It’s hard to believe in the more than six years that the Art Institute blog has been up and running, we’ve never once mentioned this painting. Why, you might ask? Is the artist famous? Not really. Although Ferdinand Hodler was one of Switzerland’s leading artists at the turn of the 20th century, his work has not been shown extensively outside of Europe. Then maybe the subject of the painting is famous? Again, no. James Vibert was one of Hodler’s closest friends and a Swiss sculptor who studied with Rodin, but he’s not well known.
The reason is much simpler. This is just one of those paintings that jumps off the gallery wall at you. Perhaps it’s the big red beard. Perhaps it’s Vibert’s size (he was referred to as “herculean”). Perhaps it’s the impenetrable gaze. Or maybe it’s the fact that the painting is virtually symmetrical.
Hodler developed a strict aesthetic theory he called parallelism, in which he relied heavily on symmetry and repetition to create overall unity. About this theory, Hodler wrote, “We differ one from the other, but we are like each other even more. What unifies us is greater and more powerful than what divides us.”
Whatever the reason, this is a painting that’s difficult to simply walk by. We hope you enjoy it on your next visit!
Ferdinand Hodler. James Vibert, Sculptor, 1907. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.
It’s the most wonderful time of the year!
No, it’s not the holidays, but it is my annual stroll through the galleries with 10-year-old Sophie! We’ve been at it for five years and have covered everything from Pop to Impressionism, and this year we took on our biggest challenge yet. . . the present.
The Art Institute’s Charles Ray exhibition features work by the contemporary sculptor created between 1997 and 2014. It’s the artist’s first major exhibition since 1998, and includes 19 figurative sculptural works that flow from the museum’s Modern Wing to the exterior gardens. I couldn’t wait to see how Sophie responded to art made within her lifetime.
Her first reaction upon walking into the galleries was “whoa.” Solid start. And while it was a response to the art, it was even more of a response to the space. There are just 15 pieces in the 18,000-square-foot galleries, giving each sculpture lots of breathing room. Sophie compared it to a park, with people meandering around, rather than following a set path through an exhibition. And in fact, that’s how you’re meant to experience the exhibition. Ray wants you to have a 360 degree experience with the works, and specifically tried to create pieces that would draw you all the way around.
One example of that idea is The New Beetle, in which a child plays with a toy car. Charles Ray has said about this sculpture, “if the object can move you physically. . . it will also move you intellectually.” As Sophie made an unprompted circle around the sculpture, she created a narrative in which the boy was with his parents and they were talking about something boring (“like what to do with their house”) and he was immersed in play. She thought he might be an only child because it was clear by how he was playing that there were no other kids around.
We also talked a lot about Light from the Left. In this bas relief, Charles Ray is handing his wife a bouquet of flowers. From a distance, Sophie thought they might be actors on a stage, but as she got closer, she noticed details like the air vent on the floor and the fact that the texture in the background might represent mini-blinds instead of a curtain and decided that they must be at home. Correct. She also talked about how the light hit the piece. When I told her the title, she asked if that’s why we put it where we did, so that the sunlight streaming in the galleries also hit it from the left. Correct again.
But her favorite was Ray’s 2005 Tractor. She’s really interested in how things work, so she loved seeing the inner mechanics of the broken down equipment. She also responded to the labor of the creative process, in which Ray dissembled an actual tractor, cast each piece in aluminum, and reassembled it.
One of her final notes was the realization that there wasn’t a lot of color—everything was white or silver. She suggested that might be because when there are a lot of colors, you tend to look at the brightest one. But when everything is the same color, you look more closely at all of it.
The clearest sign I knew she liked the exhibition? When we left, I asked how long she thought we’d spent in the galleries. She guessed a half hour. . . and it had been an hour and a half.
As always, thank you Sophie for your thoughtful and creative insights!
Break out your crocheted romper and your giant floppy black hat. . . Lollapalooza starts today! Over the course of the weekend, more than 140 bands will grace the stages of the giant music festival, which is located right across the street from the Art Institute.
