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Muses Gone Wild!

October 2, 2015 - 10:35am

The rock star god of classical antiquity, Dionysos reigned supreme over wine and theater, with maenad groupies and satyrs following in his wake. But what happened when his followers found a little too much inspiration in the grape? Come take a closer look at the Renaissance prints in Dionysos Unmasked: Ancient Sculpture and Early Prints to find out!

The nine muses, who live placidly with the god Apollo on Mount Olympus, are usually content to inspire theater, poetry, and the other arts from a safe distance, or sometimes put hubristic challengers in their proper place. In the famous Raphael fresco in the Vatican (about 1511), they inspire the poets through song and music. Everything is tranquil, orderly and serene—in short, the perfect setting for creativity. Or so one would think from our Marcantonio Raimondi engraving after the fresco:

Shortly after this well-known print was published, however, a still-unidentified artist, the Master HFE, parodied the composition in such a visceral way that his version could only be known as Parnassus Profaned.

In this version of Parnassus, the god of wine has left his intoxicating mark. Instead of perching on separate mounds, here the muses, poets, and even the trees are violently intertwined. The goats and sheep mingling throughout the composition demonstrate their legendary lecherousness even more clearly, and, as onlookers gasp, even Apollo’s trusty steed Pegasus flies away in disgust. The Art Institute’s Department of Prints and Drawings was very lucky to be able to acquire this exceptionally rare engraving earlier this year, but even this lusciously printed, deeply black impression on creamy paper does not tell the entire story.

Indeed, an even rarer-surviving impression of the print (now in the British Museum) pulled before the artist burnished out select details shows the extent of the drunken chaos. The muses and poets are indistinguishable in their fumbling, while some of the trees respond rather humorously to the carnal appetites of their woody neighbors. In the London impression, Dionysos has even intoxicated the forest, making Parnassus home to the world’s most botanical bacchanal.

Marcantonio Raimondi, after Raffaello Sanzio, called Raphael, Apollo on Parnassus, 1517/20, engraving. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Potter Palmer, Jr.

Master HFE, Parnassus Profaned, after 1520, engraving, second state. The Amanda S. Johnson and Marion J. Livingston Fund.

Master HFE, Parnassus Profaned, details from engraving, first state. © Trustees of the British Museum.

Dionysos Across the Museum

September 30, 2015 - 11:16am

If our musings on Dionysos Unmasked: Ancient Sculptures and Early Prints have left you wanting more, you’re in luck! Tributes to the intoxicating god of wine and theater appear throughout the museum.

Head to the Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art to see the stamnos (or mixing jar) pictured above, which would have been used for diluting wine with water. Each side of the vessel features three women preparing for a festival devoted to Dionysos. The woman on the left holds a rhyton (or drinking cup) and the woman in the middle holds a thyrsos (or ritual staff). The staff is topped with ivy leaves, which were sacred to Dionysos and often feature prominently in artwork that honors the god. . . like the coin below!

This coin shows two different depictions of Dionysos. On the left, we see a young Dionysos, with elaborately styled hair and an ivy crown with berries on it. On the right, Dionysos is portrayed a bit older. He carries a bunch of grapes in his right hand and a cloak and rod in his left. Impress your friends by noticing that the Ancient Greek writing on the far right spells Dionysos.

We invite you to visit Dionysos Unmasked and then explore the rest of the collection to find even more portrayals of this much-depicted god. And if you have the inclination, honor Dionysos the way he would have wanted—with a drink in one of the museum’s cafés!

Image Credits:

Attributed to the Chicago Painter. Stamnos (Mixing Jar), about 450 B.C. Greek, Athens. Gift of Philip D. Armour and Charles L. Hutchinson.

Tetradrachm (Coin) Depicting the God Dionysos, mid-2nd Century B.C. Greek, minted in Maroneia (Thrace). Gift of Mrs. Emily Crane Chadbourne.

Collaboration and Community: Similarities between Artists and Programmers

September 24, 2015 - 10:43am

Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions, an exhibition now on view at the Art Institute of Chicago, features prints and drawings by James McNeill Whistler and Theodore Roussel. The exhibition shows that the work Whistler and Roussel produced during the late 19th century was not created in isolation, but was only possible in the context of their dynamic, thriving community. This community of artists, technicians, writers, publishers and models as well as their family and friends encouraged experimentation and created space for insiders and outsiders to explore a new world of artistic expression. 

