Sunday, July 7, 2013

The (He)Art Institute of Chicago

The Art Institute of Chicago - There is a 120 years old connection between this place and a lot of Indians. Swami Vivekananda spoke in the International Parliament of religions, talking about the pride of India and Hinduism across to the west. I am not going to talk about an event that most Indians know. I am going to write here about a very thought provoking experience that I had while visiting this place.

The plan to visit Chicago over the long weekend was just made 3 weeks before. Chose to take train, opted for a cheap hostel in the middle of the city instead of an expensive Hotel or Motel outside the city. My transportation during the entire 3 days was just a 20$ CTA pass and lots of walking. Planning on sightseeing, I acquired a CityPASS for Chicago that offers me discounted entries to 5 important attractions in the City. “The Art Institute of Chicago” came as an option to choose alongside the Adler Planetarium. After missing on my schedule to continuously for 2 days to make up to the Planetarium, was taking a second look at the suggested attractions near the Michigan Avenue on my Trip Advisor – Chicago App. #1 of 595 places to see in Chicago was “The Art institute of Chicago”. Planned it as the first thing the next morning and joined the long queue 40 mins before the institute was open for public. While waiting in the queue, a visitor guide came along and suggested that I can download the institute’s Android app to plan my tour inside.

Being an early bird has its own benefits as I got my free Audio guide equipment which otherwise costs 7$. While I still have some unanswered questions on how most of these exhibits are available in Chicago from across the world, the wide range beats my previous experiences of similar exhibits in Tanjore museum or the Egmore museum. Apart from the Saraswati and Mahaveer statues from North India, there were some exhibits from the excavations in Tamilnadu like that of the Ardhanareeswarar and Dhakshinamoorthy. The historical learning and audio commentary on some of the art works were so intriguing and raised by hair so many times.

The Chinese and Japanese artworks went deep as Pre-Buddha and Post-Buddha eras on their clay utensils and architectures. The Greek depiction of minute stone works for various art on the walls should have been the fore father of modern day collage art. If one has to predict the level of beauty by just studying the art and architecture across the world, I would rate that Greek men and women must have been the most beautiful looking at their marble bust.

Setting aside the appreciation of the art and history of Japan, India, Indonesia, Greece, Egypt and France, there were few exhibits that arouse some emotional connect and boundless questions. These were the exhibits from Africa and Native Americans. Digging deep into the history of the Americas in the last 400 years, it is the sweat of one and the blood of another on which the foundation of the skyscrapers were laid on. The story of the blood and sweat were associated with the transformation of the art and crafts from these areas. These people were wearing the most decorated pieces of art on themselves while the others were putting it on the pots and architecture. Still have some deep questions and anger on how many artisans were caught, cuffed and shipped to just do plantation around the clock. It is still believed that they were the one who brought most of the technology of working with metals from the forests of Africa to the yesteryear Americas.

A special collection of Art works by various artists from Europe on nudity was indeed thought provoking. Most artists appreciate nudity as art beyond vulgarity. But most of the items in this collection went a step beyond depicting humanity and culture beyond flesh.
There was a big crowd of members of the Art institute on this day to watch another special collection on “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity” all the way from France. These were series of oil paintings on Canvas by a bunch of artists from the 18th and 19th century of France. Some of the best art works I have ever seen and probably the best of the life size portrait painters of that era. Photography was not allowed in this exhibit and the art works were accompanied by the actual props/apparels used by the models of these paintings. I spent a lot of time taking a close look at the hue distribution and color shadings being a keen learner of arts myself.

The next time I happen to have a transit though Chicago for more than 5 hours, I might just take a bus to this place to spend a couple of hours more. If you are a true seeker of art in life and life in art, it is THE PLACE!


  1. Art never fails to enthrall and thrill and your post stands testimony to that and in places like the US, they are so well maintained. One feels like exploring and knowing more.

    Joy always,

  2. Very well written Bharani. The pictures are very nice too. I certainly would use it as guide when I visit the Art Institute of Chicago. I was at the San Diego Museum of Art recently, they have a permanent display Art of East Asia, where I spend a long time every time I visit the museum. My mentor from UCSD, Dr. Ramachandran (you must have heard about him - a famous neuroscientist, ranked as the "Top 100 People to watch in the next century" by the Times magazine, from Chennai!) has a personal collection of Indian art once was on display at the San Diego Museum of Art. In fact, he had donated a number of them to the museum. It's really interesting to look at them and hear him talk about art from a neurological point of view. Personally, I'm a big fan of Impressionism. Have seen those paintings by French impressionist artist when I was in New York. I found it's most meditating to draw/paint realism (e.g. my "Blue Bird", and "Ginger Cat", both took me almost 10 hours to complete), vs. more expressive and liberating to paint impressions (e.g. my "Red Roof" and "Bridge in the Meditation Garden".

  3. Rama's talk on Art and Neurology:

    1. Thanks!! Bookmarked the places to visit when I am at the west coast. :-)