An Appetite for Something More at the Chicago Art Institute

Last week I finally made my way over to the Chicago Art Institute, which felt like the largest art museum I have been to in the States. It had long, daunting hallways filled with strange dead ends and tons of works of art that could be easily overlooked. Feeling slightly overwhelmed by the scale of the place I decided to focus my visit on the current temporary exhibit; Art and Appetite: American Painting, Culture, and Cuisine.

The exhibit is only at the museum for a few more days (until January 27th, 2014), so in that sense I’m glad I made the effort to see it, but art of food isn’t generally something that piques my interest much. After trying to interpret the map and making a few wrong turns I found the special exhibit hall near the back of the Museum. Like many special exhibits I’ve visited the first room explained the purpose of the exhibition with two paragraphs printed on a huge scale onto the wall. Two reproductions of works within the exhibit flanked the text on either side, and gave a promising taste of the art to come.

American artists have used food to both celebrate and critique their developing society; express ideas relating to politics, race, class, gender, and commerce; and investigate American identity. This exhibition brings together over 100 paintings, sculptures, and decorative arts from the 18th through the 20th century, along with a selection of period cookbooks, menus, trade cards, and posters, to explore the art and culture of food and examine the many meanings and interpretations of eating in America. (artic.edu)

Norman Rockwell. Freedom from Want, 1942. Lent by the Norman Rockwell Museum, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust.

Norman Rockwell. Freedom from Want, 1942. Lent by the Norman Rockwell Museum, Norman Rockwell Art Collection Trust.

My favorite room in the gallery was next. It was my favorite for a number of reasons. It had works from various periods of time, and instead of focusing on one style of art, focused on a theme everyone could relate to- Thanksgiving. It encouraged me to make my own connections about the pieces, instead of simply providing historical information, which I appreciated. The four works allowed viewers to experience the scope of food art, including a still life, pop art print, portrait, and comic scene of a Thanksgiving dinner being prepared. The remainder of the exhibition was a chronological history of food and art in America through the 1960’s. And the majority of the works were still life’s.

Although artistic leaders ranked still life beneath supposedly superior genres of history painting, portraiture, and landscapes Raphaelle spent the majority of his career producing delicate compositions of fruit, veggies, nuts, and the like. (Quote from the exhibition, Curated by Judith Barter)

Apart from a very interesting teapot molded to look like a cauliflower, the following room was filled with still life’s by Raphaelle Peele, mentioned above. Descriptions next to the images pointed out the political significances of the various compositions of fruits and vegetables, and they were exquisitely crafted with rich colors. In the end I still agreed with the supposed “artistic leaders” who felt still life’s are lesser than other art forms. By the fourth room of still life’s I was pretty bored. Maybe I’m simply not cultured enough, but I have never been drawn to realistic representations of things I would rather be eating.

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Raphaelle Peale (1774-1825). Melons and Morning Glories, 1813. Current Location: Smithsonian American Art Museum

Despite the overwhelming number of still life paintings, there were still some works that captured my attention. The first were the series of vintage menus, cookbooks, and recipe cards scattered throughout the exhibition. Unlike other works that I have seen in art history books or recreated as posters, I had never seen old menus or cookbooks. To me they captured the change of Americans regard towards food better than anything else. They were also exceptionally beautiful, many of them hand crafted with colorful inks and gold filigree.

Trophy of the Hunt, oil on canvas by William Harnett, 1885; in the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pa. 108 × 55 cm. Credit: Photograph by Moira Burke. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Penn., purchase, 41.5

Trophy of the Hunt, oil on canvas by William Harnett, 1885; in the Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Pa. 108 × 55 cm.
Credit: Photograph by Moira Burke. Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh, Penn., purchase, 41.5

Another interesting room was filled with Trompe L’oeil Paintings. This style of painting was around as early as the Baroque period and uses forced perspective to trick the viewer into seeing a three dimensional image. Trompe L’oeil also means “Trick of the Eye.” These works were so intriguing because rather than portraying outdated politics they touched on an issue in the art world that is still hot today. What is good art? Works like Trophy of the Hunt by William Michael Harnett and Free Sample Take One by De Scott Evans at the time they were made tended to be enjoyed by the lower classes, and because of their visual illusion were considered lesser by critics. But what is the point of art if no one is looking at it? Not only were these works meticulously crafted but they were entertaining. It really made me think about the value of art. Should it entertain? Should it create discussion? Should is be beautiful or not? Should it capture a moment in History. All of these questions were brought up by the Trompe L’oeil room.

the final rooms of the exhibition touched on modern and pop art. Even though the works moved away from classical painting they were still mostly still life’s.

