Monday, May 02, 2005
Impressions from the Art Institute of Chicago
Last Thursday night I had an hour for a quick run through of the Art Institute of Chicago. Here are some observations:
- The new American galleries installation freshens up some of the hangings and puts on view a good deal of new work from the Terra Foundation, but it doesn't present any new readings of the subject. The galleries are hung to make the canonical art historical distinctions--colonial portraits, Hudson River School, late-nineteenth-century European-trained portraitists, Ash Can School, American modernists, etc. The eighteenth- and nineteeth-century works are hung amid pieces from the museum's design collection.
- It is nice to see, though, a serious treatment of American visual modernism. Only the Whitney does it better than the Art Institute does.
- Aside from Grant Wood's American Gothic and Edward Hopper's Nighthawks the collection is lacking exceptional pieces completed since 1930. The collection of mid- and late-nineteenth-century American works, though, is world class.
- It would make great sense for Chicago to have an especially strong collection of American Regionalist works from the 1930s, but that's not the case. I'm not sure why.
- No Ab Ex work? How can that be? Did I just miss that gallery somehow?
- On my last visit to the Art Institute, a few years ago, I was especially impressed with the installation in their contemporary galleries. Not this time around, though. In one gallery a mediocre Rosenquist hangs with two bad Lichtensteins, a large Warhol Mao (backed by Mao wallpaper), and a fabulous black and white Gerhard Richter from the 1960s. Richter in with the American Pop artists? Really? I get what the curator was trying to say, but it so doesn't work.
- The Art Institute owns what could be Glenn Ligon's best work ever--a massive piece from his Stranger in the Village series. I was disappointed to see that it's not currently on view. It's better than anything else they have up right now in their contemporary galleries.
- I was pleasantly surprised by a temporary exhibition that is on display through this week. In Sight: Contemporary Dutch Photography from the Collection of the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam is worth seeing if you're in Chicago and anywhere near the Loop.