Unthinking Admission

POSTED BY , ON August 13, 2014, 2 COMMENTS

Teen 1

A teacup set too close to the edge of a table, bumping into a teacher at the grocery store, walking into a room and forgetting what you were supposed to be doing there. . . these situations can evoke a feeling of strange unease. The teacup might fall and break! Teachers exist outside of the classroom? Why am I here again?

And I find that looking at a Surrealist artwork can give a similar uncomfortable sensation. Which is kind of the point. Surrealists strove to present absurd, fantastic, unreal ideas to people. They wanted to put all of the crazy thoughts and images floating around in people’s minds out into the world, which resulted in strange, weird, and even unnerving images.

In this spirit of surrealism and inspired by the museum’s current Magritte exhibition, we wanted to invite people to engage in an activity fitting the theme of Magritte’s paintings: Surrealist Pricing. Instead of paying for a ticket to the museum, we asked guests to bring in objects of surrealism in exchange for free admission to the museum’s Magritte exhibition.

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On July 24th, people were (ma)greeted at the Monroe entrance by museum interns and Teen Council members ready to accept their items. Some people brought in art, some brought in cans. One person gave a giant beach ball! At the end of the night, there were carts full of knick knacks, art, and various everyday items that had been exchanged for tickets to the exhibition.

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Then last Thursday night, all of the objects we received (all 490 of them!) were put on display during a one night pop-up event. The Teen Council members worked with the Magritte exhibition’s curatorial team to set up and arrange the objects. Some of my favorite pieces included: foreign currency, a cat’s bed, a wallet complete with ID, credit cards, and $23 (the price of regular museum admission), a broken cookie jar, decorated shoes, a ladle, a shovel, and a stuffed bear made into a musical instrument.

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And at the end of the night, all these seemingly ordinary objects combined together for one very surreal display.

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—Stephanie Zhao, Museum Education Intern

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Celebrity Doppelgängers

POSTED BY , ON July 02, 2014, 1 COMMENTS

Rembrandt Giamatti

One thing you might not expect to find while browsing Rembrandt van Rijn’s prints is a doppelgänger for the veteran actor Paul Giamatti. But that’s just what I found in the midst of an intensive Rembrandt project!

The print in question is a 1641 etching depicting the Dutch Mennonite preacher and cloth merchant Cornelis Claesz. Anslo. A celebrated citizen of his time, Anslo was not only memorialized by Rembrandt in print form; he and his wife were the subjects of a 1641 double portrait painting, also by Rembrandt. In the print, Anslo is shown at a desk with several heavy tomes, looking up from his reading, perhaps addressing a congregant outside of the composition.

As far as the celebrity resemblance goes, it is easy to see something of Paul Giamatti, best known for his performances in The Truman Show, Sideways, and Cinderella Man, in the face of this 17th-century figure. Particularly, Paul Giamatti’s be-hatted, bearded look as Chief Inspector Uhl in The Illusionist (2006) is a pretty good ringer for the stoic, similarly attired Anslo.  Additionally, the intensity in their eyes and their close facial structures lend to this celebrity doppelganger comparison.

Though he doesn’t have the same Chicago pedigree as our first doppelgänger, Bill Murray, Giamatti has been recognized by our own Chicago Film Critics Association for many of his supporting roles.   Additionally, The Negotiator (1998), a thriller featuring Giamatti in a supporting part, is set in the Windy City.

Although Rembrandt’s “Giamatti” is not currently on display, there are other wonderful prints by the artist in Gallery 208A.  And anyone can book an appointment to come see this fascinating  doppelgänger etching, and many other works on paper in The Jean and Steven Goldman Study Center.

—Deborah Krieger, Summer Intern in the Department of Prints and Drawings

Image Credit:

Rembrandt van Rijn. Cornelius Claesz. Anslo, Preacher, 1641. Clarence Buckingham Collection.

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Members on Magritte

POSTED BY , ON June 23, 2014, 1 COMMENTS

Magritte Member Previews

Members of the Art Institute can always count on being the first to explore every major exhibition, and Magritte: Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 is no exception. With three preview days (that are still going on as I write this!), members gain exclusive access to the first major museum show to focus on Magritte’s most profoundly inventive and experimental years. During the previews, we also host three exclusive Member Lectures for a behind-the-scenes look at the exhibition.

Since members are some of the museum’s best ambassadors, it’s always exciting to see how they’ll react to a new exhibition. Starting on Saturday, they made their way through the unconventionally-designed galleries filled with René Magritte’s extraordinary and indelible works and the response was both positive and surreal. “The galleries are so lush and amazing, the dark rooms really draw you in,” one member described. Many members also took advantage of the member lectures given by Senior Lecturer, Annie Morse, and Exhibition Research Associate, Elizabeth McGoey. One member said she “loved Annie’s sense of humor which made the concept of surrealism very approachable.” Members really embraced the theme of the weekend, offering us some of their favorite surreal sayings, like “the earth is blue, just like an orange.”

Our member previews end today, but the perks don’t stop here. Members have the chance to catch mid-exhibition lectures on Thursday, August 28 and Saturday, August 30, as well as closing lectures on Sunday, October 5, Tuesday, October 7, and Thursday, October 9. Click the dates above to make your reservations now. Want to take part in these member exclusives? Join today!

— Courtney G., Manager of Events and Programs for Member Experience

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Collection Connections

POSTED BY , ON May 15, 2014, Comments Off


In addition to displaying our permanent collection, the museum’s contemporary galleries also showcase smaller exhibitions. Through June 1, those galleries will feature two of Dayanita Singh’s photographic series, including one recently acquired by the Art Institute called Myself Mona Ahmed. The series was inspired by Singh’s meeting the outcast eunuch Mona Ahmed (a combination of female and male first names) on assignment in 1989. The two, who became fast friends and remain very close to this day, have together endeavored to think through and explain what it means to be truly unique in the world. “She wanted to tell the story,” writes Singh, “of being neither here nor there, neither male nor female, and finally, neither a eunuch nor someone like me.”