In order to bring this idea to life, I was part of a team at the Art Institute that created the Linked Visions interactive, an application that allows the user to visually explore the social and personal connections between individuals in Whistler and Roussel’s circles. As we developed the application, I was struck by the parallels between Whistler and Roussel’s network of relationships and my own rootedness in open source software. New software today is often described as “built from scratch” or “from the ground up,” offering romanticized visions of teams of programmers huddled around laptops with blank text documents. In much the same way the idea of the artist alone in a studio ignores the communal and historical context of their work, these images of start-up culture ignore the decades of systems and developers who came before us, whose work are part of histories of incremental collaborations that have resulted in the frameworks we all base our work on today. One project allows developers to work out a common problem, which then allows space for others to push those ideas further, a process accelerated in recent years by services like GitHub that offer tools to open source communities. As developers, we would be remiss to ignore our participation in this collaborative building process and its history, whether or not we actively contribute to open source code.

The Linked Visions interactive wasn’t built from scratch. We started with a copy of code from the developers of Linked Jazz, a project that visualizes dynamic relationships between jazz musicians over its history. Linked Jazz wasn’t built from scratch, either. Both applications extensively use D3, a project that helps developers provide dynamic, interactive data visualizations in web browsers. D3 is built in JavaScript, a language meant to provide rich user interactivity in web browsers. JavaScript derives its syntax from C and adopts methodologies and ideas from a number of languages that came before it. And so on. I believe art in Whistler and Roussel’s community, and arguably art in general, developed and evolved in much the same way, through the intersection of iterative collaboration and time. 

As the exhibition shows, tools alone don’t create the circumstances for communities to grow–and for our ideas and ourselves to evolve. We need community and deep relationships to move forward, and these histories reflect that as they include the work of people from many different life experiences. None of these communities are homogeneous groups, and it’s only through their diversity that they thrive, grow, and are able to push boundaries further and further.

I invite you to visit the online interactive, but to get the full experience, the exhibition is open at the Art Institute through September 27.

—Nikhil Trivedi, Senior Systems Analyst, Department of Information Services

Designing the Hidden Network between Two 19th-Century Artists

September 22, 2015 - 3:16pm

A prolific and innovative painter, draughtsman, etcher, and lithographer, James McNeill Whistler had a strong influence on the art and exhibition design of his time. Whistler’s less-established contemporary, Theodore Roussel, was, on the other hand, a self-taught painter who later became known for his landscapes and mastery of color etching. But Whistler was impressed by the younger artist’s work and requested an introduction. Their subsequent meeting led to more than a decade of artistic collaboration and friendship.

More than a century later,  as we zoom out in time and space,a common network of collaborators and colleagues, families and friends comes into view. That invisible network, however, is not self-evident. For the Whistler & Roussel: Linked Visions exhibition, we needed to find a way to visualize that network. Traditional wall labels wouldn’t be able to tell the story we wanted to communicate.

Rather than building a platform from scratch, we started with a foundation of open-source code (built by Pratt and NYPL). Working with New York City-based interaction designer Michael Yap, we wanted to show the complex network while keeping the design interface intuitive and hyper-minimal. The following schematic shows an early approach to the interface design.

Visualizing the web of artists is interesting, but we wanted to go one level deeper and show how these artists were related to one another. Rather than go for a design feature that would clog up the network, we adopted an approach that used a filtering paradigm. Visitors filter down based on type of relationship. It’s a design solution that kept the interface clean and accessible.

While the artists may have emerged from the gilded age, we didn’t want the web graphics to explicitly cite Victorian England. We went with a minimalist design language inspired equally by Massimo Vignelli and Edward Tufte. One particular quote from Tufte provided inspiration — “Make all visual distinctions as subtle as possible, but still clear and effective.”

