Work of the Week: Picasso

POSTED BY , ON March 22, 2013, Comments Off on Work of the Week: Picasso

Picasso, Fernande Head

We’ve talked about this year being the 100th anniversary of the Armory Show, but this Sunday, March 24, marks the exact day that this landmark exhibition opened at the Art Institute a century ago. We’ve also talked about the exhibition Picasso and Chicago, which celebrates the artist’s connection with our fair city, beginning with the Armory Show. And so for our work of the week, I thought an object that was in both the 1913 and 2013 shows would be most appropriate.

Picasso created this Cubist sculpture of his mistress, Fernande Olivier, in the fall of 1909, during which time Fernande served frequently as a  subject for the artist. Cubism—as conceived by Picasso and fellow artist George Braque—presents an object from several perspectives simultaneously. Here we see faceted forms that give us a sense of both the inside and outside of Fernande’s head, illustrated as repeating convex shapes.

At the time of the Armory Show, the sculpture was owned by photographer, collector, and gallery owner Alfred Stieglitz. After Stieglitz’s death, it came to the Art Institute as a gift, along with many other works, including the drawing for the sculpture seen adjacent to it in the exhibition.

Image Credit: Pablo Picasso. Head of a Woman (Fernande), 1909. The Art Institute of Chicago, Alfred Stieglitz Collection. © 2013 Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

An Insider’s Look at the Armory Show

POSTED BY , ON March 12, 2013, Comments Off on An Insider’s Look at the Armory Show

 Armory Show Splash Page-1

The recently opened Picasso and Chicago will celebrate the long history of the artist’s relationship with the city. But 100 years ago this month, when the art of Picasso and his contemporaries was displayed at the museum for the very first time, it was met with shock, controversy, outrage. . . and record-breaking crowds. In 1913, the Art Institute hosted the International Exhibition of Modern Art, better known today as the Armory Show. That revolutionary exhibit introduced the Chicago public to some of the most radical art of the day.

The Armory Show had such a huge impact on modern art in America that critics and art historians have continued to write about it for the last 100 years. To offer something new, we wanted to create an in-depth and interactive resource about how the exhibit came to be, what the public thought about it, and even what it looked like. This month we’ve launched a special online exhibition all about the Armory Show in Chicago and its legacy.

Just as the organizers of the Armory Show wanted to embrace the “new spirit” of the times, the online exhibition marks this important anniversary in a way that celebrates 1913 but belongs to 2013. A permanent part of the museum’s website, the Armory Show online exhibit will be a lasting tribute to the show that established the Art Institute as a venue for modern art and that changed the course of art collecting in Chicago. This project called for a museum-wide team, involving many different departments. Old newspapers were scoured, personal letters were brought to light again, and the original exhibition pamphlets were tracked down and digitized. Now you can tour the 1913 show on your phone or tablet while walking through the very same galleries today. Or read about the fate of “Henry Hairmatress” at home in your pajamas.

AS Gallery Explorer - Gallery 50 Northeast

Possibly the most exciting part of the website is the gallery explorer. Looking at photographs of the exhibition found in our Archives, we went through each image trying to identify as many works of art as we could. High-res scans of the photos let us zoom in incredibly close, and we were able to recognize previously unidentified works. Now on the website, you can take a virtual tour of the Armory Show, wander through the museum galleries as they looked 100 years ago, and find out where many of the artworks can be found today. Try and spot the works that now belong to Art Institute’s permanent collection—many of which are currently on view in a special presentation in the third floor of the Modern Wing.

Visitors to the website will quickly learn that the Art Institute’s audience was not shy about voicing their opinions back in 1913, and we hope you’ll share your thoughts, too.

—Allison Perelman, Research Associate in Medieval through Modern European Painting and Sculpture

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We’ve Got Game

POSTED BY , ON September 14, 2011, Comments Off on We’ve Got Game

Ever since I wrote about the board layout of the museum’s Man Ray Chess Set (pictured above) way back when, the curators have been kindly passing along details about recent acquisitions involving chess. There have been more than you might think. The game is surprisingly well represented in the museum, with three chess-playing artworks now on view in the galleries.

Facing the Man Ray Chess Set, 1927, in gallery 396B, is Marcel Duchamp’s Pocket Chess Set, 1944. Duchamp—a chess Master who once referred to his friend Man Ray as a third-rate “wood pusher”—was famously rumored to have “quit” his art practice in the early 1920s in order to devote his life to playing chess. Duchamp continued, however, to make art, including this “rectified readymade” (a found object modified by Duchamp). To make this work, Duchamp retrofitted a standard wallet-sized pocket chess set with red and black celluloid chess pieces of his own design. The work was shown at a notable 1944 exhibition at Julien Levy’s New York gallery, “The Imagery of Chess,” in which Duchamp was deeply involved. Duchamp considered the Pocket Chess Set to be made as a multiple, but due to the time required to make each set, only about twenty-five were ever made.

