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Your Favorite Art Throbs

1 hour 23 min ago

 

Vincent van Gogh once said, “There is more hunger for love and appreciation in this world than for bread,” and while I’d guess most if not all of you were snacking when you took our love-themed Art Throb quiz, it’s still clear many of you are looking for that perfect romantic match. In fact, 13,000 of you took the Art Throb quiz in just one week! Looking at the collection of final results, it was fascinating to see exactly what types you found most appealing.

Here are the romantic types you chose in order of popularity:

The Romantic—27.17%
The Unicorn—22.78%
The Seducer—19%
The Psycho—10.30%
The Life of the Party—5.97%
The Tortured Genius—5.63%
The Alpha Dog—5.37%
The Sporty Type—2.03%
The Fling—1.75%

There you have it! The Romantic proved the most popular of paramours by a significant margin. Second place went to the Unicorn, that mythological creature so perfect and beautiful, and yet unattainable. These results come as no surprise. If nothing else, our vast Impressionist collection brings many a hopeless romantic through our doors, and honored we are to have them. But the subsequent results are slightly more troubling.

Okay, sure, the Seducer. Who hasn’t fallen under the spell of someone they’d be better off without? And yet the Fling was our least popular result! Does this mean we are more likely to fall under the seductive spell of the callous charmer rather than take fate in our hands? Are we more willing to allow deception rather than commit to an evening of passion with all the cards on the table?

But that’s not nearly as troubling as the fourth most popular type: The Psycho. Really, people, the Psycho?! In this case, of course, we mean the cold and calculating type who only loses it behind closed doors, à la Patrick Bateman. And here it makes sense again. While we fall head over heels for just the right type—the Romantic, the Unicorn—we seem to be almost as prone to fall for those who are superficially charming instead. I suppose that’s not all that unusual. If anything these are the pratfalls we all try to avoid in love, and nobody said dating is easy.

If there’s anything we’ve learned from our admittedly tongue-in-cheek love quiz, it’s that our followers admire beauty and romance in any form, especially if it comes from the heart. But we’ll take the glibly attractive if nothing else. Something for us all to keep in mind as we go out and seek our perfect mates. We wish you all success in love and hope you’ll consider the strength of the Obamas’ marriage. Their first date was at the Art Institute—just saying.

Thanks to everyone who made Art Throb a success!

It Was a Dark and Stormy Mezzotint

February 20, 2015 - 2:54pm

Mezzotint is the spookiest medium. This engraving process is perfect for nocturnal effects, as it starts with a roughed-up printing plate that prints in pure black. Any light effects—especially candles, fires, and glowing ingots—are added by burnishing in smoother areas, which print in lighter tones. Two exhibitions opening at the Art Institute this spring feature an abundance of mezzotint engravings. Fans of society portraiture will appreciate the velvet textures and pearl-strewn accessories lavished throughout Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design 1690-1840 (opening March 17 in Regenstein Hall). For those seeking a more sinister bedtime story, Burnishing the Night: Baroque to Contemporary Mezzotints from the Collection (opening February 21 in the Prints and Drawings Galleries 125-127) revels in artificial light, Old Testament lightning bolts, and garishly colored disembodied heads.

Yet two of the scariest head studies to 18th-century eyes might not have been Jacques Gautier d’Agoty’s Cranial Dissection. Instead, they are the Irish artist Thomas Frye’s Young Man with a Candle (top image), whose bulging eyes scan the room for inexplicable horrors, and the English artist Philip Dawe’s Female Lucubration (image immediately above), which hangs next to it in the show. Dawe’s maidservant, reaching up for a book in the dead of night, is clearly up to no good. Is she is actually “lucubrating” (studying at night using artificial light)? Or is she simply pilfering her mistress’s saucier novels (perhaps the banned Fanny Hill, or Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure). The “Novel-Reading Panic” throughout Europe in the 18th century expressed the moral anxiety over what, and if women were reading, just as the first Gothic novel was published. Literacy was a deeply frightening topic.