Other artists in the museum’s collection have also featured eunuchs, but more often delve into their unique historic positions. Read on for more examples. . .


Both Rembrandt (above) and Sir Edward Burne-Jones (below) depicted the biblical story of an Ethiopian eunuch’s baptism and conversion to Christianity. In the ancient world, eunuchs were trusted at the highest levels of royal courts, as their name translates from Latin as “bedroom guard.”


A eunuch can also be seen in our upcoming exhibition Temptation: The Demons of James Ensor (coming in November!). The drawing below shows Ensor’s depiction of Queen Parysatis, whose story is told by Plutarch’s Life of Artaxerxes. After “winning” the court eunuch from a round of gambling intended to resolve a marriage conflict, Queen Parysatis seeks vengeance on her husband Artaxerxes by having the eunuch, Masabates, flayed alive. Yikes!


—P.D. Young, Production Coordinator, Imaging

Image Credits:

Installation shot of Dayanita Singh

Dayanita Singh. When Chaman took Ayesha from me, I could not bear the pain, so I would come to the graveyard to tell my pain to the dead people and my only friend, Dayanita, who liked the old Hindi film songs that I sang for her, from the series Myself Mona Ahmed, 1998, printed 2008. Photography Associates and Contemporary Art Discretionary Funds. Courtesy of Dayanita Singh and Frith Street Gallery.

Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn. The Baptism of the Eunuch, 1641. John H. Wrenn Memorial Collection.

Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Saint Philip Baptising the Eunuch, 1853/98. The Charles Deering Collection.

James Ensor. The Temptation of Saint Anthony, 1887. Regenstein Endowment and the Louise B. and Frank H. Woods Purchase Fund. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels.

James Ensor. Queen Parysatis, 1899. Gift of Mrs. Marjorie B. Kovler. © 2014 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SABAM, Brussels.


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Solving a Mummy Mystery

POSTED BY , ON March 31, 2014, Comments Off

You’ve waited patiently and we are happy to announce that we’re ready to share some truly shocking findings from the recent CT scans of our Egyptian mummies. But first, let’s back up for a minute.

In 1988, while on loan to The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, the mummy Wenuhotep underwent a CT scan. Based on the information obtained from the scans, a reconstruction (pictured below) was created showing a woman—the daughter of a priest—combing her hair while holding a mirror.

Mummy Reconstruction

After the mummy returned to Chicago in 2007 the existing data was re-examined by Egyptologist Dr. Emily Teeter from the Oriental Institute Museum. The results lead to the first major discovery—that the coffin and the mummy were not a stylistic match. It states on the coffin that we have an inscription naming “Wenuhotep.” But while the coffin dates to around 780 B.C., the mummification style of the body is that of the Ptolemaic Period (323-30 B.C.). The two could have been created as many as 500 years apart. We now had an anonymous female mummy with little information other than the time period from which it was created.  So last month we set out to see if new, high-tech CT scans could help us learn more about this mystery woman. And what we learned was completely unexpected.

We enlisted the help of radiologist Dr. Michael Vannier, from the University of Chicago Medical Center and Dr. Teeter to rescan the two Art Institute mummies on February 19. Both had recently collaborated on the mummy “Meresamun” in the Oriental Institute Museum’s collection. For this project Dr. Vannier devised a new protocol using a Philips iCT spiral CT scanner on four energies (80, 100, 120, 140 KV), combining the data to give superior resolution and definition. To our knowledge, this is the first time Egyptian mummies have been examined with four energies. Dr. Vannier and Robert Klein, RT begin painstakingly reviewing the scans and creating state-of-the-art renderings.

Mummy Scan1

But even as early as when the female mummy, formally known as Wenuhotep, was on the scanning table, did Dr. Vannier begin to notice some peculiarities.   For one thing, the skeleton is robust and the stature is atypically large for a female. Additionally, the pelvis is more characteristic of a male. We had hoped to learn details of her life—if she had had children or how she may have died—but our findings began to raise different questions.

To prove his suspicions, Dr. Vannier prepared 3D and multiplanar reconstructions (MPR).  The telltale sign that something was amiss was verified by the presence of male genitalia. Turns out, the mummy is a … daddy!

Mummy Scan2

In the above image two parallel forms can be seen between the legs.  In front of the penis is a larger object. According to Dr. Teeter it is not uncommon to have some sort of structure wrapped with the penis, such as a reed, an extra roll of linen, or another type of structure thickly coated with resin. By using multi-energy scans, Dr. Vannier should be able to discern the material used for this structure.  Stay tuned for more exciting results and for theories as to why the Egyptians may have mummified the male member in this manner.  (A hint: Osiris, the fertility god.)

While reinstallation of the Egyptian galleries is still a ways off, we hope to make much of the data and images gained from this research available to the public on our website. The funding for this project, including the extensive conservation of the mummy, formally known as Wenuhotep, is generously provided by the Perucca Family Foundation. We are deeply grateful to Terry and Cynthia Perucca for their support and encouragement.

—Mary Greuel, The Elizabeth McIlvaine Assistant Curator of Ancient Art, Department of Ancient & Byzantine Art

Image Captions:

Reconstruction of Wenuhotep, Children’s Museum of Indianapolis, approximately 1989–2009

Scan of the Ptolemaic Mummy (formally known as Wenuhotep)

Scan of the Ptolemaic Mummy (formally known as Wenuhotep)



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