti” is not currently on display, there are other wonderful prints by the artist in Gallery 208A.  And anyone can book an appointment to come see this fascinating  doppelgänger etching, and many other works on paper in The Jean and Steven Goldman Study Center.

—Deborah Krieger, Summer Intern in the Department of Prints and Drawings

Members on Magritte

June 23, 2014 - 3:48pm

Members of the Art Institute can always count on being the first to explore every major exhibition, and Magritte: Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 is no exception. With three preview days (that are still going on as I write this!), members gain exclusive access to the first major museum show to focus on Magritte’s most profoundly inventive and experimental years. During the previews, we also host three exclusive Member Lectures for a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibition.

Since members are some of the museum’s best ambassadors, it’s always exciting to see how they’ll react to a new exhibition. Starting on Saturday, they made their way through the unconventionally-designed galleries filled with René Magritte’s extraordinary and indelible works and the response was both positive and surreal. “The galleries are so lush and amazing, the dark rooms really draw you in,” one member described. Many members also took advantage of the member lectures given by Senior Lecturer, Annie Morse, and Exhibition Research Associate, Elizabeth McGoey. One member said she “loved Annie’s sense of humor which made the concept of surrealism very approachable.” Members really embraced the theme of the weekend, offering us some of their favorite surreal sayings, like “the earth is blue, just like an orange.”

Our member previews end today, but the perks don’t stop here. Members have the chance to catch mid-exhibition lectures on Thursday, August 28 and Saturday, August 30, as well as closing lectures on Sunday, October 5, Tuesday, October 7, and Thursday, October 9. Click the dates above to make your reservations now. Want to take part in these member exclusives? Join today!

— Courtney G., Manager of Events and Programs for Member Experience

Calling All Artists!

June 20, 2014 - 2:34pm

René Magritte’s unexpected treatments of ordinary objects in the first half of the 20th century influenced the next generation of artists, including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Ed Ruscha. And now. . . you.

We’ve once again teamed up with Threadless to create a design challenge inspired by our upcoming Magritte exhibition. We’re asking you to reach deep into the darkest recesses of your imagination and create an original—and very surreal—t-shirt design.

And did we mention there are prizes? In addition to your shirt being printed by Threadless, you’ll also receive $2,000, a $500 Threadless gift card, and the ultimate art book library. Plus, your t-shirt will be showcased at an upcoming event at the Art Institute.

For Chicagoans, we invite you to check out the exhibition for some inspiration. Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 opens to members tomorrow and to the public on Tuesday.

Happy creating!

The Sun Never Sets on Magritte

June 12, 2014 - 5:42pm

When Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 opens in less than two weeks, it will include some of the Art Institute’s best known works by Magritte—like Time Transfixed—but it won’t include many others—like The Banquet, pictured above—painted in the decades after 1938.

Magritte developed his artistic vocabulary in the 1920s and 30s, but even 20 years later, you can still see some of the artistic hallmarks that he carried forward to his later career. Similar to much of his early work, this was painted in a straightforward, realist style. You can recognize all of the elements of the painting—an architectural balustrade, a dense forest, and a sun—but in typical Magritte fashion, everything isn’t where you might expect it to be. If you were in fact standing on this terrace, this looming red sun would be hidden behind all of the trees. This is a twist on a Surrealist idea called displacement, or moving something from its proper place.

This painting was part of a larger series in which Magritte experimented with varying qualities of light at different times of day. In one painting, a crescent moon fills the sky and in another, the sky is gray-blue. In this version, the orange-red sky and the strong glow of the setting sun contrasting with the landscape combine to create what Magritte himself referred to as a “charge of strangeness.”

We invite you to the museum for this exciting exhibition, but then we hope you’ll take a walk through the rest of our Modern galleries to see The Banquet and continue the dialogue on Magritte and surrealism.

Image Credits: René Magritte. The Banquet, 1958. Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection. © 2014 C. Herscovici, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.