Chicago Exhibitions 2016: Marshall, Puryear, Rembrandt, Van Gogh

Van Gogh's Bedrooms

In a city like Chicago there is so much to choose from, choices have to be made when your time is limited. Luckily we got to see the shows we had gone specifically to see, and saw a couple others that fall into that category of surprise, what a treat – group or themed exhibitions that are quite simply, amazing.

In prioritizing which exhibits to see, there are the ones I’m looking forward to and don’t want to miss, while with others, I sometimes think to myself, oh, I know what to expect in that category or from a specific artist. After seeing an exhibition that pushes my boundaries I’m reminded how important it is to keep eyes and mind open. Sometimes I come across an exhibit I wasn’t aware of or planning to see, and think, hey, its right here, we should at least take a look, and end up spending a chunk of precious time. Conversely, there are shows one is looking forward to seeing, only to find them not quite as exciting as you originally thought they would be. Of course it is good to see as many of the exhibitions one can fit into the schedule, and that is what we did on a recent visit to both the MCA and the AIC. For this post I’m going to mention just a few of the exhibitions that gave the kind of experiences that open your eyes and stimulate your mind.

Even though it was spring, it had the feeling of late winter as we walked from our hotel to the museums. It’s always exciting to come across something unexpected when walking in the city. We had followed a road sign suggesting a route to the museum but since we were walking, the sign, which was an aid for drivers, took us out of our way by a couple of blocks. In our meanderings, we came across a mural of Lazlo Moholy-Nagy on the building occupied by Liska+Associates. Click on their site to learn about their mural.

We reached our destination, The Museum of Contemporary Art, specifically to see the retrospective of Kerry James Marshall, Mastry. This exhibition will be on until September 25, 2016. I’ve seen other shows of his work over the decades and I was looking forward to seeing this major survey. Having the chance to see all of these works gathered in one location was a rare opportunity. And seeing the galleries filled with an audience full of energy and enthusiasm added another level of excitement to the experience. This is a very moving exhibition and one I wholeheartedly recommend seeing if you happen to be in the Chicago area. If you miss it there, the show will travel to The Metropolitan Museum of Art, October 25, 2016 – January 29, 2017, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, March 12 – July 2, 2017. Click on a thumbnail to activate a larger view of these four images; view the museum’s exhibition checklist.

An exhibition that falls into the category of the familiar, works by artists one has seen and studied over many years, is in a sense like visiting old friends. The exhibition Surrealism: The Conjured Life was on view this past winter and spring. I wasn’t aware that this show was on, so it was a surprise to come across an exhibition devoted to the masters of surrealism, including several contemporary artists that reinforce some of the tenants of surrealism. Again, this was a show of masters – it included many works we’ve seen on previous visits and was an all-together rich and rewarding experience.

From there, we walked to the Art Institute where we spent the afternoon. We entered the museum from Michigan Avenue, the entry closest to the print and drawing galleries, where we have seen many great shows of works on paper over the years. I always remember when Harold Joachim was the curator, we spent many stimulating hours in the print study room. Study and scholarship were paramount and often one of his assistants, Sam, would bring an additional example of a print we were studying, with the simple challenge, “see any differences?” Those days make me think of other museums when you could simply sign in and request a portfolio to study: V&A, BM, in London, the BN, Paris, the National Gallery in Oslo, where the curator would bring portfolios of Munch’s works on paper, often with drawings en verso, things you could only discover by first hand study. On a visit to the print study room at MoMA we discovered that a Max Beckmann self-portrait had an accession number suggesting that it was the first work of art to enter the museum collection, courtesy of Alfred Barr.

Over the many years I have been able to visit the Art Institute of Chicago, I have always been impressed by the stature of the museum, the quality of individual works of art in the collection, the curators, and the members of the staff. The many individuals who support and donate artworks to the museum have always been notable and remind me of the importance of art for families and the communities they nurture through their generous support. I first thought about this on the day when Sam brought that second proof of a Durer engraving; and on another occasion looking at first editions of Goya. Then there was an exhibition that included one of my favorite Picasso drypoints, and right along side it was the drawing. But I digress.

Currently on view through August 7, 2016 is the show entitled Van Dyck, Rembrandt, and the Portrait Print. Click on this link to the museum’s website for information about this beautiful exhibition: It is an exhibition that will take you by surprise – beautifully rendered, black and white hand drawn prints – drypoint, engraving, etching, woodcut, lithographs, from the last few hundred years up to the present. No matter how often you see works by these artists, if you are looking, there is always something new to be found, especially when you have the opportunity to see rare and first-rate impressions.

While we hadn’t gone to AIC specifically to see the print show, we were intending to see the exhibition of sculpture and works on paper by Martin Puryear: Multiple Dimensions – we had been looking forward to seeing it since it had been announced months earlier, but this was the first time we could fit in a visit to this exquisite exhibition. Follow this link to the AIC material on the exhibition: Puryear. This was a quiet exhibition, one that invites contemplation and study. The installation gave each of the works enough room to breathe and exist on their own, but also the groupings highlighted the importance of relationships, The exhibition presented over a hundred works on paper from several decades, ranging in scale from intimate to large, and a dozen sculptures.

We have seen a lot of Van Gogh’s paintings, and we thought the special exhibit about his Bedrooms would no doubt be crowded and the waiting line long. Rather than checking the wait time via an app we just went directly to the ticket line, which, surprisingly, was non-existent, no wait. Once inside, we found the exhibition crowded with enthusiastic visitors clustered around individual paintings, especially the self-portraits, and the three versions of the bedroom. Unfortunately this was a single venue exhibition and even though it closed in May there is information currently available via the museum website. Supporting materials included in the exhibition were one of his palettes and several tubes of his paint loaned from the collection of the Musée d’Orsay. While the theme of the exhibition focused on the bedroom paintings there were other classics from throughout his ten years of creative output.


Even though I didn’t use the app on my iPhone to check the wait times for the exhibition, at the end of the day I did check an app to see how far we walked that day, over six miles, and, according to the app, three of those miles were inside the museums. Click on a thumbnail to open the gallery and see additional images of the art and things I saw while walking around.

1 comment

Thanks so much for taking us along with you. I”m thrilled to know the Kerry James Marshall show will be coming to the West Coast at a time when I can get south to see it. Just one excellent tip from your post. Time for a dinner party.

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