No Contempt for the Contemporary Here

The Art Institute has to be one of the best museums when it comes to engaging the public and exposing them to works of art that they might have otherwise passed by. Since working here, I’ve found myself more and more interested in contemporary and modern art. The longer I look at a piece, the more interested I become. Before, I was not very familiar with those works because I tend to focus on ancient works or Victorian painting. Recently I’ve noticed the challenges and advantages of contemporary and modern art.

We’re Built for It: When we met with The Art Institute Director, Douglas Druick, in our museum practices seminar, he discussed the creation of the Modern Wing in 2009. Not only is the Modern Wing a work of art (flying carpet, anyone?), but it houses extraordinary works that were previously shoved into corners or were not on view. As Hannah described in her post, Director Druick discussed the amount of space that these works are allowed (by the wing, by the rooms, by the huge amount of wall space they are allotted), thus making them more accessible to the public. The Art Institute makes modern and contemporary art a priority, although that sometimes upsets more conservative patrons.

Perception Problems Occur: In our mock tours we were warned to stay away from giving the impression that “my kid could do that” or “there’s no thought involved”  or “it’s just splatter”- precisely for the reason that many people do not consider modern and contemporary art on to be of the same calibre as Old Master paintings or Impressionist works.

It Costs a Fortune: It’s especially tricky when someone wants to know how much a work would be worth, and when we explain that it’s more money than we’ll ever see in our lifetimes- people laugh, or are horrified. I really like a comment Tiffany made when she said, “How do you put a price tag on an idea that changed the way we think about art?”  While everything does have a dollar amount somewhere, I like to think that all of the works we have on display are representative of their time, are innovative, and are meant for people to think about and enjoy.

There’s No Right Answer: I don’t mean to say that these works were not created for a specific reason, only that sometimes people (kids especially) don’t hesitate to make their own interpretations and project their own experiences. Our first student tour group was so excited by Jackson Pollack’s “Greyed Rainbow.” When Drew asked them to pick out a line to describe one boy immediately saw the image of a bat. That could have been a problem because there are not intentionally any bats in the painting. BUT that doesn’t mean you can’t see them! Kids have less fear about giving the “right” answer and if we are being honest- I can’t walk by it now without seeing a cave filled with spider webs and bats.

Jackson Pollack’s Greyed Rainbow, 1953

It’s FUN: For the grand finale for our student tours we used Stefan Sagmeister and Ralph Ammer’s “Being Not Truthful Always Works Against Me,” where viewers get caught in and destroy the projection of a spider web.

It Makes for the Best Field Trips: This past weekend I visited Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art. Although the museum is much smaller and widely different from the Art Institute, many of the works reminded me of Art Institute highlights. They have a really cool exhibition that just started called Skyscraper: Art and Architecture Against Gravity which reminded me of Robert Delaunay’s “Red Tower” that Moses presented to us for his mock tour. The exhibition really emphasized the art of architecture, focusing not only on structural qualities but on the aesthetic value of the materials, the lights, and the cityscape. One of my favorite “skyscraper” rooms was pitch black and held stacked refrigerators with tiny square mirrors all over them. Not only did I have to look closely to realize that they were refrigerators, but the mirrors reflected light onto the floor- TOO COOL.

My favorite bedazzled refrigerators of all time.

My New Favorites at the Art Institute: The Contemporary Edition

Gerhard Richter’s “Woman Descending the Staircase,” 1965

Katharina Fritsch’s “Monk,” 1997–1999

Willem de Kooning’s “Excavation,” 1950


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