For a geometric motif, we borrowed a simple feature already built into the exhibit — slightly rounded corners from vintage Roussel frames. For the color scheme, we first explored a palette with five color options. It was four too many. We narrowed down the colors to a few critical selections — white, black, salmon. The salmon color was inspired by one of Roussel’s printed mounts and became a motif in both the digital catalog and the Linked Visions microsite.

Visit the Linked Visions microsite to see how all the design elements come together to share the story of Whistler and Roussel’s interwoven artistic network. In our next post, we’ll look closer at the technical infrastructure underpinning the design.

—Michael Neault, Director, Digital Experience & Access

Coming Soon: David Adjaye

September 16, 2015 - 4:01pm

Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye opens on Saturday, but we wanted to give you a little sneak peek of the exhibition. The image above shows just a tiny corner of the model for one of Adjaye’s most prestigious projects—the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture—which is set to open in 2016.

And below, check out a detail of Horizon, a life-sized pavilion that visitors are welcome to enter. Click here to learn more about the exhibition from the curator and see a time-lapse installation of Horizon.

Whistler, Roussel, and Frame Design

September 15, 2015 - 1:54pm

Museum visitors ask us lots of excellent questions, but one frequent topic is that of frames. How do we choose them? Are they original? Visitors to Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions may have noticed that there are several different frames in use in the exhibition. Both James McNeill Whistler and Theodore Roussel cared enough about the public presentation of their prints that they designed special frames to exhibit them. So in keeping with their shared interest in frame design, we made a point to present their works on paper in frames consistent with the aesthetic that each of them preferred.

In the case of Whistler’s prints and drawings, we have used frames that were made based on his own designs. Many of these were seen previously at the Art Institute in the 1998 exhibition, Songs on Stone.

For Roussel, whose work has only rarely been shown before at the Art Institute, we were able to use some of the original frames that he himself created. Roussel designed two different types of frames for his prints. For his monochrome prints, he used a thin wooden frame with an ivory or bone-colored finish; this frame style had rounded corners, and Roussel then adhered prints with different patterns to them. One example is his Lily Pattern Frame of 1888/89 (top image). For some of his color prints, Roussel designed elaborate ensembles consisting of the color print or work of art, which was placed on a printed color mount, and then both were enclosed in a wider frame profile with square corners onto which patterned prints were also adhered. There are three of these complete ensembles in the exhibition, including Last Poppies, shown in the Stag and Flower Pattern Frame (image immediately above).

In situations where we didn’t have enough of Roussel’s original frames, we created new frames in order to carry out his vision. In this photograph, you see conservation specialist Christopher Brooks and frame conservator Kirk Vuillemot (left to right) discussing the vintage frames the Roussel produced. We selected the monochrome frame style as our prototype, and we decided to emulate the rounded corners and ivory colored varnish. Kirk developed the reproduction ‘Roussel-inspired’ model that we used in the exhibition. We wanted to be clear that these were not original period frames, so to help make that distinction we did not produce pattern prints to adhere to the frames.

In addition to the specific framing decisions made for the exhibition, special attention was also paid to the overall presentation of the works. For Roussel’s L’agonie des fleurs, we used the new Roussel-style frame and then mounted the work on white-gold leaf coated paper (above). This presentation emulates Roussel’s experimentation with metallic inks for printing and also for printed mounts. We also employed a green-brown mat for some of Whistler’s color prints, like Moonrise in the New Forest (below).

One of the great delights of preparing an exhibition that is based on the Art Institute’s permanent collection is the opportunity to work with conservation preparators like Christine Conniff-O’Shea (below) to make these kinds of decisions. When an exhibition features permanent collection works rather than those borrowed from other institutions, we can control how objects are matted and framed to create a viewing experience that not only enhances the pleasure of seeing our collection displayed but also supports the thesis of the exhibition itself.

—Victoria Sancho Lobis, Prince Trust Associate Curator, Department of Prints and Drawings

Recreating Ancient Music with Modern Technology

September 2, 2015 - 3:06pm

In the recently installed exhibition, Dionysos Unmasked: Ancient Sculpture and Early Prints, visitors will find themselves serenaded by the faint but ethereal sounds of antiquity. This background music is that of a panpipe, which is a series of pipes of different lengths that have been bound together (see image above, which illustrates a ceramic variant from the museum’s Pre-Columbian collection).

