Thursday, June 25, 2009

A Trip to AIC Pt. 1

I road tripped to Chicago yesterday to ease my museum deficiency. A good pal and I spent the day at the Art Institute of Chicago. It was the first time I had been there since they opened the new Modern Wing, and had finished remodeling all of the galleries on the second floor - where the European painting galleries are kept. The museum has been under construction since about 2005, but they seem to have finished for now. It was good to see Gustave Caillebotte's 'Paris, Rainy Day 1877' in its accustomed place, along with most of the Impressionist paintings that adorn that first gallery, but after that, everything changes and the Impressionism collection is hung in new galleries leading the visitor along a path that leads to the new wing, where their 20th century holdings are shown.

"A Sunday on la Grand Jatte - 1884" by George Seurat, the second Major Player in the collection, has acquired a very visible new space, where it can be viewed from as far away as about 50 feet back - but you can still approach and stick your nose a few inches from the surface. It is now shown together with the preparatory paintings, and the one other small work they have by Serat, in the same space ( they were separated before), along with a couple of other pointillism paintings by other artists. It makes it very easy to compare the works now. Good Job, AIC curators!

The brand spankin' new modern wing doesn't pretend for a second to 'fit' with the architecture of the old buildings: It's new, and not ashamed to let everyone know. It houses everything less than 100 years old, it seems. I had a hard time finding the European paintings from 1900ish -1950ish - but after a short chat with a smiling lady at one of the many information desks, they were located in the galleries on the very top floor of the new addition, all by their lonesome.

Just inside the door I gleefully showed my traveling companion one of my favorite reasons why I tell people that reproductions - no matter how lovely- too often don't tell the whole story. Pablo Picasso's "The Old Guitarist" is from his blue period, and was painted on a rather obviously reused canvas. In the original, the ghostly face of a portrait of a lady can be seen behind the figure, her eyes showing in the texture just above the bent neck of the old man if you can get the right angle to look at the texture of the paint. Once those are located, it is pretty easy to trace the oval of her head, and the sloping shoulders before the Old Man takes over the bottom of the canvas and she is lost beneath the paint again. Our stooping and pointing antics, OK, MY stooping and pointing, drew a bit of a crowd, and several other people were able to spot the ghostly lady before I quickly moved on with my laughing friend. I have never seen a reproduction where she is evident - maybe a little bit on the Museum's own hi-def I'm looking at right now - It is an 'easter egg' saved just for the astute viewer of the original painting, and far from the only example in the art world of this sort of thing.

To be continued... ~M.E.

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