Although Modernism rejected traditional modes of painting the still life was central to avante garde exploration. The very features that caused it to be considered lesser in earlier decades- lack of overt narrative and focus on mundane objects- made it an ideal vehicle for radicalism and aggressive deconstruction of space, form, and surface. (Quote from the exhibition, Curated by Judith Barter)

Andy Warhol’s iconic Campbell’s soup made an appearance and the final piece I saw as I wandered into the gift shop was a giant fabric egg by Claes Oldenburg. I was disappointed that there was nothing to propel the viewer into a discussion of contemporary interactions between food and artists, but as one individual pointed out to me, the Art Institute doesn’t maintain collections beyond the modern period.

  Claes Oldenburg: Sculpture in the Form of a Fried Egg. 1966. Canvas, dyed cotton, and expanded polystyrene. Diameter: 122 in. (309.9 cm)

Claes Oldenburg: Sculpture in the Form of a Fried Egg
1966
Canvas, dyed cotton, and expanded polystyrene
Diameter: 122 in. (309.9 cm)

It took me the whole exhibition to realize this but I’m simply frustrated with the institution of the museum as a whole. Educating about Art History is all good and well but without making a connection with contemporary issues it fall’s short. The Art Institute’s mission states that “The Art Institute of Chicago collects, preserves, and interprets works of art of the highest quality, representing the world’s diverse artistic traditions, for the inspiration and education of the public and in accordance with our profession’s highest ethical standards and practices.” And I suppose Art and Appetite did a good job of representing the institutes mission. I simply wanted more out of the experience. Despite my frustrations I plan to visit the Art Institute again and take advantage of their expansive galleries from around the world. Even if their passions for art don’t line up with my own I’m sure I can find inspiration around the corner.

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Card Making for Valentine's Day

If you're my friend and read my blog one of these cards might be in your mailbox next month.

If you’re my friend and read my blog one of these cards might be in your mailbox next month.

Last night I went to a cardmaking workshop at Paper-Source where I bought paper scraps for the collage I blogged about a few days ago. All the materials were provided, along with numerous innovative and specialized scrapbooking tools. One of the coolest tools messed around with was called a Xyron. It turned anything  you put through it (that was flat) into a sticker. Amazing! We also played with heat emboss glitter and funky shaped punches.  I have come to the conclusion that I need some more paper punches. They are extremely versatile.

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This was the first card I made. It had the best result with the heat emboss.

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The glitter hearts were punched out of paper that already had an adhesive backing. I also used washi tape and a corner punch.

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Ombre Hearts were created using the heart shaped punch. This is my favorite of the cards I made, and it is also the simplest.

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This was the most complicated card we made. The little banners were super difficult to make, but in the end it turned out well nonetheless.

photo 2To get the glitter to stick to the heart we turned it into a sticker with the Xyron. So sparkle!!

Anish Kapoor and the Cloud Gate

How does someone reach a level of prestige that they can create a piece of art on the same scale as a building? How does someone become one of the most acknowledged living sculptors of  their time?

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First Approach

These were the question that came to mind as I wandered through the Millennium Park in Chicago up to the Cloud Gate. This massive public work is smooth, mirrored anomaly juxtaposed against the towering Chicago skyline. It captures the space between the lake and the city reflecting everything around it in a mesmerizing way. Despite being freezing cold, and sky being a gray mass overhead I still found myself enchanted by the piece for a good twenty minutes. I could see myself as a tiny dot on the surface as I walked closer. No one stopped me touching the polished surface, which still reflected everything seamlessly despite being covered in smudges and soot. I walked the perimeter enjoying the changing panorama of Chicago behind my reflection, distorting in the convex surface of the structure. I ventured into the “gate” under the structure, which defied understanding to look upon. The world turned into a mandala above my head, bending and blending as I strode to one side or the other, my face upturned. After having enjoyed interacting with the sculpture on my own I stepped aside and watched other visitors explore and play with the strange shape. I laughed to myself as “I’ll Be Watching You” by the Police floated up from the ice rink below the sculpture.

