Adventures of an art omnivore: Bedrooms to beach creatures

NSBJ-remix-chris silva

Chris Silva: Remix in “Present Standard”

I’m a bit of an omnivore when it comes to theater, film and art. I often visit art museums and galleries, but the exhibits are usually measured out one at a time. But this week, I had a full plate of art from morning until evening. It was a glorious day.

Van Gogh’s Bedrooms at the Art Institute of Chicago

When I first heard that the Art Institute was creating a major exhibit around three paintings, I thought the curator must have sipped too much absinthe. But this exhibit is another example of exhibit development and design that is being created by today’s best museums. The Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibit is now on display in the AIC’s Regenstein Hall. (Walk to the back of the museum, turn right, go up the short flight of stairs and pay homage to Ellsworth Kelly, whose paintings line the corridor leading toward the exhibit. This is my favorite part of the museum. I would give anything for my own Ellsworth Kelly—and my own Ed Paschke.)

The three versions of Van Gogh’s famous painting, “The Bedroom” in Arles, are displayed together in a central area of the exhibit. You can compare the variations in color and brushstrokes on the actual paintings, but you can also learn about the intense research and analysis of the paintings that was done by curators and restorers and compare the three works in other ways. There are videos and enlarged sections on a display wall, comparing minute details of the three works. (When I was sitting down to watch the video/slideshow, three small kids were on the bench next to me. Which only proves kids will watch anything on a screen.)

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The early part of the exhibit tells the story of Van Gogh’s life through his reading, his writing, his friends and his yearning for a home. All these elements led to his creation of “The Bedroom.” The curators have also re-created the actual bedroom and you can stand in the spot from which he painted the scene.

Van Gogh also analyzed the painting process and was concerned about accuracy and proportion of landscapes and other outdoor scenes. He created what he called a perspective frame that allowed him to grid out a scene and recreate it on his canvas in the same proportion as the original.

The final section of the exhibit is “the Night Café,” a recreation of the café where Van Gogh spent many hours in Arles. One wall is dedicated to a painting of the café scene. You can sit and browse through the exhibit catalog (for sale too, of course). And watch a video loop that shows the many depictions of Van Gogh in popular culture—in films, television, cartoons and fashion.

Van Gogh’s Bedrooms is on display thru May 10.

Alfred Steiglitz and the 19th Century

This exhibit of 19th century photography is on display thru March 27. Steiglitz was interested in photography as an art and admired photographers who represented what he called Pictorialism: especially Julia Margaret Cameron, David Octavius Hill and Robert Adamson. Steiglitz valued painterly images and printing processes that enhanced this technique. He displayed the work of such photographers in his gallery and promoted them through a photographic journal. The images Steiglitz took of his wife Georgia O’Keefe over a period of years is a notable part of the exhibit.

Steiglitz scorned what he termed commercialism and hobbyism in photography. The work of renowned but realistic photographers such as Mathew Brady and Edward Curtis is not represented under the rubric of Pictorialism.

Food for the artlover. A fine choice for lunch when you’re in the art neighborhood is the Museum Café on the lower level of the Art Institute. A variety of preparation counters offer healthy and delicious lunches with a global flare. The pleasant dining area looks out on to McKinlock Court. The Museum Café is superior in my mind to the overrated Terzo Piano in the Modern Wing.

Strandbeest: The Dream Machines of Theo Jansen at the Chicago Cultural Center

After lunch with friends, I walked a few blocks over to the Chicago Cultural Center, the grand 19th century building that was Chicago’s first central public library. The Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) offers many free public exhibits and events, as well as a comfortable lounge and work area on the Randolph Street side of the building. (A fine place to spend time between meetings.)

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The Theo Jansen exhibit of kinetic creatures (strandbeest means beach creatures in Dutch) built from PVC tubes is in the Sidney R. Yates Gallery on the 4th floor of the building. In the first part of the exhibit, you can see the parts and fastenings that make up the beests. In a video loop, Jansen talks about the creative and construction process. The rest of the exhibit is made up of creatures large, medium and small, all of them with feet, nose feelers, skis and sails, demonstrated by beest wranglers, mostly young artists hired by DCASE and trained by Jansen. (I talked with Laura and Charlie, who are enjoying their beest wrangling; he’s a painter and she’s a theater artist.)

The main Yates Gallery is the home of Animaris Suspendisse (2014), the largest strandbeest, demonstrated and described by the wranglers. There are also three small beests that you can walk by yourself and get a feeling for how the feet and limbs work magically together.

The wranglers carry out a daily schedule of reanimation demonstrations. See the web link above for the schedule.

Present Standard (Spring of Latino Art)

Present Standard is an exhibit of 25 works by 25 US-based Latino artists shown in the Michigan Avenue Galleries on the first floor (See Chris Silva’s work above.) The exhibit title is sterile, even though meaning is attributed to each word by the writers of the catalog essays. But the exhibit itself is a joyous array of color and form. The exhibit continues thru April 24.

Pablo Helguera: Libreria Donceles

Bohemia jam session.

This traveling Spanish–language bookstore is settled in the Garland Galleries on the first floor of the building. Events are held in the Libreria during the week. Just as I was leaving the cultural center to meet former colleagues for drinks (it was a long day), I heard music as I passed the room. It was Tuesday night and time for Bohemia’s weekly jam session. Four musicians played rootsy Latin music for a small audience relaxing on sofas and chairs.


We live in an amazing city, where you can find so much intriguing and inspiring art in this small patch of the world–a half mile stretch of magnificent Michigan Avenue.


All photos by Nancy Bishop.





One Comment on “Adventures of an art omnivore: Bedrooms to beach creatures”

  1. Marilyn says:

    A wonderful day in beautiful Chicago for one who has moved far away! I felt as though I was back in those marvelous spaces again!


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