Saturday, February 13, 2010

Modern Art

Attending a liberal arts college (and then a Jesuit university) meant that I took a certain amount of "liberal arts" classes. One of those classes to fulfill the liberal arts requirement was Art History. I signed up for the class fully expecting it to be beyond boring. I was very pleasantly surprised when I enjoyed the class. It helped me obtain a much deeper appreciation of art. When I walked into the Galleria dell'Academia in Florence (or Firenze, for those Italians amongst us), my breath was taken away. Not only did the David appear to me as the the magnificent piece that no Art History text could ever accurately describe, the variety of Michaelangelo's partially completed sculptures out on display made me believe that Michaelangelo had been liberating his subject from the marble. I fell so much in love with Monet and the Impressionist era that I purchased a Impressionistic-style painting from a street artist in front of the Duomo in Florence. The artist promised to me that had studied at the Academy, and I believed it.

Unfortunately, my memories of that class and the knowledge that I so much enjoyed at the time has faded to a mere glimmer. I do recall my professor explaining how the Art Institute of Chicago used to have a suggested donation of eight dollars, a suggestion at which my art history professor would scoff and toss in a quarter as a lowly art student. I also recall the correct pronunciations of the artists' names, for the most part. And of course, my heart still loved the Impressionist era. But as for matching paintings, sculpture and architecture to its appropriate artist and era? My skills are gone.

Lucky for me, despite the fact that the Art Institute of Chicago now costs a whopping $18.00 per person (love the modern wing, but wowza, that's hefty), the entire month of February is free. Huzzah! What better way to spend a state holiday off from work, than to take in the culture of a truly world class museum, right?

Of course, as I mentioned above, much of my knowledge about art and its creators has dissipated over the years. I do recall the basics, and I remember my favorites, which would explain how we ended up making a beeline for that section. Additionally, I remembered certain things as we leisurely walked among the temperature-controlled rooms. But mostly, I took it all in. I continue to be grateful that I live in such a marvelous city houses museums with such priceless artifacts. And, like any child of my generation, I was reminded of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, specifically the scene where Cameron tells Ferris that he hasn't seen anything good today, and Ferris responds that they looked at priceless works of art. Me too, I thought as I took in the fact that I could see certain brush strokes on the canvas, knowing that these masterpieces, such as Seurat's Afternoon on La Grand Jatte were painted hundreds of years ago.

Of course, modern art has emerged more as a statement than its subtler ancestors. The Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, designed by the renowned architect Renzo Piano (a name I recall only because of his last name), is relatively new. Of course, the structure of this new space is art in and of itself. It houses Jackson Pollack pieces, one of the abstract expressionists that I admire and can appreciate, and that I recall seeing in my younger visits pre-Modern Wing.

But there are new pieces such as the one I posted here. Note the wallpaper with a sleeping man, a depiction of a lynching, an empty wedding gown, and the bag of cat litter. This all, taken together, according to artist Robert Gober, means something. My question, as I attempted to make sense (before I read his explanation) was....Whaaaa? To me? Makes no sense. Of course, I believe that modern art, such as this, means more to the artist creating it rather than to the casual fan such as myself. Gober intended the repeating images, one disturbing, to reflect the past of our nation. The wedding dress, empty for a reason, represented something else. And the cat litter? Well, we all know it absorbs the bad, and there was some reference to diapers that I just basically stopped following. I know, whaaaaa?

Clearly, art today has as much to do with artist's expression as it does with the final result. However, everyone knows about one of Michaelangelo's greatest pieces, the Last Judgment, located in the Sistine Chapel. Most know that he was commissioned for this work by the Pope. A refresher look at my old Art History text reminds me that Michaelangelo, ever the tortured artist, unexpectedly depicted himself in this masterpiece. Michaelangelo painted himself as the face of the empty skin dangling from the Apostle's left hand, the face stretched to reflect his torment. Expression was there back then as well.

Of course, I can never imagine Michaelangelo using cat litter. But who knows. Had cat litter existed in the 1500s, perhaps Michaelangelo could have used it to represent the absorption of his guilt. You never know.

1 comment:

  1. As a big art lover myself, I don't get modern art. Just. Don't. Get. It.
    And frankly I am not even trying anymore when it's that obscure, tortured and gratuitous. You put some things together and then you build a narrative to try to give it a sense?!?! Right...

    I love Michelangelo. I thought I was going to die from exposure to too much beauty when I was in Italy.
    And if you ever go back to France, stop by Giverny. It's magical.