Recent blustery conditions in our fair city—remember, Chicago’s moniker is the “Windy City”—has caused me to reflect on the weathervanes in the American Folk Art gallery. Weathervanes have been part of the American landscape for many years; originally, they were introduced by English colonial settlers as an instrument to reveal wind direction, or as decoration for a rooftop. But they were also coveted by American folk art collectors of the early 20th century because of their visual impact as silhouettes, appealing to collectors’ and artists’ modern aesthetic.
A wonderful newly acquired weathervane (top image, left side) by Henry Driehaus (1860-1943, in his studio immediately above) from this time period was recently installed in the Grainger Gallery of American Folk Art at the museum. Above four silhouetted fish bearing the four cardinal points, Driehaus crafted a hunting dog obediently waiting behind his master and a Native American wielding a bow and arrow, with the exaggerated spikes of his headdress complementing the form of his pants and the bush below him. Born in the United States to Prussian immigrants, rural blacksmith Henry Driehaus trained as a smith in the European cities of Essen, Basel, and Zurich and learned ornamental ironwork in a monastery before returning to Pennsylvania in 1880. A few years later he opened a permanent shop in Hendricks Station, Frederick Township, where he executed multifaceted ironwork—from shoeing and ironing wagons to ornamental ironwork (such as andirons, coat hooks and hinges). This hand-wrought weathervane, which is actually signed by the blacksmith, illustrates Driehaus’s predilection for and specialization in decorative ironwork.
Complimenting the weathervanes in the gallery is a whirligig (top image, right side) made by Lithuanian immigrant Frank Memkus (1884-1965). Whirligigs have been made in America since at least the early 19th century. Unlike weathervanes, which functioned as indicators of wind direction, whirligigs were mainly intended for fun and ornamentation, and therefore, tend to be more personally decorated. Naturalized as an American citizen on May 24, 1945, Memkus could have made the whirligig as a commemorative gesture toward his newly adopted country. As a new American, he might have been inspired by his recent naturalization, in combination with the Allied victory in Europe, to construct this overtly patriotic object. It employs the colors red, white, and blue to highlight the nation’s flag, and atop it stands a saluting seaman surrounded by airplane propellers, which, along with the flags, whirl and flutter in the wind.
These objects (and so many others) may be viewed in the Grainger Gallery of American Folk Art! But we apologize in advance for the lack of wind.
—Monica Obniski, Assistant Curator of American Art
Image Credit: Image courtesy of Guy Reinert files, Winterthur Library
The recently opened Picasso and Chicago will celebrate the long history of the artist’s relationship with the city. But 100 years ago this month, when the art of Picasso and his contemporaries was displayed at the museum for the very first time, it was met with shock, controversy, outrage. . . and record-breaking crowds. In 1913, the Art Institute hosted the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known today as the Armory Show. That revolutionary exhibit introduced the Chicago public to some of the most radical art of the day.
The Armory Show had such a huge impact on modern art in America that critics and art historians have continued to write about it for the last 100 years. To offer something new, we wanted to create an in-depth and interactive resource about how the exhibit came to be, what the public thought about it, and even what it looked like. This month we’ve launched a special online exhibition all about the Armory Show in Chicago and its legacy.
Just as the organizers of the Armory Show wanted to embrace the “new spirit” of the times, the online exhibition marks this important anniversary in a way that celebrates 1913 but belongs to 2013. A permanent part of the museum’s website, the Armory Show online exhibit will be a lasting tribute to the show that established the Art Institute as a venue for modern art and that changed the course of art collecting in Chicago. This project called for a museum-wide team, involving many different departments. Old newspapers were scoured, personal letters were brought to light again, and the original exhibition pamphlets were tracked down and digitized. Now you can tour the 1913 show on your phone or tablet while walking through the very same galleries today. Or read about the fate of “Henry Hairmatress” at home in your pajamas.
Possibly the most exciting part of the website is the gallery explorer. Looking at photographs of the exhibition found in our Archives, we went through each image trying to identify as many works of art as we could. High-res scans of the photos let us zoom in incredibly close, and we were able to recognize previously unidentified works. Now on the website, you can take a virtual tour of the Armory Show, wander through the museum galleries as they looked 100 years ago, and find out where many of the artworks can be found today. Try and spot the works that now belong to Art Institute’s permanent collection—many of which are currently on view in a special presentation in the third floor of the Modern Wing.
Visitors to the website will quickly learn that the Art Institute’s audience was not shy about voicing their opinions back in 1913, and we hope you’ll share your thoughts, too.
—Allison Perelman, Research Associate in Medieval through Modern European Painting and Sculpture
I’ve been looking at this painting a lot lately. Partially because we’ve been using it to advertise tonight’s After Dark event—where you can expect almost everything you see here, minus the smoking indoors—but also because it’s prominently featured in the recently opened They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950. This exhibition showcases work created during the waves of immigration and migration that took place in Chicago in the first half of the 20th century. The artists included are predominantly African American artists from the South or foreign-born European artists and often focus on racial and cultural identity.
In this painting from the museum’s collection, Archibald Motley depicts a lively nightclub scene in vibrant shades of magenta and purple. The clock over the bar reads nearly 1:00 a.m. and the party shows no signs of abating, with groups of people drinking and dancing. Some are lost in their own world, while others gesture at and make eye contact with each other across the space. Typical bar behavior even today. Motley was inspired by and frequently painted images of nightlife in Bronzeville, a neighborhood that attracted many African American migrants. As exhibition curator Sarah Kelly Oehler noted in the catalogue, “His keen depiction of of social life would have resonated with migrants seeking to understand the new mannerisms and etiquette of the big city, as his open-ended narratives allowed viewers to imagine themselves in such scenarios.”
Image Credit: Archibald Motley. Nightlife, 1943. Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Field, Jack and Sandra Guthman, Ben W. Heineman, Ruth Horwich, Lewis and Susan Manilow, Beatrice C. Mayer, Charles A. Meyer, John D. Nichols, and Mr. and Mrs. E.B. Smith, Jr.; James W. Alsdorf Memorial Fund; Goodman Endowment.
I’ve been a fan of Luisa Lambri since seeing her work at the MCA a few years ago, so I was happy to see the recently-acquired Untitled (Strathmore Apartment 13) hanging up in Griffin Court. Lambri’s work offers an inverse and unorthodox version of architectural photography. Rather than explicitly depicting a structure, her images describe an experience of inhabiting a space at a specific moment. Lambri photographed Richard Neutra’s Strathmore Apartment in Los Angeles from the inside looking out. Venetian blinds obscure the view, giving us a scant look at the balcony and trees beyond the window. She pays tribute to the design of the building with a composition marked by rigidly organized symmetry and repetition—the stuff of modernist architects’ dreams. But then she contrasts the rigidity with sunlight streaming through the slats of the blinds—the stuff of photographers’ dreams. The result is nearly abstract despite containing very recognizable elements, and I could look at it all day long.
8 hours 27 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago On the move! Not to worry, La Grande Jatte will be on view again when Impressionism & Fashion opens June 26.
This beloved painting hasn't left the museum for over 50 years. Learn more on ARTicle—http://ow.ly/ma8dV
13 hours 2 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago This Thursday—Come to Unveiled in the Modern Wing! See the new exhibition Abelardo Morell: The Universe Next Door, then meet us for a drink and join in our in-gallery game for a chance to win tickets to upcoming events.
1 day 10 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago "If you could have a drink with anyone, who would it be?" and other questions with museum director Douglas Druick