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.
POSTED BY Guest Blogger, ON June 05, 2015, Comments Off on Paintings Make the Best Tour Guides
In the wildly popular HBO television series Game of Thrones, the dramatic landscapes match the high drama that plays out on screen. Many of the show’s most memorable scenes are shot on location in Northern Ireland—its rugged terrain, remote beaches, romantic ruins, and tempestuous weather offer the ideal setting for the often grim but always thrilling fantasy. Fans of the show from around the world have taken note and are flocking to key film sites, spurring a robust tourism industry.
That seeing a beautiful vista on screen might make you want to experience the place for yourself is hardly surprising, and thanks to success stories like Game of Thrones in Northern Ireland and The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit trilogies in New Zealand, travel marketers and tourism boards the world over are looking to brand through television and movies. But long before the advent of film, savvy artists and entrepreneurs marketed Ireland’s scenic beauty to well-heeled travelers through paintings, engravings, and even cartographic board games, examples of which can be seen in Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840.
Early views of Ireland in art were generally detailed drawings of major cities and ports made by draftsmen and mapmakers, but by the mid-eighteenth century, a growing appreciation for nature and a rising interest in landscape aesthetics saw an increase in site-specific works of the Irish countryside.
Landowners often commissioned paintings depicting the scenery around their stately homes. In the case of the view of Killarney shown above, local landowner Lord Kenmare and the self-taught artist Jonathan Fisher collaborated to produce a series of large paintings, which Fisher then turned into a book of engravings called A Picturesque Tour of Killarney. The book included specific instructions on how to view the lake from the best possible vantage points and was in high demand with both wealthy sightseers and those who could not make it to Killarney but sought a vicarious experience.
Another tourist locale in eighteenth-century Ireland made more popular by picturesque engravings was the Giant’s Causeway, a geological wonder on the island’s northeast coast in what is now Northern Ireland. The engravings seen below are based on paintings by Irish artist Susanna Drury, who is said to have spent three months living in the Causeway area while she completed her meticulous pictures. The equally-detailed engravings by François Vivares received wide European circulation.
Ireland’s popularity as a tourist destination was made manifest when Walker’s Tour through Ireland: A New Geographical Pastime was published in 1812. This map board game had players take turns progressing around the country from Dublin by spinning a top-like device called a totum and following a carefully constructed route of what were deemed the island’s must-see towns, estates, and landscapes. To win, a player had to land directly on place number 113, the “bold and romantic” Giant’s Causeway.
Whether eighteenth-century painters or twenty-first-century filmmakers, artists and in turn, tourists, have been inspired by the Irish landscape for centuries. If a trip across the pond is not in the cards, come be inspired by Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design before it closes June 21.
—Anna Decatur, Assistant Director of Principal Gifts
Thomas Sautelle Roberts. Stormy Landscape with Anglers, c. 1820. Private Collection.
Jonathan Fisher. A View of the Lakes of Killarney from the Park of Kenmare House, c. 1768. Private Collection.
Francois Vivares (Engraver). The East and West Prospects of the Giant’s Causeway, Co. Antrim, May 1, 1777. Rolf and Magda Loeber.
Published by William Darton Jr. Walker’s Tour through Ireland: A New Geographical Pastime, Published March 9, 1812. Rolf and Magda Loeber.
POSTED BY Guest Blogger, ON May 18, 2015, Comments Off on Insider’s Look
James Rondeau, is the Art Institute’s Dittmer Chair and Curator, Department of Modern and Contemporary Art and the exhibition curator of the recently opened Charles Ray: Sculpture, He recently spoke with our Member Magazine about some of his earliest artistic memories and why you shouldn’t be intimidated by contemporary art.
Do you remember when you were first drawn to art?
My mother was a Sunday painter, so I remember growing up with her paintings around the house, and I have strong memories of the occasional visit to Boston or New York museums for “blockbuster” exhibitions of Egyptian or Impressionist art. But it was not until college that I was alerted to art history as a discipline.
If you could pick one piece from the Art Institute’s collection for your office, what would it be?
Impossible. One of the great things about my job is that the quality and depth of our collection makes any such game of favorites truly beside the point. Yes, we are proud of our singular masterpieces, but our greatness comes as a whole that is more than the sum of its individual parts.
What were some of the installation challenges with “Charles Ray: Sculpture, 1997–2014″?
Every challenge presents an opportunity to learn more about the artist’s work and about our own museum, its incredible possibilities, and its occasional limitations. In this case, the extreme weight of some of Ray’s sculptures presented real challenges. Working with our colleagues in the Department of Design and Construction alongside a team of outside structural engineers, we were able to solve most every issue.
The Art Institute has been committed to collecting contemporary art since its founding. When the museum was first established, Monet was a contemporary artist. Do you feel any kind of pressure given this legacy, being responsible for finding the Monets of today?
Not pressure per se, but a great sense of responsibility. It’s useful to remember that all great art was once contemporary. To be sure, part of our mandate is to embrace the experimental and not to be afraid of risk. That said, we know who we are as an institution, we know our history, and we know the context we provide to artists and objects. All of this makes us different from many of our peer institutions that only collect contemporary art. Hopefully an understanding of these distinctions informs the decisions we make in the most positive sense.
You get to work with living artists. What’s one thing that would surprise people about the foremost artists of today?