As the popularity of the mezzotint continued (the latest item in the show is from 2007), in 1905, the English writer M. R. James wrote a short story, called “The Mezzotint,” in which an image of an anonymous country house changes of its own accord. While the story does not refer to a real print, Allaert van Everdingen’s Baroque Landscape in the Dark Manner (above) gives a similar feeling of ambiguity. Like the children in Roald Dahl’s The Witches who vanish into paintings and grown old in them, or Doctor Who’s Weeping Angels, who only move when no one is watching, a kidnapping or murder is reenacted within the space of the print. From “The Mezzotint:”

“At last, some time past midnight, he was disposed to turn in, and he put out his lamp after lighting his bedroom candle. The picture lay face upwards on the table . . . What he saw made him very nearly drop the candle on the floor, and he declares now that if he had been left in the dark at that moment he would have had a fit. But, as that did not happen he was able to put down the light on the table and take a good look at the picture. It was indubitable—rankly impossible, no doubt, but absolutely certain. In the middle of the lawn in front of the unknown house there was a figure where no figure had been at five o’clock that afternoon. It was crawling on all-fours towards the house, and it was muffled in a strange black garment with a white cross on the back.”

The protagonist, a print curator at Oxford or Cambridge, keeps watch as the print turns from day to night, the ghostly figure enters the house, and then sneaks away, with a child under his arm. The curator buys the print for his collection, but keeps a careful eye on it. As with any mezzotint, the textures lead to multiple interpretations. Once the tragic story within the mysterious print ran its course however, that was that: “. . . though carefully watched, [the mezzotint] has never been known to change again.” In the flickering candlelight of Burnishing the Night, who knows what you’ll see?

Image Credits:

Thomas Frye. Young Man with a Candle, 1760. Gift of Dorothy Braude Edinburg to the Harry B. and Bessie K. Braude Memorial Collection.

Philip Dawe. Female Lucubration: Étude Nocturne, 1772. Gift of Langdon Pearce

Allart van Everdingen. Landscape in the Dark Manner, 1657–61. Alsdorf Fund

 

Head to Head: Helmets of the Art Institute

January 30, 2015 - 2:36pm

This Sunday the New England Patriots take on the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XLIX, and watercoolers and message boards are abuzz with talk of Deflategate, the Legion of Boom, and unauthorized “Beast Mode” hats. While Chicago may not have a dog in this race, we thought, why not show off a collection of helmets sure to put both teams to shame? Though most of these helmets were probably fashioned for murderous or ceremonial intentions, I think we can agree the game would be all the more exciting with some age-old battle armor thrown in the mix.

Most of the helmets seen here were donated by collector George F. Harding. A colorful figure in Chicago business and politics, Harding assembled an enviable collection of arms and armor in his lifetime, much of which he displayed in a two-story annex to his South Side home. Completed in 1927, the annex was built as a Gothic Revival stone turret, complete with a dungeon, secret passages, and cannonballs embedded in the exterior walls. In 1982, the collection was donated to the Art Institute, fulfilling Harding’s intention to offer his remarkable array of arms and armor to the people of Chicago.

Image credits:

[Now on view in Gallery 50] Western Iranian. Turban Helmet, c. 1475/1500. George F. Harding Collection.

Northern Italian. Closed Burgonet (Siege Helmet), c. 1620. George F. Harding Collection.

Greek, Macedon. Helmet, 4th century B.C. Costa A. Pandaleon Endowment.

English. Funerary Close Helmet, 1600/1700. George F. Harding Collection.

English or French. Spider Helmet, 1650/1700. George F. Harding Collection.

Capturing El Capitan

January 15, 2015 - 12:52pm

Yesterday Tommy Caldwell and Kevin Jorgeson completed the first free climb of El Capitan’s Dawn Wall. This granite monolith soars 3,000 feet above the floor of the Yosemite Valley and while it has long enticed climbers, it has also fascinated artists.

The image above by Ansel Adams—who has created some of the most famous images of Yosemite— illustrates how the early morning light hits the face of El Capitan and how the Dawn Wall gets its name.

Carleton Watkins (images below) took these photographs of El Capitan in 1861, years before Yosemite became a national park. In fact, it is said that Watkins’ majestic images of Yosemite helped to persuade President Lincoln to sign the bill that first protected the valley. Mount Watkins in Yosemite is named after the photographer and honors this contribution.

Image Credits:

Ansel Adams. El Capitan, Sunrise, Yosemite National Park, 1956, printed 1960. Photography Gallery Fund. © The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust.

Carleton Watkins. Tutocanula, or El Capitan, 3600 ft., from the foot of the Mariposa Trail, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, Cal., 1861/76. Restricted gift of the Kunstadter Family Foundation.