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 Cloud Gate was created by Anish Kapoor in 2004 for the AT&T plaza in the Millennium Park. “Cloud Gate is a single object of around 25×15×12m. It is made of polished stainless steel and is seamless, (http://anishkapoor.com/322/Cloud-Gate.html).” Kapoor was born in India, and went to art school in Britain in the 1970’s. After completing art school he went on to win many of the most prestigious arts awards for British Artists. Even his most early works were concerned with the “in-between”.

“Yes, I continually come back to questions about the status of the object: How fully is it in the world? How much is it what it says it is and how much is it something else? Where is the real space of the object? Is it what you are looking at, or is it the space beyond what you are looking at?” -Anish Kapoor, Interview with Nicholas Baume

The strange fractal image created by the 12ft arch inside the sculpture.

The strange fractal image created by the 12ft arch inside the sculpture.

Kapoor’s earliest works that brought him to the 1982 Paris Biennale and the 1990 Venice Biennale were on a much smaller scale than later works. 1000 Names consisted of sculptures of various geometric shapes that appear to be on the edge of either being finished or falling apart, where the artist used pigment to create them. When asked how he came to these ideas he said he wanted to “create something out of color.” Void Field consisted of a room of stones punctured by holes in the middle.

Mixed media and pigment Dimensions variable

Mixed media and pigment
Dimensions variable

I first saw Kapoor’s work when I was studying abroad in Paris. He had been chosen to create a piece for the Monumenta 2011 which is a work intended to be created on a monumental scale that interacts with the Grand Palais.

MONUMENTA is an ambitious artistic encounter unmatched anywhere in the world, organized by the French Ministry of Culture and Communication.  Each year MONUMENTA invites an internationally renowned contemporary artist to appropriate the 13,500 m² of the Grand Palais Nave with an artwork specially created for the event.(http://2011.monumenta.com/en/2011/un-concept-unique)

For the project Kapoor created Leviathan. The piece filled the majority of the Grand Palais and could be experienced in two ways.

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The first was on the outside. It was like a sleeping colossus that filled the majority of the space. You had to navigate around the edges of it, and it completely displaced the viewer. Trying to capture a picture of it was impossible as the scale was simply too large. From the outside it looked black and felt taught and full to the touch.

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You could also choose to venture inside. It was like stepping into a fantasy world. Inside evoked images of a womb or a blood canal. Suddenly everything was red. The people, the walls, the floor, the light.  Everything was consumed by the color. The air was still and dampened. It was hard to hear, and it smelled of plastic. Somehow the space inside seemed even larger than the space taken up outside, which boggled the mind. I didn’t linger long inside because the whole experience was unsettling. At the time the same questions jumped to my mind. How do you get this successful as an artist to make something this big?

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Having mulled the question of Kapoor’s success over for a while I have come to some conclusions.

Kapoor isn’t trying to say everything at once. Each piece he creates is a confined experience. Many artists I have seen recently try to weave every little idea into their work, as if that somehow makes it more meaningful and important. For me it simply confuses the piece. Examples include Mea Culpa by Mary Kelly and The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist by Michael Rakowitz. My own work suffered from this while I was in studio classes in college and think simplicity is in the end more successful. 

Second, Kapoor encourages his viewers to interact with his work. Because his pieces explore the boundaries of space they inherently encourage the viewer to also explore those boundaries. He claims his breakthrough piece was When I am Pregnant. “When you are in front of When I am Pregnant, no matter how close or far away you are, it is a blur. It is only when you move to the side of it that you can see it is a form.” (Anish Kapoor, Interview with Nicholas Blaume). Forcing the viewer to interact simultaneously forces the viewer to think about the piece, and creates deeper meaning.

Fibreglass and paint Dimensions variable

Fibreglass and paint
Dimensions variable

Ultimately, Kapoor’s art captures the interest of his audiences. Any piece of contemporary art that can engage an individual for more than a few seconds has accomplished something. I have visited art museums with friends and families who aren’t particularly interested in the arts and they fly through them, briefly glancing at most pieces, occasionally lingering at one or two others. I myself have been guilty of sighing at the sight of contemporary works. For the most part, to understand contemporary art you need to read the material provided with it. Plenty of people were lingering to explore and play at Cloud Gate, and I was surprised to find no information about the piece or the artist at the actual site. It didn’t need to explained to be interesting, thought-provoking, and highly successful piece of public art.

