Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Posts Tagged ‘free days

Home for the Holidays

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Art Institute of Chicago

Lances and chainmail have a lot to do with the holidays…

So I know, the holidays are over, and I missed this occasion slightly, but I still wanted to dish briefly, mostly to focus on the massive amounts of advertising the Art Institute did for this campaign.  If you’ve walked in the Loop past a vacant storefront building, you’ve surely seen the massive ads about what’s going on at the Art Institute for the holidays.  Or if you’ve been in a subway car recently you might have noticed.  You know how sometimes a single advertiser will buy out all the ad space in an entire subway car? You could be in a car with only blackberry ads and find yourself really needing the ability to BBM.  Well the Art institute did the same; one night I found myself overwhelmed with ads about something going on at the Art Institute called “Home for the Holidays”—there was even ads for it on the ceiling of the subway car.

Ads on the red line.

The “Home for the Holidays” campaign was a concise (cost effective?) way of promoting several new things at the museum rolled into one campaign.  Those things being: 1-the wreathing of the lions, 2 – the decorating of the Thorne Miniature rooms in holiday décor, 3 – the reinstallation of Chagall’s American Windows, and 4 – the installation of the museum collection of arms and amour.  And although Chagall’s stained-glass windows aren’t so holiday themed, they sure reek of holiday spirit compared to suits of armor and battle axes.

The curtains match the drapes (the ads match the wreaths)—it’s called branding.

The wreathing of the lions is a tradition now in its nineteenth year.  Last year (2009) the Art Institute mixed tradition up a bit and had a design firm create contemporary wreaths for the lions.  This year, the museum commissioned the Chicago-based firm Materious to design the lions’ holiday garb: giant cranberry wreathes. The rich pinks and reds are a strong punctuation on snow-filled Michigan Ave.  (The wreaths also light up at night, and are solar-powered, oh hey!) The wreaths look a whole lot better than what they do to the lions when any local sports team wins a championship, and a whole lot better than the shoddy decorations over at the Field.  Also notice how the wreaths match the graphics in the “Home for the Holidays” ad campaign.

Word doesn’t recognize the word “dreidel,” is word being anti-Semitic?

Be prepared to be underwhelmed with the holiday decoration of the Thorne Rooms.  (Full disclosure, I’ve always disliked the Thorne Rooms, but I know that a lot of people love them.)  Only a measly six of the rooms were decorated this year; the museum says it’s going to make this a tradition so eventually maybe all the rooms will be dressed up. The decorations are tiny (duh) but also very hard to see, the English Victorian Era room has a Christmas tree, and someone decided the rich people who own the midcentury modern California room are Jewish.

Smells like holiday spirit.

The Chagall windows really did come “Home for the Holidays;” they haven’t been seen for five years during the construction of the Modern Wing.  The museum also organized a small exhibition about the legacy of public art in Chicago with models and projects to accompany the windows’ return. The windows also went in for some heavy cleaning, shown in the video below.

The other things that came home (for the holidays) was a selection of the museum’s George F. Harding Jr. Arms and Armor Collection.  The installation is complete with a fully-armed knight on horseback, massive tapestries, and cannon.  While this installation has nothing to do with the holidays (come on, you know it doesn’t), the wall text gives a hint about to exciting things.  It reads: “This temporary installation of arms and armor […] Plans are underway for a larger permanent installation […] This new gallery will be part of a series of galleries that feature the museum’s important collection of medieval and Renaissance Art.”  Clearly some large-scale reinstallations are afoot at the Art Institute, ones that are probably going to affect large portions of its well-loved and loved-to-be-seen permanent collection of European art.  I wonder how this will affect the museum in the coming years.

Nothing says “Merry Christmas!” like a medieval battleaxe.

– H.I.

P.S. This story piqued my interest today.  Starting in June, the Art Institute is getting rid of its free Thursday evening hours, quoting low attendance as a factor.  Ahem, I have class on Thursday evenings across the street and know that the line to get in wraps around the building.  Okay, I’ll be fair: the museum spokesperson said not enough Chicago residents were coming on those evenings and that it was mostly out-of-towners. AKA people the museum wants visiting during regular hours and paying full ticket price.  “Taking free hours off the table was never an option,” said a spokeswoman—well legally you can’t (all museums in Chicago are required to offer 52 free days), so don’t pretend like you do this out of the goodness of your heart.

P.P.S  I’m on break in LA, so expect a full report from the West Coast in upcoming posts.

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I Went to Confirm What I Already Feared

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Field Museum

Let’s teach kids about the circle of life!

I felt the need to be a responsible journalist blogger and actually check this place out.  I’m not going to bash a museum for using sponsors (check previous post), but the Field Museum has struck me as a strange place since I came to Chicago.  As a natural history museum I’m unsure as to why they organize pay to have exhibitions about  pirates, mythical creatures, and Jacky O.  The mission of the Field Museum (courtesy of the Field’s website):

The Field Museum is an educational institution concerned with the diversity and relationships in nature and among cultures. It provides collection-based research and learning for greater public understanding and appreciation of the world in which we live. Its collections, public learning programs, and research are inseparably linked to serve a diverse public of varied ages, backgrounds and knowledge.”