Surprise? Not sure. But almost without exception, I am struck by the confluence of great artistic talent with incredibly agile, open, challenging minds and kind and generous personalities. That said, great artists can also be tough. They keep us on our toes.
You curated a major exhibition of the work of the artist and director Steve McQueen the year before he won the Oscar for Best Picture for 12 Years a Slave. Is this a rare crossover or the shape of things to come?
Steve is one of the great artists of his generation working with the moving image. We have presented his work twice here, first in a small exhibition in 2002 and then again with the survey we organized in 2012. I am proud that we recognized his talent early and then showed it in depth. Increasingly, artists who work with media move between formats (film, video, digital) and modes of distribution (the art gallery, the museum, the movie theater, television, the Internet). This fluidity makes things exciting but also makes identifying the differences between “art” and the “everyday” more of a challenge, possibly even irrelevant.
Some people try but struggle with contemporary art. What is your response to that?
Go with your instincts, but most contemporary art emerges from a basic paradox: because it sometimes does not look like traditional forms of expression, we find it alienating or off-putting. But precisely the opposite is intended. The revolutionary freedom inherent in contemporary art—the expanded set of possibilities for what a work of art can look like, how it can function, who can make it, and for what purposes—is meant to be both liberating and welcoming. Hopefully, we can find such an open field exciting rather than vexing.
Which would go best—a hearty red or crisp white wine—with work by the following artists: Roy Lichtenstein, Sol LeWitt, Ed Paschke, Jackson Pollock, and John Chamberlain?
At least one glass of each.
POSTED BY Guest Blogger, ON May 06, 2015, Comments Off on Orange and Green and Everything in Between
In March, Ireland: Crossroads of Art and Design, 1690–1840 opened at the museum. While the century and a half the exhibition covers is noted as one of relative peace and stability in Ireland, the era was not without its conflicts. About a hundred years after the Battle of the Boyne, an unexpected group of revolutionaries led a major uprising against British rule.
But first, some background. Despite the adage that nothing is black and white, when it comes to historical conflict, we tend to divide those involved into distinct oppositions rather than consider the innumerable subtleties. Such is the case with Ireland, where popular perception of the political and religious division is not black and white, but green and orange.
This cut and dried dichotomy is embodied in Ireland’s national flag (first introduced in 1848), with green representing republicanism, or the tenet that all of Ireland should be an independent republic, and orange representing the supporters of William of Orange and those who felt Ireland should remain subject to Great Britain. Similarly but less militantly, green is also tied to Irish nationalism—the advocacy of a united Ireland and the promotion of Irish culture and language—and orange to unionism, or the belief that Ireland should retain political ties to Great Britain. Each color is also associated with the majority religion on either side—green for Catholics and orange for Protestants. The white at the flag’s center signifies the hope for lasting peace between the two groups.
Green versus orange, republican versus loyalist, nationalist versus unionist, Catholic versus Protestant—these are the dualities that have come to define Ireland’s divisive past, but as the Irish Rebellion of 1798 demonstrates, no conflict is so straightforward.
The 1798 rebellion was a major bid for Ireland’s independence first set in motion not by the Catholic majority but by a group of liberal Protestants who sought to “abolish the differences that had long divided Irishmen.” Founded in Belfast in 1791, they were fittingly called the Society of United Irishmen, and their membership crossed religious and class divides to include Catholics, Presbyterians, Methodists, and even some members of the Protestant Ascendancy (those Anglican aristocratic families whose authority in Ireland was solidified by William’s victory at the Boyne).
Inspired by the recent revolutions in France and America, the Society’s main ambitions were radical reform of the Irish parliament and Catholic emancipation. The British government—at war with France and increasingly concerned with the prospect of invasion—felt the United Irishmen’s progressive principles and brazen veneration of the French posed a dangerous threat. Society membership was made illegal, and the United Irishmen were forced underground where they began to plan an armed revolt for independence with French support.
Fighting broke out in May of 1798, but due to a series of mishaps and divided leadership, the rebellion was swiftly and ruthlessly defeated. In response, the Act of Union was passed in 1800, which officially united Great Britain and Ireland, closed Irish parliament, and returned all governing decisions to Westminster in London..
The Irish Rebellion of 1798 was very much a “green”—i.e. republican—cause, but its leaders were almost entirely Protestant; a fact that was obscured for many years in Ireland to suit popular versions of history. Several men of this period who defy the color categorization appear in our exhibition:
Charles Cornwallis was a decorated British general who was appointed lord lieutenant—the highest post in Ireland —in the wake of the rebellion. Cornwallis helped pass the Act of Union but pushed King George for Catholic rights. He resigned when his requests went unheeded, but his actions laid the groundwork for future emancipation movements.
Henry Grattan was a Protestant aristocrat, Irish politician, and renowned orator who devoted his career to Irish legislative freedom and Catholic emancipation.
Visit the exhibition to see these men’s likenesses and learn more about the whole spectrum of Ireland’s colorful history.
—Anna Decatur, Assistant Director of Principal Gifts
Dublin, Ireland. Dublin Castle Pattern 1769 Short Land Musket with Bayonet, 1770-75. Walnut, iron/steel, and brass. Private Collection.
Hugh Douglas Hamilton. Charles Cornwallis, 1st Marquess Cornwallis, 1772. Pastel and chalk on paper. Private Collection.
Peter Turnerelli. Henry Grattan, 1820. Marble. Private Collection.