“Creepy,” “macabre,” and “decaying” aren’t necessarily words that you would immediately connect with art, but these are precisely the words that Art Institute staffers used to describe some of the most frightful works in the Art Institute’s collection.
In celebration of Halloween, we asked which pieces are most likely to scare them all year round. Here’s what they said…
Richard Hawkins's disembodied zombie ben green, 1997 (from the current exhibition, Richard Hawkins: Third Mind) seems fitting both for Halloween and for year-round zombie lovers. It's frightening, it's beautiful, and it deals with two of my favorite subjects—male models and decapitation.
—Charles C., Contemporary Art
Picture of Dorian Gray by Ivan Albright
Ivan Albright is meticulous and macabre. And at this time of year, when celebrations like Halloween, Samhain, and Dia de los Muertos incorporate both ethereal and earthly notions into ritual, and the veil between the living and spirit world is thin, there's no better time to view and contemplate life, the material world, death, and the spiritual world as depicted in this larger-than-life painting.
—Karen C., Auxiliary Operations
Without question, Ivan Albright's Picture of Dorian Gray is the scariest painting in the Art Institute. For starters, it's huge. It towers over you as you approach it, making you feel insignificant. The grotesque rending of the rotting flesh will make your stomach turn. The dark hues of purple and black fill you with a sense of gloom and despair. This definitely would have made Oscar Wilde proud.
—Dan O., Membership & Annual Giving
Head of a Guillotined Man by Géricault
Decaying heads are always creepy.
—Brice K., Auxiliary Board
Milton Dictating to his Daughter by Henry Fuseli
Fuseli defined Gothic Romanticism of the late 18th century, often illustrating macabre scenes from Dante and Shakespeare. Here the poet's eyes roll back into his skull and his face is glazed over as if in a mystical trance. His gaunt face is in such contrast to the peachy skin of his daughter. The haunting aura of this work is supplemented by the red ribbon around the girl's neck, which refers to the many who fell victim to the guillotine during this era.