Carleton Watkins. Mirror View of El Capitan, Yosemite Valley, Mariposa County, Cal., 1861/76. Restricted gift of the Kunstadter Family Foundation.

 

Beauty Marks Go Global

January 14, 2015 - 2:39pm

Ever wake up with a pimple in the middle of your forehead and wish that you could just make it go away? In the eighteenth century, Lima’s citizens had a solution that would not only hide the pimple, but that was simultaneously stylish and sexy! Faux beauty marks made of black velvet or taffeta covered in gum arabic were the height of fashion. An ample example can be seen in the portrait of the wealthy, American-born Spaniard, Doña María Rosa de Ribera Mendoza y Ramos Galbán, which is currently on view in Galleries 212 and 212A in the Art Institute’s exhibition, A Voyage to South America: Andean Art in the Spanish Empire. And they covered more than just pimples. Large beauty marks could easily cover smallpox scars as well as unseemly sores caused by syphilis. Their beauty came not only from their ability to obscure defects, but also from the striking contrast of the dark taffeta on the porcelain-white skin that was the ideal for elite women at this time. They positively screamed to the viewer “the sun never touches this face!”

The passion for beauty marks came to South America, like so many high-fashion trends, from that center of extravagance and style, France, where they first appeared in the sixteenth century. French ladies, in fact, might wear many beauty marks, cut not only into modest circles like the one on Doña María’s temple, but also into stars, suns, moons, even trees, horses, cupids, and doves. Satirical eighteenth-century prints show women with faces spotted by numerous beauty marks. By the eighteenth century in Europe, beauty marks had acquired a symbolic language all their own. In a satirical essay published in 1764, Luis de Velasco, Marques of Valdeflores, described Spanish ladies expertly employing beauty marks as tools of flirtation. The patches not only acquired symbolic meaning depending on where they were worn, but a true flirt might carry a box of beauty marks with her so as to be able to adjust her message depending on her audience. If we were to interpret Doña María’s mark based on Valdeflores’s description, we would find that “placed on the right temple [a beauty mark] implies that she is prepared to break [with her current lover] and find a new one.” Alternately, contemporary French writers tell us that placement near the temple might convey passion, while near the lips was coquettish, in the middle of the forehead was majestic, at the center of the cheek indicated gallantry, and near the nose was risqué.

It is likely that at least some of this significance traveled across the ocean to South American along with the black beauty marks themselves, although it is hard to imagine that Doña María sat down to be painted by one of Lima’s most renowned portrait painters while wearing a beauty mark that told the world she was looking to drop her current lover and take up a new one! Beauty marks were popular in Mexico as well, where they were known as chiqueadores and function today as headache remedies. The Brooklyn Museum collection houses two portraits of a distinguished Mexican lady, as a toddler ca. 1735 and then again as a young woman in 1760. As a toddler she wears one modest beauty mark, but by the time she was an adult she was wearing 5!

But perhaps the trend will return? Guests of both genders at the opening of the Voyage to South America exhibition enjoyed wearing their own chiqueadores, as instructed by a costumed 18th-century guide.

The Art Institute also offers temporary tattoos inspired by James Ensor’s Temptation of Saint Anthony to visitors who come to see our current exhibition, Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor, proving that the museum may just be at the forefront of a new fashion in body art!

—Emily Floyd, recent Prints and Drawings intern and Tulane University Ph.D student

Image Credits:

Pedro José Díaz (Active in Peru 1770–1810), Doña María Rosa de Rivera, Countess of the Vega del Ren, 1780s, oil on canvas. Carl and Marilynn Thoma Collection.

Miguel Cabrera (Mexican, 1695–1768), Doña María de la Luz Padilla y Gómez de Cervantes, about 1760, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum of Art.

Attributed to Nicolás Enríquez (Mexican, active 1730–1768), Doña María de la Luz Padilla y Gómez de Cervantes, about 1735, oil on canvas, Brooklyn Museum of Art.

A Neapolitan Menagerie

December 26, 2014 - 7:00am

There are no less than 50 animals in the museum’s Neapolitan crèche, including dogs, cows, goats, sheep, chickens, horses, rabbits, and even a pet monkey. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the creatures figure prominently in the scene portraying the announcement of Jesus’s birth to the shepherds, but they are also included throughout the crèche for a variety of different reasons.

