Lafayette Vignettes, Part 2: The Works on the Walls

Biggie & Cobain!

Scene from an alternate timeline where Biggie Smalls and Kurt Cobain lived to cover “Ebony and Ivory”.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

In addition to our annual road trips, my wife Anne and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a one-day road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas of Indiana we’ve never experienced before. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.

Once upon a time in 2019 Anne decide she wanted to celebrate her birthday with a jaunt around the city of Lafayette, an hour northwest of our Indiana home. She cobbled together a short to-do list of things she wanted to see, not lengthy but enough for a leisurely afternoon — a bit of Indiana history, a bit of downtown tourism, and a bit of healthy walking…

Once we escaped Purdue’s Homecoming weekend crowds, we headed east across the Wabash River to downtown Lafayette, where we simply wanted to walk around and take in the scenery. While most locals and students busied themselves with the main event across the river, downtown was deserted except for a small farmers’ market that was wrapping up their morning shift by the time we walked up.

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Indiana State Fair 2019 Encore: Another Ace Art Assemblage

Pennywise!

Happy clowns: a natural fit at any fair!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:

It’s that time again! The Indiana State Fair is an annual celebration of Hoosier pride, farming, food, and 4-H, with amusement park rides, cooking demos, concerts by musicians either nearly or formerly popular, and farm animals competing for cash prizes without their knowledge. My wife Anne and I attend each year as a date-day to seek new forms of creativity and imagination within a local context…

But then four days later we drove once more out to the east side and enjoyed a 4-hour whirlwind do-over. Among other Tuesday oversights, we’d failed to brake for the basement of the Indiana Arts Building, an entire bonus section of paintings and other arts vying for ribbons and renown.

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 12: An Omnibus of Outtakes

Liz #3!

Andy Warhol, Liz #3 (Early Colored Liz), 1963. Part of a series of thirteen.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours roaming and observing and contemplating and feeling. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

I didn’t mean for this series to run so many chapters, but that’s a tribute to how overwhelming their collection of collections is. Until and unless we can schedule an encore visit, for now we conclude with yet another selection of works from the galleries we’ve already covered, some of whose chapters could’ve been twice as long if I hadn’t arbitrarily saved some of the best (and the rest) for last.

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 10: The Last of the Famous International

The Key!

Jackson Pollock, The Key, 1946. Yes, that’s Pollock making the charts in two different sections in the Institute. And we’ve got more Pollock on tap for the outtakes! Pollock Pollock Pollock Pollock Pollock!

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, jaws dropped, heads tilted, and cameras and phones at the ready. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

By the time we were halfway through the “International Modern Art” section on the third floor, we were losing steam. Hours of winding through labyrinthine galleries within galleries were overloading our senses and wearing us middle-agers down. We persevered nonetheless and hopefully laid eyes on everything hung on those walls as of that very Saturday.

The museum frequently rotates its works, often loaning pieces of their permanent collections to other art museums nationwide. Chances are some of these once spent a few months in your town near you. Or maybe they will in the future. Even if they don’t, one of these pieces was in a motion picture blockbuster you may have watched in your youth.

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 9: Picasso and the Surreal

The Old Guitarist!

Before he turned to Cubism, Picasso’s Blue Period yielded works such as 1903’s The Old Guitarist, a sympathetic ode to society’s poor and disenfranchised. The longer you stare at it, the more details it reveals.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, jaws dropped, senses activated for deciphering strange shapes and arrangements, and cameras and phones at the ready. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

We concluded our day’s tour on the third floor of the modern wing, labeled “International Modern Art” on their handy map. Though “international” here largely meant “Western European”, we were well beyond the purely representational and into the not-so-straightforward movements and anti-movements of the early 20th century. Much of the collection was the sort that evinces cries of “I don’t get it” or “My kid could paint that” or “You call this art?” from the kind of observers who never list art museums on their vacation itineraries.

Whenever those same non-fans reach for a big name to use as a punchline to mock what they don’t dig, one of the commonest go-to talents is good ol’ Pablo Picasso. Chicago has quite a few of his works composed at varying levels of meaning and times of his life. When I sorted our modern-wing photos into piles according to historical movements, Picasso appears to be the only Cubist who caught our eyes and/or resides in those particular galleries. (We found one artist who apparently dabbled in Cubism later in his career, but not at the time of his paintings we saw here. That means he gets to wait till the next chapter.)

Among the other movements we paid attention to, the highest hit-count fell to the Surrealists — Salvador Dali and his amazing, stubbornly non-conformist peers and aesthetic descendants. As Pablo and those dreamers shared space in the museum, so do they share a gallery here.

(Fair warning: a few of these are vivid reminders that not all old-school paintings are aimed at all ages. Patron discretion is advised.)

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 8: Posting Post-Impressionist Impressions

Sunday on La Grande Jatte!

Georges Seurat, A Sunday on La Grande Jatte, 1884-1886. This was our least obscured shot of it.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, jaws dropped, intellects engaged, and cameras and phones at the ready. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

The museum’s Impressionist galleries fittingly bump up against the Post-Impressionists, those subsequent rebels who deemphasized contours and rejected natural lighting and coloring, largely opting for creatively juxtapositions and techniques across a number of separate yet related mini-movements. Neo-Impressionism, pointillism, Cloisonnism, Synthetism, and the French clique known as Les Nabis are each represented at the AIC under the Post-Impressionist aegis, some in greater quantities than others.