Panpipes were a principle attribute of Pan, a woodland deity of shepherds and rustic music, and feature prominently in sculptural works and prints in the exhibition. Pan himself also frequently appears in the exhibition, at times alongside Dionysos, the god of wine and theater. You can recognize Pan by his panpipes, but he also often appears as a man with the horns, legs, and tail of a goat, pointed ears, a thick beard, and a snub nose, as in the image above.

Because of Pan’s prominence in the exhibition and due to the importance of music in ancient Greek life, we decided to include panpipe music in the exhibition. Which raises a very important question. How do we know what music from 2,000 years ago sounded like?

Some fragments of notated music do survive from antiquity, but the markings are quite different than the sheet music of today. One of the rare examples of a musical piece found in its entirety is the Seikilos Epitaph (200 B.C./A.D. 100), a short but complete example of ancient Greek musical composition that was discovered engraved on a tombstone near Aydin, Turkey. It is the oldest known piece of complete western music in existence. The actual engraved object is preserved today in the National Museum of Denmark in Copenhagen. The musical notations appear as a series of small markings just above the letters. They begin with the sixth line of the inscription:

We started our process by gathering together a number of ancient Greek and Roman fragments of surviving music (like the Seikilos Epitaph, which have been published together in a useful book edited by Egert Pohlmann and Martin West, Documents of Ancient Greek Music: Extant Melodies and Fragments. Clarendon Press, 2001). Three melodies from the surviving music comprise the track heard in the exhibit.

Musician Brett Benge then brought these pieces to life using a music-editing and creation program called Logic Pro, which he connected to a digital piano. But without a performer schooled in the practices of ancient Greece, Brett had to find other means to create an authentic sound. He began by using a raw sample of eight notes recorded from a live panpipe. It was important to use a sample of high quality to capture the beauty and idiosyncrasies of a live acoustic instrument. Computers like precision, so such idiosyncrasies are difficult to produce artificially.

To add to the authenticity, Brett wanted to incorporate a tuning schematic that might well have been used in ancient Greece. Tuning practices have varied over the centuries and continue to vary culture to culture even today. These tuning schematics slightly alter each pitch, making them somewhat sharper or flatter than what we’re used to in 21st-century America. They can be loaded electronically to produce tuning consistent with practices of another culture, preference, or epoch. For this project, he located a (fitting, we think) Pythagorean schematic. To a modern ear, these pitches might sound slightly out of tune, but they are consistent with, in this case, the ratios of Pythagorean tuning. The pan pipes of ancient Greece were probably not tuned with this level of precision, but at worst, the tuning schematic helps the instrument sound more authentic by giving it a less-than-perfect, rougher sound. At best, the instrument sounds tuned in a fashion that may well have been what was used in ancient Greece.

Finally, great care was taken to produce musical phrasing that would be consistent with a performer of professional caliber. A skilled performer alters the speed and amount of breath blown to create changing dynamics. These subtle changes were created meticulously with electronic tools. One aspect of authentic panpipe sound, however, evaded all electronic manipulation—the sound of player’s breath either during notes or inhaling between phrases. Ultimately, Brett recorded the sound of his own breath to layer with the sound of the panpipe sample.

In process, a screen shot of the program in process looks like this:

Thus, this is merely one interpretation of several fragments of ancient music. If you research the Seikilos Epitaph, you will discover many different versions and interpretations of how it may have sounded. This shows us that the study of music from Greek and Roman times is complex and we may never really know what music sounded like, but we hope our interpretation helps transport you back in time while exploring the exhibition!

—Elizabeth Benge, Collection & Exhibition Manager, Ancient and Byzantine Art

Special thanks to my very talented husband Brett Benge for music production and writing assistance.

Image Credits:

Statue of Pan, 1st century A.D., with 18th century (or earlier) restorations. Anonymous loan.

Pan Pipe (detail), 180 B.C./A.D. 500, Nazca, south coast, Peru. Kate S. Buckingham Endowment.

Seikilos Epitaph, National Museum of Denmark.


