Tuesday, August 11, 2009

chicago, chicago, that happenin' town

we went to the art institute of chicago on our 10th anniversary road trip. unfortunately, we didn't make it to the contemporary art museum. next time. however, there were some beautiful pieces there. highlights (and revelations) for me were:

cy twombly - big splashy paintings. surprisingly colourful. like gigantic peonies mashed on the canvas. the surprise for me was the size of his minimal and elegant sculptures. of course, they will eventually be a conservator's nightmare...

gerhard richter - there was a room of his paintings, both the photo-based work (from the 60s and 80s - loved the candles) and the large abstract field (ice) paintings. his work is really about vision - seeing. the act of looking.

bruce nauman - i've always found him a polarizing, though important figure. i think he, warhol and duchamp are very much touchstones for a lot of contemporary work. there was a neon piece - human nature/life death; a text piece - in which he plays with possibility and permutations of a single line of text, exploring permanence and meaning; and some video pieces - the clown torture series, which were maddening. annoying. grating.

robert gober - i'd never seen his installations, and here i saw 2! sure, they're layered and multivalent and double-sided, but they're also quite elegant and open. i especially love the fact that all the objects are hand-made - plaster casts and glass casts - and hand-painted; not the industrially produced objects they seem to be at first glance.

philip guston (born in canada, btw) - couple in bed is a lovely painting, devotional even.

sol le witt - there was a great wall piece...

lastly, there was an astounding (and huge) caravaggio: the resurrection. what a strange painting. otherworldly. yes, he could paint - textures, skin, shadow and light. but it all seemed so surreal. a fascinating painting...

the medieval wing was closed, which was disappointing.

the real [chicago] highlights for me, however, were the public art installations.

1. anish kapoor's cloud gate - 110 tons of fun. i've loved his work for decades. i could speak about the sense of the sublime in his work, the ineffable, the 'spiritual' -- but instead i'll note how his work always disturbs my equilibrium - i always feel de-centered when i look at this work, and cloud gate is no exception. not only that, it's a tourist bonanza. it was pretty crowded outside it, but inside, in the swirling vortex at its center, it was even more packed. people filming themselves and each other. very communal. brilliant.

2. magdalena abakanowicz's installation agora (greek for meeting place). 100+ walking figures fill grant park. her work has always spoken to relationships, from her early performances (public sculptures) with her then partner ulay to more recent pieces. this piece is powerfully affective - as you walk through from the periphery to the center, where the figures are more densely grouped, you feel the press and presence of these sentinels, these faceless witnesses.

3. the crown fountain - a 230' pool is book-ended by two 50' fountains, glass block towers with LED projections of chicagoans' faces. fun. and absolutely astounding at night.

4. frank gehry's jay pritzker pavilion, a 120' high stainless steel spaceship of a concert stage. unbelievable.

i'm running out of superlatives. i will visit chicago again. definitely.