Saturday, August 16, 2014

Rene Magritte Exhibit - The Aftemath

I left the exhibition my mind reeling with surrealism. I stopped in to pay a visit to Edward Hopper's "The Nighthawks", one of my favorite works in the Art Institutes's collection. I paused, allowing myself to be drawn into it's ambiguity. It does not tell a story so much as lets the viewer's imagination create it's own. Who are these people, captured in the harsh glare of the diner's lights? They seem almost to inhabit a world within a world, a place apart from the dark, deserted street outside. The only life depicted revolves around that counter.. Each of the characters has a back story, a life outside of this snapshot of time, yet we can only guess at what those are.

I gazed out a window at the sculpture court a floor below. My mind went back to my annual summer lunches there with my dear, late friend Kathryn. My theatre buddy, my occasional financial savior, as close a kindred spirit as one could ever be lucky enough to find. I remember our adventures together, our wide ranging conversations, sometimes serious, sometimes silly. I recall, after a wine spiced lunch, how she loudly proclaimed in a gallery filled with medieval crucifixes, "There's a penis in this picture", which, indeed the subliminally was. We began to survey the other works, seeing penises in several of the religious paintings displayed. I remember her undeserved end, violent and untimely. I hope her soul has found the rest and peace it deserves.

Leaving the museum I phone my friend in Phoenix, knowing he would most likely answer. I explained that I needed to reconnect with reality after the surreal exhibition. We talk for a bit. He is an excellent and dependable touchstone, solid, witty and intelligent. I could not hope for more in a partner for my friend of two decades. They have both become to me like brothers.

Even on this cool, cloudy day tourist throng Chicago's Millennium Park. They marvel at the flowing lines of the Frank Gehry designed bandshell and cluster around the reflective sculpture "Cloudgate", affectionately known as "The Bean". I head back to my neighborhood enjoying the opportunities my life in Chicago affords me. They are a privilege earned by living in the city I call home.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

A Rene Magritte Exhibit - The Main Event

My first stop, prior to the main attraction, were the galleries showcasing works on paper. The pieces in these galleries are rotated on a regular basis due to the fragile nature of the art. Most of the works are part of the Art Institutes's vast collection. Sometimes the exhibits can illuminate the work of familiar artists. For instance a quick sketch in pencil or charcoal of a landscape or figure, the artist may have used these as studies for later, more well known works. Sometimes they appear as exercises with the artist exploring and fine tuning line or shading, ground work of the craft of art, much like the scales performed by musicians and singers.

On display were a collection of Mexican prints. Tranquil scenes of village life were mixed with pieces containing political themes, some with violent overtones. They brought to mind my visit to the Diego Rivera murals in the city hall of Mexico City. Like those they represented the mixture of  the history and anger of the Mexican people turning to pride in the act of  freeing themselves from colonialism and establishing their socialist republic.

I moved on to the Magritte exhibit. He was an artist whom I was aware of, having seen several examples of his work over the years, yet not terribly familiar with. The exhibit focused on his work between the years of 1926 to 1938. Magritte's aim was to depict, through his art, the world of dreams. The galleries were dimly lit which accentuated the dreamlike images presented.

I soon came across a piece, "The Morning of Light", I have previously seen at the Menil Collection in Houston. It is an example of how a perception of a piece can be altered by it's setting. Standing alone I saw it as merely an example of surrealism; surrounded by other works by this unique artist it's dreamlike quality became apparent. The dream imagery continued as I moved through the exhibit. Legs replace heads, trees grow upside down, disembodied limbs grasped one another almost as if they were dancing. In one painting, an artist, a self portrait of Magritte, appears to be painting his nude life model, creating her arm with his brush and pallet. The life model is a portrait of his wife. In one slightly disturbing painting, not helped at all by it's title, "Rape", a woman's nude torso forms a face.

Characters with cartoon bubbles coming out of their mouths reminded me of the later work of Lichtenstein and the superimposed words in the silent German expressionistic film "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari". In one work cartoon bubbles come out of a shotgun barrel containing the French words for sword (sabre) and horse (cheval). One piece features a seated portrait of a man, his head and torso depicted as a birdcage. In a group of collages figures are cut from pieces of sheet music. A nude portrait of a woman portrays the subject as part flesh, part wood.

There is wit exhibited in some works. A realistic depiction of a pipe has the words "This is not a pipe" painted, in French, underneath it. Magritte explained, "You cannot smoke it, therefore it is not a pipe." in "Clairvoyance" Magritte, in another self portrait, appears to be drawing a bird from life yet the model on the table is an egg.

The expert vision of the curators is shown not only in the dimly lit galleries but also in the area devoted to prints and illustrations. There the works are displayed, inexplicably,  in cases that resemble packing crates. They allude to the misplaced, mangled realism realized by the artist.

Two works in particular reveal a tender nature to Magritte's creative mind. In one sleigh bells float in a cloudy sky. In another a nude bust, trombone and chair, all painted a gauzy white, float above a landscape. Both are meant to evoke memories of the childhood pastime of lying on one's back creating in our imaginations scenes and familiar forms from the clouds that pass by overhead.

The exhibition closes with a well know work from the Art Institutes's collection titled "Time Transfixed" in which a steam engine appears to be emerging from a fireplace. As in many artworks   x-rays revealed that the canvas for this painting was reused by Magritte. A different, earlier work lies underneath it.

As I mentioned I was aware of, but not familiar with, the work of Magritte. This, truly once in a lifetime opportunity to experience this much of his work at one time gave me a deeper understanding of and appreciation for, this unique and unconventional artist.


A Rene Magritte Exhibit - Getting There

At least our winter weather had been consistent, bitter cold occasionally interrupted by massive amounts of snow. Our summer, by contrast, seemed to have trouble making a decision. Mid eighties, upper eighties, pouring rain, upper sixties. So, I found myself with a day off which featured gray skies and cool temperatures. A new exhibit on the work of Rene Magritte had opened at the Art Institute. Even though it was running through a portion of the fall I decided that day would be a good a day as any to pay it a visit. After all, weather being what it was, it's not like I was going to the beach.

On public transportation you are treated to bits and pieces of a multitude of stories. The hearse and cars with their orange funeral banners lined up in front of the Greek Orthodox church. The cute boy with the trendy long sideburns in a suit and tie, the collar of his shirt a little too large. Where was he going so dressed up on a Tuesday in mid morning? There was the overburdened young man in the baseball cap moving down the sidewalk, groceries in each hand, backpack on his back, his baseball jersey with it's long sleeves pushed up stretched tight across his strong chest. Joggers and bikers along the lakefront trails, showing more fortitude than I, braving the elements on that exceptionally cool and overcast summer day.

Sets of stadium chairs painted by various artists, this summer's public art exhibit, a tradition begun with a display of decorated fiberglass cows almost a decade ago, line Michigan Avenue. One of the drawbridges that cross the Chicago river is up to allow construction of another portion of the riverwalk, a years long project being completed in a seemingly endless number of stages. Stepping off the bus I was enveloped by the noise of the city. Cars, trucks and jackhammers, the hum of a thousand conversations. In a restaurant a waiter with a patch of white in one of his dark eyebrows takes as order. I walk towards my destination sharing the sidewalk with office workers and tourists on this unseasonably cool, cloudy day.