The third piece, on view in gallery 262, is Isamu Noguchi’s Chess Table, which Noguchi designed in 1944 for the “The Imagery of Chess” exhibition. The exhibition made headlines in both the art and popular press, and Noguchi’s contribution was singled out by a Newsweek critic as “the most beautiful piece in the show.” In 1949, the Herman Miller Furniture Company began to manufacture Noguchi’s table, describing it in a catalog as “ideal for a small coffee table.” The table is extremely rare, and only eight examples are known to exist today. Unfortunately, the Herman Miller table was not accompanied by the striking red and green biomorphic chess pieces designed by Noguchi in 1944, now lost, but you can see a replica of the original set here.

Come take a look, and let us know if you agree that chess is a legitimate contender for the title of “the beautiful game.”


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Exquisite Corpses

POSTED BY , ON May 06, 2010, 1 COMMENTS


Last night, per usual, I was glued to the couch for the new episode of Bravo’s “Top Chef Masters.” One of the finalists in the Champions Round is Tony Mantuano of Spiaggia and the Art Institute’s own Terzo Piano, the restaurant on the third floor of the Modern Wing. Each episode features two challenges, a short “quick fire” challenge and then the longer elimination challenge, in which losing chefs get booted off the show. Though Tony’s team lost the elimination challenge, he survived to cook another day and we can expect to see him next week.

Last night’s quick fire challenge, though, really sparked my interest. It was a tag team challenge. The chefs were divided into two teams of four. Their assignment: cook something. Not so tough, right? Wrong. Because each of the chefs would get one ten-minute stint at the stove. Before their turn, they would be blindfolded and weren’t allowed to communicate with anyone else cooking. So the first chef would pick ingredients and get things started; after ten minutes, the second chef, who had been blindfolded, would have to assume the station, try and figure out where the first chef had been going, and develop the dish; and so on through the four chefs.

Watching all the blindfolded chefs stand around and wait their turn reminded me of some of my favorite works hanging in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing: the “exquisite corpses” of the surrealists. The exquisite corpse was essentially a high-stakes parlor game played, in our case, by such artists as Yves Tanguy, Man Ray, André Breton, and Max Morise. A piece of paper would be folded into sections, like a fan. One artist would take one of the sections and start a drawing, then fold the section over and hand it over to the next person, who would pick up a line from the preceding drawing, without seeing the context for it, and make their own drawing. The result is a four-section drawing that hangs together but isn’t really connected.

One of the works currently hanging in the Modern Wing is an Exquisite Corpse of 1928 by Man Ray, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, and Max Morise, part of the Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection. A highly stylized couple kissing in profile melts into a biomorphic shape that resolves into a hand holding a gun, leading in turn to an abstract line drawing, the bottom arc of which crushes a prone naked man. You can still see the folds in the paper that shaped the sheet into blank segments, lending the drawing an immediacy and vitality.

The name itself is apparently derived from a word-based version of the same activity, with the random selection of exquisite and corpse appearing together and then memorialized in a late 1930s dictionary of surrealism.

While the surrealists didn’t wind up with fish stew, as last night’s contestants did, they would probably approve of the tag team challenge. But they would probably like it more if the chefs had to use fundamentally inedible ingredients.

Man Ray, Joan Miró, Yves Tanguy, and Max Morise. Exquisite Corpse, 1928. Lindy and Edwin Bergman Collection, 105.1991. © 2008 Man Ray Trust / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / ADAGP, Paris.

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Rescue Me

POSTED BY , ON April 13, 2010, Comments Off on Rescue Me

The Eventuality of Destiny

In an earlier post about copyright law, I wrote about how an artist’s failure to observe certain “formalities” under copyright law resulted in the work falling out of copyright protection in the United States.

This loss was not permanent for many foreign artists. On January 1, 1996–as a result of the international agreement that established the World Trade Organization–copyright was “restored” in the United States for many foreign nationals whose works had fallen out of copyright for failure to follow the formalities of United States copyright law. Importantly, a work restored to copyright had to have been first published outside of the United States and had to still be protected by copyright in the source country. The copyright was restored for the remainder of the term the work would have enjoyed if it had never fallen out of copyright.

Consequently, many of the foreign works found in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing–which might have otherwise been affected by the old formalities of United States copyright law–are still protected in the United States. For example, The Eventuality of Destiny (pictured above) by Giorgio de Chirico (an Italian national) was first published in a French periodical in 1927. As a result of copyright restoration, it does not matter now whether or not de Chirico complied with all the formalities necessary to maintain copyright protection in the United States. The copyright, like de Chirico’s artistic legacy, is safe for many years to come.

The foregoing does not constitute legal advice and is offered for informational purposes only, with no representations or warranties as to accuracy.

Image credit: Giorgio de Chirico, The Eventuality of Destiny (1927). © 2008 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome.

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