Work of the Week: Hodler

August 21, 2015 - 3:14pm

It’s hard to believe in the more than six years that the Art Institute blog has been up and running, we’ve never once mentioned this painting. Why, you might ask? Is the artist famous? Not really. Although Ferdinand Hodler was one of Switzerland’s leading artists at the turn of the 20th century, his work has not been shown extensively outside of Europe. Then maybe the subject of the painting is famous? Again, no. James Vibert was one of Hodler’s closest friends and a Swiss sculptor who studied with Rodin, but he’s not well known.

The reason is much simpler. This is just one of those paintings that jumps off the gallery wall at you. Perhaps it’s the big red beard. Perhaps it’s Vibert’s size (he was referred to as “herculean”). Perhaps it’s the impenetrable gaze. Or maybe it’s the fact that the painting is virtually symmetrical.

Hodler developed a strict aesthetic theory he called parallelism, in which he relied heavily on symmetry and repetition to create overall unity. About this theory, Hodler wrote, “We differ one from the other, but we are like each other even more. What unifies us is greater and more powerful than what divides us.”

Whatever the reason, this is a painting that’s difficult to simply walk by. We hope you enjoy it on your next visit!

And finally, a quick sidenote for all of you Top Chef/celebrity doppelgänger fans (it might be a small group). . . What do you think about this comparison?

Ferdinand Hodler. James Vibert, Sculptor, 1907. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.

A View from Below, Part Five

August 7, 2015 - 12:27pm

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

No, it’s not the holidays, but it is my annual stroll through the galleries with 10-year-old Sophie! We’ve been at it for five years and have covered everything from Pop to Impressionism, and this year we took on our biggest challenge yet. . . the present.

The Art Institute’s Charles Ray exhibition features work by the contemporary sculptor created between 1997 and 2014. It’s the artist’s first major exhibition since 1998, and includes 19 figurative sculptural works that flow from the museum’s Modern Wing to the exterior gardens. I couldn’t wait to see how Sophie responded to art made within her lifetime.

Her first reaction upon walking into the galleries was “whoa.” Solid start. And while it was a response to the art, it was even more of a response to the space. There are just 15 pieces in the 18,000-square-foot galleries, giving each sculpture lots of breathing room. Sophie compared it to a park, with people meandering around, rather than following a set path through an exhibition. And in fact, that’s how you’re meant to experience the exhibition. Ray wants you to have a 360 degree experience with the works, and specifically tried to create pieces that would draw you all the way around.

One example of that idea is The New Beetle, in which a child plays with a toy car. Charles Ray has said about this sculpture, “if the object can move you physically. . . it will also move you intellectually.” As Sophie made an unprompted circle around the sculpture, she created a narrative in which the boy was with his parents and they were talking about something boring (“like what to do with their house”) and he was immersed in play. She thought he might be an only child because it was clear by how he was playing that there were no other kids around.

We also talked a lot about Light from the Left. In this bas relief, Charles Ray is handing his wife a bouquet of flowers. From a distance, Sophie thought they might be actors on a stage, but as she got closer, she noticed details like the air vent on the floor and the fact that the texture in the background might represent mini-blinds instead of a curtain and decided that they must be at home. Correct. She also talked about how the light hit the piece. When I told her the title, she asked if that’s why we put it where we did, so that the sunlight streaming in the galleries also hit it from the left. Correct again.

But her favorite was Ray’s 2005 Tractor. She’s really interested in how things work, so she loved seeing the inner mechanics of the broken down equipment. She also responded to the labor of the creative process, in which Ray dissembled an actual tractor, cast each piece in aluminum, and reassembled it.

One of her final notes was the realization that there wasn’t a lot of color—everything was white or silver. She suggested that might be because when there are a lot of colors, you tend to look at the brightest one. But when everything is the same color, you look more closely at all of it.

The clearest sign I knew she liked the exhibition? When we left, I asked how long she thought we’d spent in the galleries. She guessed a half hour. . . and it had been an hour and a half.

As always, thank you Sophie for your thoughtful and creative insights!



July 31, 2015 - 2:04pm

Break out your crocheted romper and your giant floppy black hat. . . Lollapalooza starts today! Over the course of the weekend, more than 140 bands will grace the stages of the giant music festival, which is located right across the street from the Art Institute.

