I took my first art history class as a sophomore in high school, right around that sacred time when teenagers begin forging what scientists and psychologists once courageously deemed “an identity.” Today, of course, most of those scientists and psychologists work in television advertising and utilize a rotation of terms for that awkward transition into adulthood. This year, I believe, they’re calling it Glee.
Whatever the name, my unique identity at the time was Eddie Vedder. And I was very cool and my pants had lots of pockets. I was also one of two male sophomores in an art history class full of hot female seniors. This led me to three very important life lessons: (1) where there is art, there are beautiful women; (2) those beautiful women usually have artist boyfriends; (3) it is best to focus on the art and not on the women, as some artists sculpt quite well with their fists.
As it turned out, the history of art provided more than enough drama and intrigue—or should I say angst and rebellion?—to keep my teenage attention. I loved the stories, the lives and the histories entangled and embodied by these creations the artists left behind. Studying the history of art was like studying the history of humanity—the cultures, religions, politics, technologies, revolutions, evolutions—only the entry point, for someone without access to a major art museum, was essentially based on faith. As a sixteen-year-old kid squinting at a Rembrandt reproduction the size of a business card, I remember thinking, “What’s this look like for real?”
Millions of years later, in a post-post-post-grunge world, here I am, on my last day as a staff member at the Art Institute of Chicago, where I routinely walk past many of the unreal artworks reprinted in that tattered old Gardner book from high school. I still find the optical magic of Seurat’s dots fascinating or the slick sheen of Brancusi’s Golden Bird both alien and captivating, yet what I’ll miss most aren’t the works I recognized on my first museum tour or the few anecdotes I remember from class. Instead, I’ll think back on my secret favorite works, the ones I discovered on my own or researched as an employee, like the charming and functional 14th-century Lion Aquamanile in Gallery 203A (profiled in this month’s Member Magazine, for all you members out there) or Frans Hals' chuckle-inducing Rommelpot Player (the drummer from June’s Making the Band self-guide) in Gallery 208. During my first stroll through the Modern Wing, I probably stared at Vincent and Tony for ten minutes, a painting where the size of the canvas seems to directly match the potency of the emotion.
My point is—and surely I’m preaching to the choir here—the thing every art history book leaves out of its grand survey of human creativity (besides everything after, say, 1965) is an explanation for that bond that occurs, that unique connection between people and certain works of art, how some painting made in a stuffy, un-air-conditioned room centuries ago can still spur the imagination. Sometimes we have clear reasons (“See how the smoke turns into clouds right there? Isn’t that cool?!”), and sometimes we don’t even have words. In the museum's recent Matisse exhibition, I absolutely loved his portrait of a balding man with glasses and a mustache. Why? I have no idea. Maybe I was looking into the future.
Anyway, I’ll miss the museum, my wonderful colleagues, and the daily opportunities to discover new secret favorites. Oh, and by the way—check out one of our Rembrandts when you get a chance. They’re way cooler than any book reproductions.
Or Pearl Jam.
--Zach G., (now former) media assistant. [Ed. note: we'll miss you Zach! Godspeed!]
Image: José Guadalupe Posada (Mexican, 1851-1913). Goodbye, Goodbye, n.d. Relief print on paper. William McCallin McKee Memorial Collection.
6 hours 19 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago COMING SOON—Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–75
The short-lived Tokyo magazine Provoke is now recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. A major international traveling show, which has Chicago as its only North American venue, this exhibition is the first survey of postwar Japanese art to be organized at the Art Institute and draws heavily on the the museum’s collection—more than 60% of the over 200 items on display belong to the Art Institute.
OPENING JANUARY 28—http://bit.ly/2jMlnUx
9 hours 31 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—The Italian–born American artist Josef Stella revisited his native Italy in 1922, where he became fascinated by Renaissance painting. Drawing inspiration from Sandro Botticelli, Stella began to produce decorative, detailed, symbolic compositions, such as A Vision (seen here). Stella was enthralled by the tropical plants he observed at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York, and he imagined an iconic woman growing out of the earth like the towering flowers on either side of her.
The French–born American artist Gaston Lachaise found his own iconic inspiration for the sculpture, Woman (Elevation), in Isabel Dutaud Nagle, whom he later married, telling her, “I want to create a miracle with it… as great as you.” This sculpture represents Lachaise’s first full-scale expression of the idealized female form that would come to dominate his art. Modernists like Lachaise believed preclassical art possessed a primitive vitality absent from later art forms.
See Josef Stella’s A Vision (1925/26) and Gaston Lachaise’s Woman (Elevation) (1912–15; cast 1927)—on view in Gallery 271.
1 day 5 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Rodney McMillian: a great society
Our latest exhibition in the Modern Wing represents the last decade of the artist’s work in video. Grappling with the complexities of class, race, and place in America, Rodney McMillian employs elements of performance, public speaking, oral history—and his interest in the science fiction genre—to expose the social and psychological consequences of economic inequality, endemic racism, and the failed promise of freedom and prosperity for all of its citizens. While McMillian's work engages the often stark realities of history and contemporary culture, it is motivated by the potential for alternative realities and future transformation.
See Rodney McMillian: a great society on view in the Modern Wing through March 26.