Mother’s Day may bring to mind a number of iconic works at the Art Institute: Mary Cassatt’s The Child’s Bath, Pablo Picasso’s Mother and Child, or any number of Madonna and Child paintings. But despite the fact that some of my favorite mother/child combos may be less well-known, I think they still exude feelings of motherly love. They’re also decidedly less human—they both feature animals from the Alsdorf Galleries.
One of my favorites is the Indonesian Simian Mother and Child, a sculpture that packs a double punch of cuteness with a mother and baby monkey hugging each other tightly. And less than 50 feet away is a lovely pink sandstone, Cow Suckling a Calf. Created in the ninth century by an unknown sculptor, this naturalist relief panel depicts a mother and her young calf. Though she stands protectively over her baby, the mother cow’s quiet, steady gaze invites us to share in what would otherwise be a private and intimate moment.
Although we don’t know exactly where this tableau originated (most likely it came from a Hindu temple in central India), we know from her down-turned ears, curved horns, doe eyes, and hump back, that this cow probably belonged to a distinctive breed of Brahman cattle originally from India, where cows are sacred animals. Regarded as the “nourishing mother,” even the cow’s waste matter would have been used for fuel and during purification rituals.
I’m a big fan of cute animals (Ed. note: truer words have never been written), so this work in particular has always stood out to me. But beyond the adorable size of the baby cow, nestled so perfectly beneath her mother’s belly, I love the piece for its delicate and honest portrayal of the special bond between mother and child. So if you’re visiting this weekend with your mom, be sure to take a stroll through the Alsdorf galleries and pay a visit to a few unconventional representations of a mother and child.
India, Madhya or Uttar Pradesh. Cow Suckling a Calf, c. 9th century. James W. and Marilynn Alsdorf Collection.
—Jocelin S., Social Media Coordinator
POSTED BY Katie R., ON April 22, 2011, Comments Off
The adorable bunny above was not created in honor of Easter, but rather in celebration of the Chinese Year of the Rabbit. The rising sun is one of the most common symbols of the New Year and the artist, Yabu Chosui, interpreted the luminous sun as an exceptionally over-sized rabbit.
While it is not currently on view, a quick trip through the galleries found at least 11 bunnies in artwork up at the museum. I was surprised to find so many, but after all, they are known as being rather prolific at procreation. How many can you find? Where are they? Did we miss a few?
Yabu Chosui. Portrait of a Rabbit, 1867. Charles H. Mitchell Collection.
Without putting too much of a damper on the holiday spirit, I am reminded of a childhood ritual in my home of canopying the living room floor with mounds of shredded wrapping paper. It would normally take several garbage bags to contain the waste and restore order to the household once again. In sober contrast to these halcyon days of environmental ambivalence, Japan’s rich cultural history offers us a more sustainable alternative, and four hundred years before going green was fashionable.
Covering a gift with a fukusa became a formal aspect of the gift-giving ritual among Japan’s aristocracy during the Edo period (1615–1867). Originally confined to urban centers like Kyoto and Edo (modern day Tokyo), a fukusa was a square piece of fine cloth, usually satin silk, embroidered or yûzen-dyed with colorful forms that reflected the occasion for which the gift was given. For example, a fukusa might bear the “three friends of winter”—the pine, plum tree, and bamboo—which symbolized perseverance in the New Year. Fukusa were designed and crafted by the finest artists of the day, and indicated the giver’s wealth and social status. Traditionally received on a lacquer tray, the recipient removed the fukusa by the tassel so as to not smudge the finely crafted cloth. After properly admiring the fukusa’s beauty, the recipient graciously returned the tray and fukusa to the donor. Keeping the fukusa was the prerogative of only the most privileged in society, and would be considered to be extremely rude under normal circumstances.
As the merchant class grew more prominent in the 19th century, so did aristocratic practices like giving gifts covered with fukusa. As the practice moved beyond the urban centers from which it sprang, the mon, or family crest, was added to the lining side to indicate familial derivation. Of course, in the years prior to the Meiji Restoration of 1871, practicing Christianity was illegal, as were Christmas holidays in general. Fukusa were most often given at weddings, New Year’s, and other annual festivals. However, in later years, Christmas Eve became a popular secular holiday for young couples, similar to Valentine’s Day, and we might assume at least a few fukusa were used on such occasions. The manufacture of fukusa gained a late resurgence in the 19th century, as Westerners first discovered their exquisite craftsmanship. European and American art dealers ordered hundreds of them for display as works of art. In Japan, however, the practice of giving a gift with a fukusa has fallen out of use. You can find a considerable number of these rare artifacts in the Art Institute’s permanent collection.
Fukusa (Gift Cover), mid-Meiji period 1868–1912, c. 1895. Gift of Mary V. and Ralph E. Hays.
Fukusa (Gift Cover), Taishô period (1912–1926), 1912/26. Gift of Mary V. and Ralph E. Hays.
POSTED BY Erin H., ON November 18, 2010, Comments Off
It’s Thursday afternoon, the week before Thanksgiving. Here at the Art Institute, we’re feeling extra thankful. Why, you might ask? First, we’re excited to announce that we’ve had such an amazing public response to Jitish Kallat’s Public Notice 3 that we will be extending the piece through May 1, 2011–four months longer than we originally planned. We’ve been able to watch people enjoying the work on the Grand Staircase every day, and we’re also grateful to our visitors who have written in to the museum praising the piece. Second, our colleagues across Michigan Avenue at the School of the Art Institute will be offering a special interdisciplinary graduate class next semester called “Museum as Critical Curriculum,” focused on artistic interaction and collaboration with Public Notice 3. Finally, we’re celebrating the fact that the artist has very generously gifted this provocative, site-specific work of art to our permanent collection. To learn more about the work, watch this video interview between Kallat and curator Madhuvanti Ghose in which they discuss the significance of the artist’s first major presentation in an American museum.
By Jitish Kallat
Jitish Kallat’s installation, Public Notice 3, opens at the Art Institute of Chicago tomorrow, September 11, 2010. The artist was generous enough to give us his thoughts on the work for ARTicle. Public Notice 3 draws on the historical convergence of an enormously influential call for religious tolerance by Swami Vivekananda at the Art Institute on September 11, 1893 and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The installation will be on view until January 2, 2011.
This Saturday, September 11, as Public Notice 3 takes up tenancy on the risers of the Art Institute’s Grand Staircase, one of the elements it draws upon is the memory inscribed within the architecture of the museum building (site) and commences its engagement with the visiting public by evoking recent memories enshrined within 9/11 (date).
Through its connection with the history of this building, it evokes yet another date, that of the first Parliament of Religions that took place at this very site at the Art Institute on September 11, 1893. The Parliament was the first attempt to create a global convergence of faiths—not nations, possibly with the knowledge that in the future it will not “only” be nations that become sole commissioners of carnage—and Public Notice 3 overlays these contrasting moments like a palimpsest.
On September 11, 1893, the crowd of 7,000 was addressed by Swami Vivekananda. Now his speech is illuminated, conceptually and actually, in the threat coding system of the United States Department of Homeland Security. I find it interesting how the advisory system co-opts five colours from a visual artist’s toolbox into the rhetoric of terror, by framing them as devices to meter and broadcast threat (much like its predecessors, the British BIKINI alert state and the French vigipirate). Treating the museum’s Grand Staircase almost like a notepad, the 118 step-risers receive the refracted text of the speech. I see Public Notice 3 as an experiential and contemplative transit space; the text of the speech is doubled at the two entry points on the lower levels of the staircase and quadrupled at the four exit points at the top, multiplying like a visual echo.