And for the sixth year in a row, we’re bringing you our Lollapalooza challenge. Match these artworks 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! Drink lots of water and reapply sunscreen frequently.









Hemingway and the Art Institute

July 20, 2015 - 2:35pm

Have you ever thought about who, living or dead, you would invite to your dinner party? What about who would you take to the museum with you? What new insights and discoveries might these “friends” bring to you? I love to think about this and while my imaginary guests may change over time, a name that comes up frequently is Ernest Hemingway. I’ve always been interested in both his writings and his life and would jump at the chance to take a stroll through the galleries with this larger-than-life author.

And while this might be impossible, since Hemingway had a lot to say about everything (including art), we’re able to make some educated guesses at what he might have been drawn to at the museum. So in that spirit, tomorrow I’ll be leading a tour that will not just seek out works that Hemingway explicitly spoke of, but also connect with those that embody the spirit of his work. What can you expect to see? We’ll see some works he saw as a young boy from Oak Park. We’ll see modern masters that he personally knew while living in Paris. We’ll consider what the connection was between his eye and his pen, when he said things like “I can make a landscape like Cézanne.”

If you’re interested in hearing more about connections between Hemingway and the museum, the gallery talk starts at 12:00p.m. tomorrow in the museum’s Modern Wing. It, like all of our daily gallery talks, is free with museum admission.

—P.D. Young, Production Coordinator, Imaging Department

Paul Cézanne. The Bay of Marseilles, Seen from L’Estaque, c. 1885. Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson Collection.


Celebrity Doppelgängers: Whistler Edition

July 17, 2015 - 3:14pm

The Department of Prints and Drawings is always an exciting place when an exhibition is being installed. The physical and mental demands of making sure that the art is displayed to perfection, while meeting relentless deadlines is an intense time for the staff. Despite this tension, there is a moment of breathtaking awe once a show is ready to open. It never fails. And so it is also for the newly opened Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions. The exhibition illustrates the decade-long professional collaboration of James McNeill Whistler and Theodore Roussel and includes 175 etchings, lithographs, drawings, and paintings. The exhibition is also complemented by works from the artists’ networks, including the painting above.

When I saw images of Whistler, I found myself saying out loud, “I feel like I know this guy! There is something so familiar about him!” Sure, he is quite fashionable for his time, possessing that je ne sais quoi, but the personality is one I felt I knew intimately. I could hear him cracking wise while he struck a bold pose, being a show-off, yet the glint in his eye told me he knows he is a bit ridiculous. “I know this guy! But how?!” It finally came to me when standing in front of the Walter Greaves portrait of the artist. . . he is Frank Zappa!

What a relief to finally understand my reaction to Whistler’s likeness. “Frank Zappa is Whistler’s doppelgänger!” I declared it to all who would listen, with great satisfaction. Alas, I was not alone in finding Whistler familiar. A fellow staff member overheard a museum visitor saying, “Who does Whistler remind me of? Hmmm… I think it’s Johnny Depp!” Maybe, although I would argue Depp is missing the edginess of Whistler and Zappa. One of our Conservation Fellows brought some friends to see the exhibition, and offered me full validation when unsolicited, one of the friends, seeing Whistler’s portrait exclaimed, “He looks like Frank Zappa!” Another visitor, with a French accent, was heard saying of Roussel’s portrait, “He looks like Jeremy Irons.”  

The familiar appeal of these two gentlemen is apparently global and this celebrity “sighting” has reignited a trend in our department, with previous sightings including Bill Murray and Paul Giamatti. So the pursuit of more doppelgängers is now in full swing. Happy hunting, and be sure to share what you snag!

—Judith Broggi, Department Coordinator of Prints and Drawings

Image Credit: Walter Greaves. James McNeill Whistler, 1869. A.A. Munger Collection.

Insider’s Look: Russell Collett

July 8, 2015 - 11:09am

Russell Collett, the Art Institute’s Associate Vice President for Protection Services describes the museum’s multi-layered security approach as “both overt and covert.” And he should know. In addition to his years at the Art Institute, he spent 25 years with the Secret Service.

