We spent last weekend in Chicago. Man, I love that town. Not even a three hour delay waiting for the train in La Plata, MO, was going to dampen our spirits. Why? Because we were on our own. Sunday was our twelfth wedding anniversary, and this was our little celebration. (The children were with their grandparents for the weekend.)
Our trip was prompted by the annual pilgrimage made by some of our friends to Art Chicago, the yearly global showcase of new talent. We tagged along for the ride, arriving in town a day after everyone else for the more plebeian (but no less wonderful) delights afforded by the Art Institute of Chicago (actually I think that should be the Art Institvte) and other places. Among our group we had two renowned artists and two gallery owners, and we knew were never going to be able to keep up with that crowd. Therefore we largely wandered about on our own.
Christina and I have been to Chicago once before, to see the King Tut exhibit at the Field Museum with Hallam, who was about 5 at the time. We attempted to drag him around the Art Institute then, but he (quite understandably) complained throughout and insisted that we go and visit the mummies. We had to hurry past some of the finest paintings in western culture in about ten minutes. So it was an absolute delight to be able to spend several hours lingering over the exhibits.
It’s all wonderful, of course, but I made a few especially magical discoveries this trip. I loved “Barbershop Chord” by Stuart Davis, since there is a lot of barbershop singing in The Songs of Our Fathers. What a book cover that would be!
Galleries can be excellent places to find inspiration and ideas for stories. I like to go into “sponge mode”, drinking in everything I see waiting for lightning to strike. Sometimes it does. For example, I discovered this extraordinary painting – “The Pardon” by Gaston La Touche. I’d never heard of the artist before, but was mesmerized by the work. The bonnets of the women in the crowd seemed to merge into a sea of choppy waves, and the effect of the candles they held was extraordinary. There is a palpable sense of tension as everyone is gazing off at some unseen drama unfolding off to the right of the frame. Naturally, my iPhone does it all less than justice, as do my hobnailed attempts at description. But it left me thinking that there are worse places for a writer’s imagination to jump off from when setting out on a new story. Who was being pardoned? And for what??
On Sunday we visited the Museum of Contemporary Art, which was, perhaps predictably, more of a struggle. Exhibits of popcorn in wheelbarrows and piles of dirt on mirrors did not do it for me. When it comes to conceptual art, I’m used to recherche concepts which I am rarely able to grasp, but when the little label pompously says that the popcorn in the wheelbarrow “juxtaposes opposing concepts of work and play”, this struck me as facile beyond belief. If you’re going to be pretentious, at least make an effort. I wandered about, feeling slightly resentful, until I discovered that the more experienced members of our group felt a similar sense of bafflement. Still, I did enjoy this sign that was posted by the entrance: