It was 103F when we arrived, so we decided to jump into the river – well, onto a boat – for the architectural tour. It was just a shade cooler there, especially after I found a perch to shoot in the shadow of the bridge. Make sure you get the tour offered by the architectural society. It was guided by a wonderfully well-informed volunteer whose calm manner and gentle humour stood in marked contrast to the screeching wannabe comics we encountered later on the double deckers. Some of the photos here are from the boat, some from the bus, but most were taken from my favourite perch: standing still.
The skyline is as magnificent as it is famous, and its functional purity, derived from the school of Mies van der Rohe, has really leaked into Chicago’s mindset: things work for people here. That’s the simple rule. But time passes, and the simple skyscrapers of yesteryear are now taking a back seat to neo-classical, neo-deco and new-neo, many of which play dramatically off the black boxes of the Chicago school. Not everyone is happy, but I am.
We spent most of the rest of the day at the Art Institute, a museum whose lighting, openness, coolness!, photo policies, layout and quality of the collection make it my favourite – ever. Did I mention how cool it was?
Flooded with light, the modern wing boasts a brilliant collection of American, Impressionist and Contemporary Art. I have to admit that it’s difficult to get around in, but its simple grandeur more than makes up for it – and makes bumping into things more fun. That’s not how a Chicagoan would see it though. Shusheela Bhat, writing in Chicago Art Magazine says of the airy, Church-like feel: “You get over that fairly quickly though, as you wonder where to go”. That’s that functional mindset at work again.
One of the things we bumped into was this massive Paris street scene by Gustave Caillebotte – I had never even heard his name, though he was the primary financial sponsor and a major exhibitor at the first impressionist exhibition. He became wealthy enough to retire at 34. (Not from art). You can find a lovely video of the first exhibition here.
The highlight of the day, however, was the Lichtenstein exhibit, an artist who I only sort of liked in the past. But the breadth of his work is truly fantastic. I miss the fun he brought now, his amusing play on the comic strip and his pop art take on pointillism.. His ascent into the world of high art was a breath of fresh air in the rarified art world of his day. In retrospect that now seems more important than ever as the art world seems once more to be sinking back into academic irrelevance.
My favourite piece was Perforated Seascape #1 (Blue). Using a top layer of punched metal in his signature dot form, he created this fantastically kinetic sculptural piece for the viewer.
Just looking at it as a still object is dizzying enough. Have a seat before you look at the iPhone video below. Apologies in advance for the vertigo and the camera work!
As we staggered our way out of the Art Institute (failing to find the Richters were were after) we found another Chicago masterpiece: Millennium Park, a lesson in urban planning that topped off our first day in Chicago.
Read more about our day there in my previous post, My Kind of Town. After a wonderful anniversary dinner, we headed off to dreamland. Night fell over the river, with four more wonderful days yet to come.
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