Tiny lambs are placed throughout the crèche, despite the fact that sheep generally give birth in the spring, rather than during the winter solstice, the time of Christ’s birth. However, the presence of the lambs symbolizes the innocence of the Christ Child and foreshadows Christ’s sacrifice.

Herding dogs are mixed with the sheep and goats, but if you look closely, you’ll also find hunting dogs. These animals wouldn’t have been relevant from a religious perspective, but reflected the favorite activity of the Neapolitan king and aristocracy.

While the crèche is symbolic on many levels—religious, cultural, mythological, political—it includes elements that also make it a charming scene, such as this rabbit perched on a nibbled winter squash.

To see these animals in person, you can visit the crèche in Gallery 209 through January 6.

Image Credit: Crèche (details), mid-18th century. Naples. Charles H. and Mary F. Worcester Collection, Ada Turnbull Hertle, Eloise W. Martin Legacy and Lacy Armour funds; restricted gifts of Mr. and Mrs. James N. Bay, Linda and Vincent Buonanno and Family, and Mrs. Robert O. Levitt.

Winter Solstice

December 19, 2014 - 7:00am

This Sunday marks the Northern Hemisphere’s winter solstice, otherwise known as the shortest day of the year. And while you might not bat an eye as the day comes and goes, throughout history solstices have been considered auspicious times of transition.

This Chinese hanging scroll was inscribed with the text “On winter’s solstice of the year dingyou [1717], painted by Yuan Jiang of Hanshang [Yanghou]” and features an aristocratic villa and its surrounding wintry landscape. Yuan Jiang was a professional artist most renowned for his “ruled-line painting” which employed both carpenter’s tools and a flexible brush. His meticulous draftsmanship is best seen in the contrast between the strong horizontal lines of the house and both the garden of craggy rocks in the foreground and the mist-shrouded mountains in the background.

But chin up, Chicago! The winter solstice just means that it’s all downhill from here. Summer is basically around the corner. Right?!

Image Credit: Yuan Jiang. Villa in a Wintry Landscape, dated 1717. Gift of Naomi Donnelley.

Insider’s Look: Museum Education

December 17, 2014 - 11:39am

In the current issue of the Art Institute’s Member Magazine, the “Insider’s Look” section spotlights Sarah Alvarez and Robin Schnur, two directors from our Department of Museum Education. Sarah and Robin specialize in outreach to students, teachers, and teens. Here is a continuation of our discussion in the January/February issue:

What was the first museum you visited and when did you know that you wanted to work in museums?

SA: I visited museums from a very early age and I knew I wanted to work in museum education as soon as I visited the JFK Memorial Library in Boston while I was in college. It was such a formative experience for me. The objects on display engaged my curiosity for culture and history in a way that textbooks had never been able to do. I began to realize that working in a museum could be a way to marry my love of art and my love of learning.

RS: Museums have been a part of my experience for as long as I can remember. My family often visited The Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art, and all the thrilling exhibitions and collections we visited when I was a child have merged together into one wonderfully rich memory. I didn’t know I could actually work in a museum until my senior year in high school when I took an internship at the Mystic Seaport Museum, just down the road from our house. For whatever reason, the head curator allowed me to write the labels for an exhibition about 19th-century whaling ship keels, to curate an exhibition of photographs of America’s Cup race winners, and to plan a show of needlepoint seascapes. It was all weird stuff, but what an empowering experience! I was 18 and the things I created were actually up and on view for the general public. Partly as a result of my own experiences, I feel strongly about creating opportunities for teens to engage in the life of the Art Institute. This is how aspirations are sparked and careers begin.

What is the most challenging aspect of engaging teachers and students through art?

SA: I can speak best to the experience of engaging teachers. The greatest challenge is that no one teacher is exactly the same as the next. It’s very common in our culture to make sweeping generalizations about teachers, but they are all individuals coming from different school contexts and with different motivations. As for engaging them through art, it can be particularly challenging for teachers who don’t really have a sense of the role that art can have across the curriculum—in science, math, or other subjects outside of art itself. A powerful and well-facilitated experience in our galleries is often the best way to break through that challenge.

