Chicago, it has been too long. I hadn’t been to the windy city since I moved to California in 2009, needless to say, I was over-due for a visit. We ended up getting into town pretty late our first night, seeing as we had a pretty late start. I can say that I was the reason for the delay; I was not prepared for the trip, like, laundry or anything. Usually, I’m a good traveler, but not this time. We stayed in a really cool Airbnb near Grant Park, so it was really easy to get to everything. Truth be told, we were in town to see The National at the Lyric Opera house, but we decided to dedicate a whole day to The Art Institute of Chicago. Man, am I glad we did.
The walk from our room to the museum was murder because of the cold. My SoCal body can’t take the cold like I used to in Ohio. There were times during our, comparatively very short, walk I thought I was going to get sick I was so cold. I was not prepared for, obviously. By the time we got to the door of the museum, I must have looked like a little kid with snot running down my face; once again, I was not prepared for the cold. The foyer for the museum was kingly. Large ceilings and very thoughtfully planned corridors lined the halls. Little did I know, so many of my favorite pieces of artwork were here, under one roof! Looking through the pamphlet for current exhibits and permanent collections, three pieces of art caught my eye, Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist,” Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” and Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait“. Three of my favorite pieces, let alone notorious pieces of artwork in general. It was our mission to see ALL of them.
This museum is much like going to LACMA the first time; you have no idea how gigantic this place is until you try to cram it into one day. We could have easily made that place a two or even three day excursion, but, we were on a mission. We didtake our time to let the massiveness of the place sink in, but, we got there at 10:30 on a Wednesday, it was pretty slow. We were able to put a healthy dent in the first part of the museum over the first couple hours being there, but still no classics were in sight. And then in the distance I could hear Darcie say “hey there’s one!”. Directly in front of us was “Nighthawks” by Edward Hopper. Personally, I could think of more parodies of this image than what the actual painting looked like. I was anticipating James Dean getting a drink with Maryilyn Monroe, a band of scruffy nerf-herders grabbing a drink, or a pissed off polar bear trying to break the window, but seeing this in person was truly a treasured moment. Ok, onto more history!
We carried on the day, seeing art that, in some cases, you only see in history books. It was such an experience to see these pieces in the flesh. Around one corner, I could see several tourists congregated around a large painting on the wall. As we got closer, I noticed it was “A Sunday Afternoon on La Grande Jatte” by George Seurat. I wouldn’t say I’m a huge fan of Seurat’s work, but see this picture in person was also a cool experience. Seeing how many brush strokes were needed to complete this piece was extraordinary. Also, what’s with the lady walking the monkey?! No matter. And, right around the corner, the mother load.
Seeing some artwork in person doesn’t move me (cough, cough, Andy cough, Warhol). Some artwork in person is breath taking. The latter is how I felt when I saw Van Gogh’s “Self-Portrait”. Being such a notorious piece of artwork, I was dumbfounded at how a painting could yield such emotion for being the size it was. The same could be said for another one of my “have to see” pieces at the museum, Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist”. This painting has always blown my mind due to the fact that Picasso was only in his early 20s when he created this piece! I can’t imagine creating a work of art this good NOW let alone in my 20s. It really captures the utter raw talent he had. Like I said, simply mind-blowing.
At this point, we had one more “need to see” on our list, but we couldn’t find it ANYWHERE! We must have circled make three or four time looking for Grant Wood’s “American Gothic”. The museum guide had the notorious pieces circled, highlighted and keyed by number and we still couldn’t find it. Luckily, after at least an hour or doing laps in the museum, we found it.
Very similarly to Hopper’s “Nighthawks,” “American Gothic”, by Grant Wood, is as notorious a painting as any other masterpiece. Also, similarly to Hopper’s piece, American Gothic has been parodied through the ages. Everything from Star Wars to The Simpsons and Mario Brothers to Minions has been parodied holding a pitchfork (or lightsaber) in front of some contorted variation of a victorian home in the background. Seeing this piece in the flesh was a treat. It was oddly small, though. After years of seeing it in text books and on images online, I guess I never really had any idea of the scale of the painting. I had always imagined it being 4-6 feet tall, when in actuality, it was only about two and a half feet tall. Regardless, an amazing piece to see in person.
Needless to say, The Art Institute of Chicago was an awe-inspiring experience. I wish we’d had more time in the museum (and Chicago as a whole). We spent the whole day at the museum and then had the luxury of seeing The National at the Lyric Opera house; I can honestly say, that day will go on the record books as one of my most memorable days. If I ever had to “Ground Hog Day” a day from 2017, that would be the day. – JF