For more info on Anish Kapoor check out his website.

Character Concepts: Super Heroines

Role Playing Games are a great way to generate ideas for stories, artistic projects, and costumes. Last summer I played in a home brew game with some of my girlfriends who wanted to girls only game. We settled on a super hero setting and went on to tell a tale of heroic deeds and comic antics.

My character was the Avant Guard, who had come to own a magical set of paintbrushes from ancient China that let her manipulate the world around her. Formally an artist, she was determined to make her whole super hero career into a performing art piece. One of her first ventures as part of a super hero team was to design costumes for all of her colleagues. With nothing better to do I went ahead an drew out the costumes.

Continuous Line Drawing: Pens and Pencils

photoAnything can be the subject for a sketch, and in this instance I used my makeshift pen holder as my subject. Continuous Line drawings are one of my favorite ways to practice capturing a still life. Because your pen can never leave the page it forces you to really consider the edges of things you are looking at. I started with the cup and it took me a while to remember how to transfer what i’m seeing to paper. By the time I got to the pens and pencils at the end I was doing much better. The scissors were attempted in the middle and I would be curious to try it again. It was difficult to figure out how to handle the depth and the double image of two pairs of scissors.

 

Explore: Making Due with What I've Found.

For someone who normally has a lot of art supplies at their disposal it has been quite hard to have ALL of my supplies in storage. For some reason the only things I brought to Chicago for my first two weeks here were two pairs of scissors, various pens and sharpies in my purse, a gluestick (thank goodness!), and my sketchbook. I realize that most of those things can be picked up relatively easy at grocery stores and office supply chains, but I normally don’t leave town without some watercolors or crayons. And if I had the foresight to bring two pairs of scissors, why not a pair of exacto knives?

Regardless, I made due for about two days before feeling the itch for something more complicated and so I struck out to find some more supplies to create with. I stumbled upon Papersource, about two blocks from where I am staying temporarily. It reminds me of Boulder’s local paper shop, Two Hand Paperie, with a little less charm and a little more big chain. I picked up a packet of paper scraps and called it good. With my new paper in hand I set out to add some more art to my sketchbook.

All the supplies I have gathered.

All the supplies I have gathered.My theme for my first month in Chicago is to explore and so I created a collage to manifest my exploration in the city. Here is the result:

My theme for my first month in Chicago is to explore and so I created a collage to manifest my exploration in the city. Here is the result:

The Final Result

The Final Result

MCA Chicago: field notes

Yesterday on my first foray into the city of Chicago I found myself at the doorstep of the Museum of Contemporary Art. Like most contemporary art museums I’ve visited it isn’t very large. It had a few focused exhibits on individual artists, such as Andy Warhol, as well as a collection of works focused on the city of Chicago. The most interesting exhibition, however, was the exhibition on the top floor The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archeology. 

Field Guide Cover

Cover for “The Way of the Shovel” by Mark Dion

A recent trend in contemporary art has been to examine the intersection of art, history, archeology, and just about everything else that could brush against those themes. The curator, Dieter Roelstraete, did an admirable job selecting works that flowed through different themes. Some of the most striking subjects were Sigmund Freud, Colonialism, and Archives. More on these subjects in a later post.

Summary from the Curator.

Summary from the Curator.

Despite all of the actual art in the exhibition the object that pulled at my attention over and over was the Field Guide. It was not well marked as an item one could take at the beginning of the exhibit but I noticed it and took one. It was craftily constructed with perforated pages that revealed deeper messages and detailed graphs for greater understanding of the exhibit. It included quotes that leant meaning to various ideas woven throughout the works of art. And it had a place for me to keep notes and questions as I myself wandered through.

Map from within perforated pages.

Map from within perforated pages.

In some ways it captured my favorite theme of contemporary art that none of the curated works had- audience interaction. I was encouraged to rip the perforated edges of the pages which shattered the expected silence of the gallery. I was lead to make my own connections beyond the ones printed on the walls next to the art. I was given a map and charts and a book that I could flip through to enhance my experience overall. And it did! My only complaint was that I didn’t see more people exploring The Way of the Shovel with a field guide in hand. I am excited to be able to revisit my thoughts the next time I want to reflect on a piece of art from the collection, as well as have other source material from the curator and artists alike.

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My notes and questions from the exhibition.

I intend to revisit The Way of the Shovel before it leaves the MCA: Chicago in March.