RS: It’s challenging to figure out what is most interesting and relevant to a group of students who may come from vastly different places and experiences. When school groups arrive at the museum on the morning of their tour, we have only received limited information ahead of time about who the students are, what they’re studying, and what interests them. We have to ask ourselves how we can best use the one or two hours they’re here, making the experience relevant to their classroom studies and meaningful on a personal level. Our ongoing education program for docents, the volunteer educators who facilitate experiences for students in grades 1-12, prepares them not only to know about and be able to interpret the encyclopedic collection of the museum, but also to structure experiences in which students are encouraged to bring their own ideas, knowledge, and opinions into the conversation. Creating a space for an open dialogue about art with students you’ve just met, while at the same time taking into account the curricular needs of their teacher, and also sharing gallery space with other docents and their groups is a challenge, but it is a challenge that we enthusiastically undertake and satisfyingly meet daily here at the Art Institute.

Look for more in-depth interviews in upcoming issues of the Member Magazine. For a mobile-friendly reading experience, download the Member Magazine to your iPad today!

The Crèche’s Cast of Characters

December 16, 2014 - 7:00am

There are quite a few characters in the crèche who are probably instantly recognizable to most people—Jesus, Mary, Saint Joseph, angels, shepherds, the Three Wise Men—but because the crèche involves scenes of daily life, many of the figures might seem a bit more anonymous. But you can actually learn quite a lot about the Christmas story and life in 18th-century Naples if you look closely. Here’s some insider information to help you decipher some clues and learn more about the figures in the crèche:

The character of Benito—located in the far right recesses of the crèche—is actually quite common in Neapolitan crèches of the period. This figure is always dressed in blue and is always sound asleep. He is completely oblivious of the star and the announcement of the angel, symbolizing all of those who do not listen to the news of the birth of Jesus.

The name of this woman on the left is La Georgiana, referencing the fact that she hails from Georgia, located in the Caucasus. She’s dressed in Turkish attire, with billowing pants, a tight embroidered vest, and men’s pointy-toed red boots, and symbolizes the exotic ethnicities that have come to Naples. This outfit would have been meticulously crafted on a miniature loom and is most likely made from silk from the royal silk factory in San Leucio.

The jewelry worn by the figures was not made by miniature artists, but rather the same jewelers who bedecked the Neapolitan elite. Around this woman’s neck is a necklace made of real coral. Greek mythology holds that coral came from Medusa’s blood, which fell into the Mediterranean when she was decapitated. Neapolitans believed that coral had protective powers against evil and bad luck. If you look closely, you can see many of the ladies in the crèche wearing coral necklaces and earrings.

To see these figures in person, you can visit the crèche in Gallery 209 through January 6.

Image Credit: Crèche (details), mid-18th century. Naples. Charles H. and Mary F. Worcester Collection, Ada Turnbull Hertle, Eloise W. Martin Legacy and Lacy Armour funds; restricted gifts of Mr. and Mrs. James N. Bay, Linda and Vincent Buonanno and Family, and Mrs. Robert O. Levitt.

Saint Anthony Across the Collection

December 9, 2014 - 7:00am

The centerpiece of the museum’s current exhibition Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor is undoubtedly Ensor’s 1887 The Temptation of Saint Anthony. This drawing is nearly six feet tall and features the eponymous saint surrounded by a variety of temptations sent by the devil himself.

But as you look closely, the temptations depicted in the painting might not be those that you would expect to see being used to tantalize an ancient saint. In fact, Ensor’s Saint Anthony is seduced by vices that modern audiences would have recognized, including fast food and government corruption. Traditionally, portrayals of Saint Anthony—which are fairly common throughout art history—depict temptations related to lust, greed, and demons.

We took a look through our collection to see how artists from the 16th to the 20th centuries have explored this dark subject:

Image Credits:

James Ensor. The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1887. Regenstein Endowment and the Louise B. and Frank H. Woods Purchase Fund. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels.

Henri Fantin-Latour.  The Temptation of Saint Anthony, from the third album of L’Estampe originale, 1893. The Charles Deering Collection.

Lucas Cranach, the elder. The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1506. Gift of Mr. Potter Palmer, II.

Brassaï (Gyula Halász). Tentation de Saint Antoine (Temptation of Saint Anthony), 1934/35, printed 1967. Restricted Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Gaylord Donnelley and Mr. and Mrs. Ralph J. Mills.

Giambattista Tiepolo. The Temptation of Saint Anthony, c. 1734. Helen Regenstein Collection.

