Dionysos Across the Museum

POSTED BY , ON September 30, 2015, 0 COMMENTS


If our musings on Dionysos Unmasked: Ancient Sculptures and Early Prints have left you wanting more, you’re in luck! Tributes to the intoxicating god of wine and theater appear throughout the museum.

Head to the Jaharis Galleries of Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Art to see the stamnos (or mixing jar) pictured above, which would have been used for diluting wine with water. Each side of the vessel features three women preparing for a festival devoted to Dionysos. The woman on the left holds a rhyton (or drinking cup) and the woman in the middle holds a thyrsos (or ritual staff). The staff is topped with ivy leaves, which were sacred to Dionysos and often feature prominently in artwork that honors the god. . . like the coin below!

Dionysos Coin

This coin shows two different depictions of Dionysos. On the left, we see a young Dionysos, with elaborately styled hair and an ivy crown with berries on it. On the right, Dionysos is portrayed a bit older. He carries a bunch of grapes in his right hand and a cloak and rod in his left. Impress your friends by noticing that the Ancient Greek writing on the far right spells Dionysos.

We invite you to visit Dionysos Unmasked and then explore the rest of the collection to find even more portrayals of this much-depicted god. And if you have the inclination, honor Dionysos the way he would have wanted—with a drink in one of the museum’s cafés!

Image Credits:

Attributed to the Chicago Painter. Stamnos (Mixing Jar), about 450 B.C. Greek, Athens. Gift of Philip D. Armour and Charles L. Hutchinson.

Tetradrachm (Coin) Depicting the God Dionysos, mid-2nd Century B.C. Greek, minted in Maroneia (Thrace). Gift of Mrs. Emily Crane Chadbourne.

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Coming Soon: David Adjaye

POSTED BY , ON September 16, 2015, 0 COMMENTS


Making Place: The Architecture of David Adjaye opens on Saturday, but we wanted to give you a little sneak peek of the exhibition. The image above shows just a tiny corner of the model for one of Adjaye’s most prestigious projects—the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture—which is set to open in 2016.

And below, check out a detail of Horizon, a life-sized pavilion that visitors are welcome to enter. Click here to learn more about the exhibition from the curator and see a time-lapse installation of Horizon.


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Work of the Week: Hodler

POSTED BY , ON August 21, 2015, Comments Off on Work of the Week: Hodler


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!

And finally, a quick sidenote for all of you Top Chef/celebrity doppelgänger fans (it might be a small group). . . What do you think about this comparison?

Ferdinand Hodler. James Vibert, Sculptor, 1907. Helen Birch Bartlett Memorial Collection.

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A View from Below, Part Five

POSTED BY , ON August 07, 2015, 1 COMMENTS


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.

Screen Shot 2015-08-07 at 12.20.02 PM

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!


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Insider’s Look: Russell Collett

POSTED BY , ON July 08, 2015, Comments Off on Insider’s Look: Russell Collett

Collett Picture with Jacket

Russell Collett, the Art Institute’s Associate Vice President for Protection Services describes the museum’s multi-layered security approach as “both overt and covert.” And he should know. In addition to his years at the Art Institute, he spent 25 years with the Secret Service.

Russell was recently profiled in the museum’s Member Magazine and discusses what it’s like to ride on Air Force One and if the museum has any plans to reinstate the German Shepherds that used to help guard our building. Here is an excerpt from his interview, as well as a few additional fun facts. . .

You have had high-profile jobs in the past, such as working for the Secret Service. How has that prepared you for working at the Art Institute of Chicago?

I was trained from my first day at the Secret Service to build a prevention-based environment. We always look at preventing crime and preventing an attack on our people or assets. Today, that same goal is on my mind every day—to empower my team and all museum staff to build that prevention-based, forward-thinking, collaborative model. Security is everybody’s responsibility.

There are actually a lot of similarities between the Secret Service and the museum in terms of tradition, history, the mission of the people who work there, and collaboration. I spent 10 of my 25+ years with the Secret Service at the White House. It’s a museum in and of itself, and it is constantly hosting dignitaries and events. Here at the museum, we host 1,300 events a year. Being able to work collaboratively with the folks who plan these successful events is similar to the work I did at the White House.

It’s also similar from a facilities standpoint. The White House has its own curator, engineers, electricians, painters, housekeeping, gardeners, and contractors. All those folks work together on the daily operations of the White House, just as we do here.

What would surprise people about working for the Secret Service?

It’s not always as glamorous as it seems. You’d be surprised at how boring it is sometimes. It’s a 24/7/365 job, and no matter where you are, there’s somebody standing outside a door in the middle of the night protecting a president or dignitary, walking a patrol, or manning a command center. It’s similar to what we do here—our department secures our people and facilities the same way.

What’s one of your favorite perks of being an Art Institute staff member?

Being able to walk through the museum alone before the doors open to the public and to be in the presence of history. Our department brand is “protecting history.” Each of us has this ability and obligation to play a part.

What’s the most important security tip for people’s homes?

Lock your doors. Keep an emergency supply kit and have a plan. Check on your elderly neighbors and trust your gut.

What’s a movie or television show that gets the security profession totally wrong? The West Wing? Homeland? Night at the Museum? White House Down? First Kid?

No profession is ever portrayed with complete accuracy, but when it comes to accuracy in the White House, The West Wing got it totally wrong with all the walking. The White House isn’t that big. The characters would walk for minutes going from the Oval Office to the Cabinet Room exchanging rapid-fire conversation, and the two rooms were actually steps from each other. Also, the White House press room is a lot smaller than it appears on television.

You are the proud father of triplet daughters. Is working at the Art Institute more or less challenging than raising triplets?

It’s about the same. Our girls were born literally one minute apart but they are so different. So are the people who come through our doors. I get to interact with a diverse group of people—members and guests with various stages of knowledge about art. It’s all about the customer experience.


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