July 18, 2011
By Mary Jo Gibson
My last Museum Monday introduced a virtual tour of the Chicago Art Institute with a promise of a true museum experience to follow. I was able to meet with Social Media Coordinator, Jocelin Shalom and future Coordinator Robby Sexton who shared time from their busy schedule to discuss the changes social media has brought to their institution, making the museum visit itself an even greater experience. Their enthusiasm for this new medium was evident. With web interaction on several platforms, they are seeing positive and measurable results that are now becoming accepted public relations practice in museums around the country.
The Chicago Art Institute has an immense collection and I was only able to brush the surface as we wandered from room to room, taking in all the artifacts, paintings and sculpture. My favorite area is the Renaissance wing, offering great paintings of epic size from old masters. Highly detailed classical sculptures of varying religious and secular images abound; each room waiting to fill the senses as you reflect on the images, the history, the lives of the subject and the artist. For every step along the way, one meets with jewels. Chicago’s world class collection of art ranges from an entire wing of the biggest names in modern art, to architectural fragments, Greek, Egyptian and Roman sculpture, Renaissance jewelry bearing minute detail, American folk art, European furniture, and the Thorne rooms, a collection of miniature period rooms covering several styles and history of interior and architectural design.
The Grand Staircase of the Museum displays the artwork of Jitish Kallat, Public Notice 3, commemorating two American events. The first World Parliament of Religions held on September 11, 1893 in Chicago at the World’s Columbian Exposition at what is now the museum’s Fullerton Hall, and the terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on the same date, 108 years later. A moving speech given by Swami Vivekananda at the Parliament arguing for an end to fanaticism and respectful recognition of all traditions of belief through universal tolerance displayed in LED lit text on each of the 118 risers. An ingenious installation, connecting two historical moments of time and catching just a few words is enough to entice the viewer to read more.
Above the grand staircase is a large collection of salvaged artifacts from some of the great architects of Chicago. Beautiful deco designs that once graced buildings in the city, recalling a time when architecture was truly an art form. Pieces from Frank Lloyd Wright, Adler and Sullivan, Charles Atwood, Frederick Baumann, Burnham and Root, Marion Mahony Griffin, Holabird and Roche, tell the story of Chicago’s memorable and now demolished past through their collection of fragments.
No trip to the Art Institute would be complete without a look at “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte” by George Seuart. Made famous for a new generation in the John Hughes film “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” this painting commands the room, with plenty of viewing area reflecting its popularity. I watched several people studying it at length, commenting on new discoveries even noticing the border for the first time.
I feel compelled to make a small comment about the food court at the Art Institute. Not only are the choices first class, sandwiches, salads, fruit, pasta, everything Chicago eating is famously known for, the dining area is situated alongside a sculpture fountain to complete the experience. The area offers a calm repast of delicious food and a moment or two for reflection before returning to the wonders found inside.
The belief that the internet will replace an actual museum visit is an obvious misnomer; one only needs to find the museum that drives your passion; filling the mind with visions is the utmost pleasure of a physical visit to a museum and the experiences it waits to share. While the Google Art Project allows access to faraway places and the media available therein, participating in the actual viewing of the collection is what keeps people coming back to see more. If the crowds at the Chicago Art Institute are any indication, attendance is not suffering.
I am excited to share the Art Institute’s upcoming show “Windows on the War”, Soviet Tass posters at home and abroad, 1941-1945. Discovered in storage and not seen in the United States since WWII, 250 of these immense propaganda posters will be on display from July 31-October 23. Ranging in size from five feet to ten feet, these images of industrial art are unique, reflecting the collaboration between Russia, Britain and the United States. Follow the Tumblr link for a glance at this exhibit.
Again, my thanks to Robby and Jocelin and the exceptionally knowledgeable staff at the Chicago Art Institute. It was a wonderful visit and I look forward to perusing the Japanese, Korean, Indian and Islamic areas on my next visit.
I leave you with one of my favorite, unexpected pieces of art, The Monkey Band, by the German Meissen Porcelain Company, created in the 18th century.