In the Know: Indigo

December 8, 2014 - 11:55am

When you enter into the exhibition Ethel Stein: Master Weaver you are faced with a sea of blue—indigo blue to be precise. The midnight hue has been used for centuries in textiles across the world from Japan to West Africa to Central and South America. In these complex weavings, Stein dyed threads of varying intensities so that when woven she could build subtle abstractions out of different hues of blue. One of the lovely additions to the exhibition is a video highlighting her working process of both dying and weaving. And dying with indigo is a magical thing—it actually transforms before your eyes. So, inspired by Stein’s use of indigo and in what may be one of the last opportunities before it gets too cold to work outside, I mixed up a vat of indigo dye.

When dying with indigo, the color oxidizes, meaning that it reaches its final color as it is exposed to air. From the dye bath, it emerges a yellow-green. But within minutes it turns a rich blue (the photo shows the same skein of wool yarn over a five-minute period). Rinse and repeat and you get a more intense blue each time, which is what makes Stein’s Indigo 23 and other weavings so lyrical. The repeated introduction to the dye and rate at which the natural cotton fiber “took” the dye makes for slight undulations of color in the individual threads that make up the complex weaving. Stein, however, isn’t just dipping yarn in a vat but using a resist-technique developed in Indonesia called ikat wherein parts of the threads are prevented from being dyed. We see a similar process in Japan called shibori or in Nigeria where the Yoruba use grassy raffia to tie, stitch, and bind fabric before it is dipped in the dye vat to create intricate patterns, as seen here in this detail from a woman’s wrapper in the Art Institute’s textile collection.

Indigo is a plant that for centuries was primarily grown in India—the name indigo means “from India” in Greek—and can be used as a pigment, dye, and was even long-held as having medicinal qualities. One of the earliest recipes is from a Babylonian tablet dated 2,700 years old. In Renaissance Europe, indigo was a sought-after commodity that was associated with the coffee and spices imported from the East. Most people would know the characteristic navy hue from the blue of their denim jeans.

The beauty of Stein’s works unfolds as your eyes follow her threads, the gradual coming and going of color and pattern, and the blended textures resulting from her refined weaving processes. You don’t have to be a weaver to appreciate that which can only be made by hand. And since the exhibition has been extended to January 4, 2015, you’ll have plenty of time to look closer.

—Terah Walkup, Research Associate, Department of Ancient and Byzantine Art

Image credits:

Ethel Stein. Indigo 23, 1988. Gift of Ethel Stein.

Woman’s Wrapper (Adire Eleso), Yoruba Nigeria, mid-20th century. Gift of Dr. and Mrs. Jeffrey Hammer.

Work of the Week: The Christmas Story

December 2, 2014 - 7:00am

Shortly after completing his training as a painter, a young artist named Baccio della Porta met the charismatic Dominican Friar Giralamo Savonarola and was compelled to give up his artistic career and join Savonarola’s monastic order. Several years later in 1504, the young artist—now known as Fra (or Friar) Bartolommeo—returned to painting with a new, intensified spirituality.

That religious devotion is apparent in Bartolommeo’s The Nativity, created in 1506/07. This delicate rendition of the nativity scene features the Virgin humbly kneeling and looking upon her child, while Joseph assumes a pose of wonderment, as if newly aware of his son’s divine nature. A trio of angels floats above, while another pair of angels stands behind the holy family and seems to reflect on both the birth of Christ and on the piece of wood that’s visible just above the child’s head, which perhaps alludes to his eventual death.

To learn more about paintings, etchings, and illuminated manuscripts from the museum’s collection that focus on the Christmas story, join us on December 4 in Fullerton Hall at 12:00p.m. for a richly illustrated lecture. Free with museum admission.

Image Credit: Fra Bartolommeo (Baccio della Porta). The Nativity, 1506/07. The Art Institute of Chicago, Ethel T. Scarborough Fund; L. L. and A. S. Coburn, Dr. and Mrs. William Gilligan, Mr. and Mrs. Lester King, John and Josephine Louis, Samuel A. Marx, Alexander McKay, Chester D. Tripp, and Murray Vale endowment funds; restricted gift of Marilynn Alsdorf, Anne Searle Bent, David and Celia Hilliard, Alexandra and John Nichols, Mrs. Harold T. Martin, Mrs. George B. Young in memory of her husband, and the Rhoades Foundation; gift of John Bross and members of the Old Masters Society in memory of Louise Smith Bross; through prior gift of the George F. Harding, Mr. and Mrs. W. W. Kimball, Mr. and Mrs. Martin A. Ryerson, and Charles H. and Mary F. S. Worcester collections.