Russell was recently profiled in the museum’s Member Magazine and discusses what it’s like to ride on Air Force One and if the museum has any plans to reinstate the German Shepherds that used to help guard our building. Here is an excerpt from his interview, as well as a few additional fun facts. . .

You have had high-profile jobs in the past, such as working for the Secret Service. How has that prepared you for working at the Art Institute of Chicago?

I was trained from my first day at the Secret Service to build a prevention-based environment. We always look at preventing crime and preventing an attack on our people or assets. Today, that same goal is on my mind every day—to empower my team and all museum staff to build that prevention-based, forward-thinking, collaborative model. Security is everybody’s responsibility.

There are actually a lot of similarities between the Secret Service and the museum in terms of tradition, history, the mission of the people who work there, and collaboration. I spent 10 of my 25+ years with the Secret Service at the White House. It’s a museum in and of itself, and it is constantly hosting dignitaries and events. Here at the museum, we host 1,300 events a year. Being able to work collaboratively with the folks who plan these successful events is similar to the work I did at the White House.

It’s also similar from a facilities standpoint. The White House has its own curator, engineers, electricians, painters, housekeeping, gardeners, and contractors. All those folks work together on the daily operations of the White House, just as we do here.

What would surprise people about working for the Secret Service?

It’s not always as glamorous as it seems. You’d be surprised at how boring it is sometimes. It’s a 24/7/365 job, and no matter where you are, there’s somebody standing outside a door in the middle of the night protecting a president or dignitary, walking a patrol, or manning a command center. It’s similar to what we do here—our department secures our people and facilities the same way.

What’s one of your favorite perks of being an Art Institute staff member?

Being able to walk through the museum alone before the doors open to the public and to be in the presence of history. Our department brand is “protecting history.” Each of us has this ability and obligation to play a part.

What’s the most important security tip for people’s homes?

Lock your doors. Keep an emergency supply kit and have a plan. Check on your elderly neighbors and trust your gut.

What’s a movie or television show that gets the security profession totally wrong? The West Wing? Homeland? Night at the Museum? White House Down? First Kid?

No profession is ever portrayed with complete accuracy, but when it comes to accuracy in the White House, The West Wing got it totally wrong with all the walking. The White House isn’t that big. The characters would walk for minutes going from the Oval Office to the Cabinet Room exchanging rapid-fire conversation, and the two rooms were actually steps from each other. Also, the White House press room is a lot smaller than it appears on television.

You are the proud father of triplet daughters. Is working at the Art Institute more or less challenging than raising triplets?

It’s about the same. Our girls were born literally one minute apart but they are so different. So are the people who come through our doors. I get to interact with a diverse group of people—members and guests with various stages of knowledge about art. It’s all about the customer experience.


On Wall Colors and Wine

June 19, 2015 - 10:12am

Museum visitors may be wondering what’s coming next in the Mary and Michael Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman and Byzantine Art. Here’s a peek behind the screens where Heaven and Earth: Art of Byzantium from Greek Collections was recently deinstalled.

Our next exhibition, Dionysos Unmasked: Ancient Sculpture and Early Prints, opens on July 11 and these deep red walls will host not only the ancient Greco-Roman sculpture that usually frequents this space, but also artworks from the Department of Prints and Drawings based on ancient sculptural sources, some with a gap of 1,500 years between them!

For this innovative, interdepartmental collaboration, we chose the wall color, evocatively titled “cranberry cocktail,” to celebrate the hero of our exhibition, Dionysos, god of wine and theater. And here Dionysos is, in an amazing Hellenistic or Roman bronze sculpture from 100 BC to 100 AD. This fantastic long-term loan appears front and center at the crossroads between the Michigan Avenue building, the Rice Building, and the Modern Wing.

The construction you see behind Dionysos is the building of a large temporary wall that will control the natural light so we can include 15th and 16th-century prints in all galleries of the Dionysos Unmasked exhibition. While the space looks much different than it did with windows backing the sculpture, we hope this temporary change will make our visitors curious about other ways of looking at our encyclopedic collection across departmental boundaries.

With the epically-proportioned and classically-inspired Charles Ray: Sculpture, 1997–2014 exhibition down the hall in the Modern Wing until October 4, we’ll have plenty to compare.