Calling All Artists!

POSTED BY , ON June 20, 2014, Comments Off


René Magritte’s unexpected treatments of ordinary objects in the first half of the 20th century influenced the next generation of artists, including Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and Ed Ruscha. And now. . . you.

We’ve once again teamed up with Threadless to create a design challenge inspired by our upcoming Magritte exhibition. We’re asking you to reach deep into the darkest recesses of your imagination and create an original—and very surreal—t-shirt design.

And did we mention there are prizes? In addition to your shirt being printed by Threadless, you’ll also receive $2,000, a $500 Threadless gift card, and the ultimate art book library. Plus, your t-shirt will be showcased at an upcoming event at the Art Institute.

For Chicagoans, we invite you to check out the exhibition for some inspiration. Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 opens to members tomorrow and to the public on Tuesday.

Happy creating!

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The Sun Never Sets on Magritte

POSTED BY , ON June 12, 2014, Comments Off

The Banquet

When Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 opens in less than two weeks, it will include some of the Art Institute’s best known works by Magritte—like Time Transfixed—but it won’t include many others—like The Banquet, pictured above—painted in the decades after 1938.

Magritte developed his artistic vocabulary in the 1920s and 30s, but even 20 years later, you can still see some of the artistic hallmarks that he carried forward to his later career. Similar to much of his early work, this was painted in a straightforward, realist style. You can recognize all of the elements of the painting—an architectural balustrade, a dense forest, and a sun—but in typical Magritte fashion, everything isn’t where you might expect it to be. If you were in fact standing on this terrace, this looming red sun would be hidden behind all of the trees. This is a twist on a Surrealist idea called displacement, or moving something from its proper place.

This painting was part of a larger series in which Magritte experimented with varying qualities of light at different times of day. In one painting, a crescent moon fills the sky and in another, the sky is gray-blue. In this version, the orange-red sky and the strong glow of the setting sun contrasting with the landscape combine to create what Magritte himself referred to as a “charge of strangeness.”

We invite you to the museum for this exciting exhibition, but then we hope you’ll take a walk through the rest of our Modern galleries to see The Banquet and continue the dialogue on Magritte and surrealism.

Image Credits: René Magritte. The Banquet, 1958. Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection. © 2014 C. Herscovici, London / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


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Hearing from the Horse’s Mouth

POSTED BY , ON June 06, 2014, Comments Off


It’s always a treat to hear directly from an artist. But the experience is even better when the artist—in this case, Josef Koudelka—is so remarkably candid about his process, inspirations, and what makes good art.

Last night, Czech-born French artist Josef Koudelka—with Matthew S. Witkovsky, the Richard and Ellen Sandor Chair and Curator, Department of Photography at the Art Institute of Chicago and Amanda Maddox, assistant curator at the Getty Museum—spoke to a packed house in the Art Institute’s Fullerton Hall. Visitors were welcomed by lively Romani music, in direct reference to Koudelka’s early photographic series Gypsies (example above), for which he visited Roma populations for weeks at a time in his home country and later abroad over the course of years. Koudelka said that he’s often asked why he chose to photograph gypsies and that he hoped that the entrance music provided the answer to that question.


He also spoke extensively about what makes a good photograph—one that gets into your head and speaks to different people for different reasons—and his process for determining good photographs. He is an incredibly discerning editor of his own work, evaluating each image on a contact sheet and circling images that are the best or images that might have potential. He only publishes and puts his full name on his best images—the ones he eventually wants to be remembered for. In his words, there are “no great photographers, only great photographs.”

And for all of you aspiring photographers, he offered some great final advice: discover what you love, photograph it, and buy good shoes. Now those are words to live by.

Josef Koudelka: Nationality Doubtful opens tomorrow to the public and runs through September 14.

Image Credits:

Josef Koudelka. Romania, from the series Gypsies, 1968, printed 1980s. Promised gift of Robin and Sandy Stuart. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.

Josef Koudelka. (Student on tank, eyes crossed out), from the series Invasion, August 21/27, 1968. © Josef Koudelka/Magnum Photos. Courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery, New York.

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Acquiring Nighthawks

POSTED BY , ON May 23, 2014, Comments Off

Hopper, Nighthawks

The Art Institute has always collected the art of its time. Which means that since the museum opened in the late 1800s, it has always put a priority on acquiring art that was recently created. Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, one of the museum’s most well known paintings, takes that to another level, as it joined the museum’s collection in 1942, the very year that it was painted.

In May of that year, Hopper himself wrote to Art Institute director Daniel Catton Rich that he was “very much pleased that you like my Nighthawks well enough to acquire it for the Art Institute. It is, I believe, one of the very best things I have painted. I seem to have come nearer to saying what I want to say in my work, this past winter, than I ever have before.”

This pared down painting—notice the lack of trash in the street, as well as the empty counters in the diner—has a timeless, universal quality that transcends its particular locale. Fluorescent lights had just come into use in the early 1940s, and the all-night diner emits an eerie glow, like a beacon on the dark street corner. Hopper eliminated any reference to an entrance, and the viewer, drawn to the light, is shut out from the scene by a seamless wedge of glass. The four anonymous and uncommunicative night owls seem as separate and remote from the viewer as they are from one another. (The red-haired woman was actually modeled by the artist’s wife, Jo.)

Fun fact: What other famous—and often parodied—painting was acquired by the museum the year it was painted? None other than Grant Wood’s American Gothic.

Image Credit: Edward Hopper. Nighthawks, 1942. Friends of American Art Collection

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Art Every-Wear

POSTED BY , ON May 02, 2014, Comments Off

Ready to Wear

When Ready-to-Wear was painted in 1955, one of the prevailing artistic styles was Abstract Expressionism. And at first glance, it’s easy to see how this painting might be grouped with the works of Pollock or Rothko. But as you look a little closer and learn more about Stuart Davis’s intentions, you’ll begin to recognize his distinctive modernist style and understand how this painting fit into his artistic agenda of portraying real life in modern America and reflecting the everyday experience.

The title refers to ready-to-wear clothing, a phrase that was introduced in a Montgomery Ward catalogue in 1895 and referred to clothing that was made in factories in standard sizes, as opposed to clothing that was tailored specifically for the wearer. The development of ready-to-wear made store-bought clothing imminently more accessible.

Knowing his inspiration, you can begin to read the the different shapes of color as scraps of fabric on a black table. In the top right, you’ll see an ‘X’ shape that perhaps indicates a pair of scissors. The vibrancy of the colors also contribute to a sense of movement that might represent the energy of the burgeoning fashion industry.

The Art Institute acquired this painting in 1956, just a year after it was painted, from Davis’s New York dealer. At the time, Art Institute curator Katharine Kuh wrote about her excitement in adding it to the museum’s collection:

[Director] Dan Rich is crazy about the picture and, as you know only too well, I am too. Naturally, we have to put it through our Committee meeting but I foresee only delight on their part.

If you feel similarly, you can vote for this painting on Art Everywhere and it could be chosen to be a part of the largest outdoor art exhibition ever. Click here before May 7 to vote.

Image Credit: Stuart Davis. Ready-to-Wear, 1955. Restricted gift of Mr. and Mrs. Sigmund W. Kunstadter; Goodman Endowment.

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