 

 

Decking the Halls

November 28, 2014 - 7:00am

One of the Art Institute’s most popular holiday attractions is our decorated Thorne Miniature Rooms. Each year, a selection of rooms (12 this year!) are bedecked in tiny, period-appropriate holiday decorations.

But similar to your decorations at home, the carefully considered décor doesn’t just magically appear. Each year, the trees are meticulously trimmed by Thorne Rooms caretaker Lindsay Mican Morgan, who spends the days leading up to the holiday season installing the tiny pieces.

In these images, you can see her installing the English Drawing Room of the Victorian Period. This room dates from the mid 1800s, when many of the traditions we associate with Christmas now were just gaining popularity. Queen Victoria, who was married to the German Prince Albert, adopted the German tradition of Christmas trees and when a picture of the royal family around the tree was posted in the newspaper, Christmas trees became very trendy.

There are also a number of toys under the tree, which would have been a relatively new phenomenon. In the past, children had been largely left out of holiday festivities, which included balls and plays. However, with the rise of wealth in this age, children were increasingly doted upon and given gifts like the dolls and train that you see here.

The decorated Thorne Miniature Rooms were unveiled last week and will be up for your viewing pleasure through January 6.

Puppets! Preview

November 26, 2014 - 4:20pm

Looking to interact with art? Like to play with puppets? Do we have a show for you! Opening December 6 in the Ryan Education Center, Puppets! is an experimental collaboration between the Departments of Education and Prints and Drawings. There is no entry fee, and no limits to your creativity. Puppets! lets visitors of all ages get their hands on whimsical renditions of art from across the museum collection, which we’ve transformed into shadow and hand puppets. They can use them to tell their own stories. The deeply weird creatures that populate the Belgian symbolist James Ensor’s Temptation of Saint Anthony take pride of place (tapeworms, anyone?) during a major exhibition on the artist and his enormous Art Institute drawing appearing concurrently in Regenstein Hall.

In fact, when we held a Creator Party in August to make the puppets for our show, we gave our willing volunteers (staff members, artists, actual puppeteers, and several children) details from Ensor’s amazingly dark and detailed drawing as inspiration. Here’s this tapeworm puppet in process. Simply composed of a papier mâché head, acrylic paint, and a cardboard tube, all that remains to add is the soft, movable body for maximum maneuverability and storytelling prowess. Others started with knee socks, or were cut out of posterboard with x-acto knives, and accented with glue guns. Some of the puppets that were made that day can already be seen in cases in Classroom 5, but visitors won’t be able to perform with them until the show opens.

Another of our tapeworm puppets recently appeared in action, dancing madly away inside the famous Chicago Puppet Bike while we were filming part of the instructional video for the exhibition space. Ensor’s crazy creatures didn’t seem all that out of place in this context, surprisingly enough. You’ll have to come see Puppets! for the video, but be sure to expect the unexpected.

In addition to the hand puppets we’ve developed several shadow puppets by lasercutting designs taken from other works in the collection. Look for a separate blog post about that process next month. The shadow stage will be large enough that puppeteers can use their own bodies as part of the shadow play as well. Start practicing your shadow rabbits coming out of hats now!

 

Visitors will even be able to make their own puppets in the library and maker space across the hallway from the exhibition. The experimental gallery, where Puppets! will be seen recently housed a do-it-yourself installation exploring the idea of still-life painting. The dextrous can use their drawing skills to copy the still lives they construct out of plastic fruit, vases, and other items, while the camera-savvy can upload photographs of their ephemeral creations to a hashtag which populates an ever-changing monitor display in the space. Puppets! will do something similar, by collecting short Instagram videos, a selection of which will appear on a screen nearby.

If all this low- and high-tech puppetry sounds intriguing, come for the puppets, and stay for the movies. We’ll be hosting a screening of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal in Fullerton on the evening on January 15, and a slate of related contemporary short films appropriate for teens and adults on select Friday afternoons from January to April in the Ryan Education Center. And you never know when the Puppet Bike might be putting in a live appearance!

—Suzanne Karr Schmidt, Curatorial Fellow, Department of Prints and Drawings