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 7: Monet Growing on Trees

Water Lily Pond!

Monet, The Water Lily Pond, 1899. Usually it’s the name Water Lilies that springs to mind whenever he’s name-checked, but he actually produced some 250 paintings on the same subject, 17 of those featuring this Japanese bridge.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, jaws dropped, intellects engaged, and cameras and phones at the ready. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

After our lunchtime intermission we returned to the museum through the west entrance to its “classic” half. the side with the two famous lion sculptures out front. Up the stairs and filling the long expanse bridging the train tracks is a wide selection of 19th-century Europeans, beginning with the Impressionists. Regressing a century prior to where we’d left off, once again we found ourselves within the realm of the moderately representational — figures, landscapes, and other nouns hewing somewhat to their intended shapes, but with colors and lightings bearing a more supernormal appearance. Definitely not pretend-photography like the “classic” era that preceded them.

The Art Institute has by far the largest Monet collection we’ve witnessed to date, alongside other peers from the Impressionist movement. Full confession: I gravitate toward works of stark contrast, and too many Monets in a row produced the opposite effect and began to look alike. Please enjoy this selection of what stood out to us before I began to walk a bit more briskly toward the Post-Impressionists…

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 6: Very Contemporary

Woman III!

Roy Lichtenstein. Woman III, 1982. Lichtenstein has fascinated me since high school Many comics fans deride him for his comic-book art swipes as if he were a plagiarist aspiring to launch his own line of romance titles. Kinda misses the point of Pop Art.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, heads tilted, curiosities aroused, and cameras and phones at the ready. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

Finished with the old standards of the early-20th-century Americana, we moved on to the second-floor galleries under the broad umbrella title “Contemporary Art”. Among the movements and styles encompassed were abstract expressionism, postminimal sculpture, photomontage, Chicago Imagists, and one of my personal favorites, Pop Art. Some were Chicago natives; some were big names you’re likely to recognize without Googling. A significant portion of their collection were gifted from two donors a few years ago. So much of it was a surprising delight to behold in person.

We went a bit enthusiastic with our cameras in this section. For the sake of time and space conservation, I’ve limited myself to one painting per artist in this entry. If demand or mood dictate, additional outtake collections are possible and entirely likely.

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 5: Ye Olde Tyme America

Lincoln statue!

Daniel Chester French, Abraham Lincoln, 1912. French has previously graced our travels with Beneficence in Muncie, IN; the Wendell Phillips memorial in Boston’s Public Garden; and a roadside attraction called the Lincoln Memorial in DC.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, jaws dropped, curiosities aroused, and cameras and phones at the ready. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

The exhibit hall one level below “Modern American Art” is labeled “American Art Before 1900”. It’s not entirely accurate, as we saw works that clearly disregarded the numerical boundaries (including a few of the Sargent paintings). The groupings did work in terms of like-minded sensibilities, which is my way of saying the “Modern” section engaged me more than the other, lower floor did. A few pieces caught our eyes — Anne’s more than mine, to an extent.

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 4: Two Americans Abroad

On a Balcony!

Before folks spent six hours a day scrolling through their social media feeds, they had morning newspapers to bore or disgust them.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, jaws dropped, memories of past images awakened, and cameras and phones at the ready. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

As we walked along the many halls and galleries, Anne spotted two names in particular she’d encountered before. Among the many books she’s read by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough was one called The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris, which explored the uncommon subject of the wave of 19th-century personalities with family ties to the relatively new country of America, who later spent a significant part of their lives in Europe, and who not only saw their lives changed, but who also brought those changes back home with them.

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 3: Georgia on Her Mind

Blue and Green Music!

Blue and Green Music, 1921. An early attempt, capturing the qualities of sound in pure visuals.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, jaws dropped, imaginations stimulated, and cameras and phones at the ready. We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

The museum had an above-average selection of works by Georgia O’Keeffe, logical given her status as a past student. With her unique modernist vision typically comprising stylized nature in bold contrasts, O’Keeffe holds the distinction of being the only artist with a print adorning the walls of our house (Red Hills and Pedernal. 1936). Anne picked it up on one of our past road trips, and seems to gravitate to her works whenever we run across them in our travels.

Between the two of us, we didn’t set out to capture all their O’Keeffe, but we ended up with enough to give her an entry of her own, presented in chronological order for value-added trivia fun.

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Our Art Institute of Chicago Tour, Gallery 2: The Old Modern Americans

America Gothic Farmer!

Never has a simple farmer gazed so deeply into my soul.

Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover: as part of my 47th birthday celebration, my wife Anne and I drove from Indianapolis up to the Art Institute of Chicago and spent four hours with our eyes wide, jaws dropped, and cameras and phones at the ready (my camera battery actually ran out). We barely saw half the museum and will have to return someday for more.

Upon entering and paying, we headed directly toward the collective galleries of “Modern American Art 1900-1950” because they hold two of the Institute’s biggest names in classic paintings and, to be candid, I’m a sucker for art celebrities.

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