And for the sixth year in a row, we’re bringing you our Lollapalooza challenge. Match these artworks from the Art Institute’s collection with the band name from Lollapalooza’s line-up that you think they represent. The first person to get all eight correct—in the blog comments—will be the winner of an Art Institute prize pack!
Happy guessing and festival-going! Drink lots of water and reapply sunscreen frequently.
POSTED BY Guest Blogger, ON July 20, 2015, Comments Off on Hemingway and the Art Institute
Have you ever thought about who, living or dead, you would invite to your dinner party? What about who would you take to the museum with you? What new insights and discoveries might these “friends” bring to you? I love to think about this and while my imaginary guests may change over time, a name that comes up frequently is Ernest Hemingway. I’ve always been interested in both his writings and his life and would jump at the chance to take a stroll through the galleries with this larger-than-life author.
And while this might be impossible, since Hemingway had a lot to say about everything (including art), we’re able to make some educated guesses at what he might have been drawn to at the museum. So in that spirit, tomorrow I’ll be leading a tour that will not just seek out works that Hemingway explicitly spoke of, but also connect with those that embody the spirit of his work. What can you expect to see? We’ll see some works he saw as a young boy from Oak Park. We’ll see modern masters that he personally knew while living in Paris. We’ll consider what the connection was between his eye and his pen, when he said things like “I can make a landscape like Cézanne.”
If you’re interested in hearing more about connections between Hemingway and the museum, the gallery talk starts at 12:00p.m. tomorrow in the museum’s Modern Wing. It, like all of our daily gallery talks, is free with museum admission.
—P.D. Young, Production Coordinator, Imaging Department
The Department of Prints and Drawings is always an exciting place when an exhibition is being installed. The physical and mental demands of making sure that the art is displayed to perfection, while meeting relentless deadlines is an intense time for the staff. Despite this tension, there is a moment of breathtaking awe once a show is ready to open. It never fails. And so it is also for the newly opened Whistler and Roussel: Linked Visions. The exhibition illustrates the decade-long professional collaboration of James McNeill Whistler and Theodore Roussel and includes 175 etchings, lithographs, drawings, and paintings. The exhibition is also complemented by works from the artists’ networks, including the painting above.
When I saw images of Whistler, I found myself saying out loud, “I feel like I know this guy! There is something so familiar about him!” Sure, he is quite fashionable for his time, possessing that je ne sais quoi, but the personality is one I felt I knew intimately. I could hear him cracking wise while he struck a bold pose, being a show-off, yet the glint in his eye told me he knows he is a bit ridiculous. “I know this guy! But how?!” It finally came to me when standing in front of the Walter Greaves portrait of the artist. . . he is Frank Zappa!
What a relief to finally understand my reaction to Whistler’s likeness. “Frank Zappa is Whistler’s doppelgänger!” I declared it to all who would listen, with great satisfaction. Alas, I was not alone in finding Whistler familiar. A fellow staff member overheard a museum visitor saying, “Who does Whistler remind me of? Hmmm… I think it’s Johnny Depp!” Maybe, although I would argue Depp is missing the edginess of Whistler and Zappa. One of our Conservation Fellows brought some friends to see the exhibition, and offered me full validation when unsolicited, one of the friends, seeing Whistler’s portrait exclaimed, “He looks like Frank Zappa!” Another visitor, with a French accent, was heard saying of Roussel’s portrait, “He looks like Jeremy Irons.”
The familiar appeal of these two gentlemen is apparently global and this celebrity “sighting” has reignited a trend in our department, with previous sightings including Bill Murray and Paul Giamatti. So the pursuit of more doppelgängers is now in full swing. Happy hunting, and be sure to share what you snag!
—Judith Broggi, Department Coordinator of Prints and Drawings
Image Credit: Walter Greaves. James McNeill Whistler, 1869. A.A. Munger Collection.