Nowhere in this mission statement is the word exhibition mentioned; so why does the Field pay so much for these questionable shows?  One argument is that it gets people in the door and that the museum benefits financially from admissions from these shows.  But when admission fees don’t even cover the cost of the crap plastic unicorn, I begin to question the Field, and whether it is actually upholding its mission.

Gold is not free.

The pricey cost of admission was a major factor for why I chose to go on a Free Day.  Museums in Chicago are required by law to have offer 52 free days (12 of which are sponsored by Target), so I decided to take advantage of what the Field is required by law to do.  It’s hard as hell to figure out when these days are because the Field (shockingly) does not advertise them, but I finally found the free days on their webpage.  Also, general admission is free on these days; so don’t expect to be seeing pirates, dragons, or Gold, for free.  If you want to see the special exhibitions you have to pay.

So I didn’t get to see Gold (I kept saying “GOLD!” very dramatically all day long), but there are literally acres of other things to see in the Field Museum, and not just rocks and stuffed animals, although there is a lot of that too.

Holiday decorations—I was surprised they hadn’t put a Santa hat on Sue.

The first thing I saw was Sue.  She’s a T.Rex and she has a twitter.  The Field Museum paid major buckets of ducats to get her, and has since made a pretty penny off of her, from tours to insane merchandise (there is HelloKitty Sue merch). Sue is effing huge, and overshadows the adjacent warring African bull elephant tableau.

It’s hard to know where to begin in the Field, but my friends and I started with the Egyptian tomb which led into the Hall of African Mammals.  The Field museum rationalized this organization because, “Did you know, Egypt is in Africa?” For real there is a text panel that says this.  The rooms of stuffed animals were fun, I love stuffed animals.  Yes, this is a musty natural history museum tradition, but it’s also well loved.  The Field has also put showrooms full of couches all over the place, so if you get tired you can take a load off and watch the baby orangutans play, it’s almost like TV!—except they don’t move.   It’s not all fun and games though, there are some disturbing things happening with the stuffed animals.

This panda is dead, he is stuffed, and he had a name.

For example, there is this taxidermied panda, and we all know how I feel about pandas…and this panda has a name, Sue Lin. I didn’t like that this panda had a name, didn’t like that the label told the story of Sue Lin’s life in a zoo, then Sue Lin died, then Sue Lin was stuffed and put on display in the Field.  Call me crazy, but this is just too personal.

There is also some less disturbing stuff, like the short-beaked echidna.  There are these text panels around the museum that offer facts about the history of the museum, and one of them informed me that the display of Australian marsupials contains some of the original animals from the World’s Columbian Exhibition. The short-beaked echidna has an acquisition number 3. How cool is that!

Entrance to the less-civilized world of Pre-Columbian civilizations

I like to compare how displays of the same kinds of objects from Pre-Columbian cultures are displayed in natural history museums, compared to how they are presented in fine art museums.  LA’s Natural History Museum has a Visible Vault which contains the leftovers of the collection LACMA took when it succeeded.  The Visible Vault couldn’t be more different from LACMA’s Jorge Pardo designed display.  The Field’s Pre-Columbian display is massive and overwhelming, but has several elements that really shine. Like a video that explains through a fictionalized culture the pillars of civilization (faith, military, and money).   The entrance to this display is overly dramatic though; you enter through a curving hallway full of projections of a swamp and with audio of claps of thunder.  How does this mediation preface the information that follows?

OMG Shoes!

Back outside in the main hallway is a floor to ceiling display of shoes, just shoes.  The idea is to show that there are some things that unite all people across all of time.  One of the fundamental elements of the human condition is apparently stylish footwear.  From ancient Egyptian sandals, to Eskimo snow shoes, to ugly bridesmaid heels, to gogo boots, people love them their shoes.

There is a lot to see at the Field, so I can’t really cover it all in one post.  I didn’t even get to cover the Grainger Hall of Gems, the Hall of Jade, the rooms full of American Indian costumes, or the spooky high-ceilinged halls full of Alaskan totem poles.  There are also a lot more things to criticize believe me, but those too probably need another post.

“Research” scrutinizing the temporary exhibition halls.

One last fun thing for this post: There are two drastically different sets of sculptures in the Field.  The first set is actually part of the architecture of the museum.  In the main hall, up above on the second story, in each of the four corners, is a personification.  These four women, called the “Silent Guardians” were commissioned by the museum in 1915, from the artist Henry Hering.  The one pictured above holds a magnifying glass and represents Research.  The other silent guardians represent Record, Dissemination of Knowledge, and Science.  These four ladies are supposed to be representative of the museum’s mission…oh the mission again.

Can you find this sculpture’s erogenous zones?

The other set of sculptures aren’t a bunch of white broads in flowing togas.  The other series of sculptures are bronze ethnographic (read racist) depictions of “primitive peoples” created by Malvina Hoffman.  There is no sign explaining the original purpose of these works, nor anything apologetic. The only sign accompanying these horrid bronzes reads as follows: “Look all you want, but please don’t touch this sculpture.”  A brief glance at the sculptures reveals people don’t give a shit about these signs and are rubbing them a lot.  The bronzes have a dark patina, except in certain places were excessive touching has worn down to reveal the metallic layers beneath.  The sculpture of a female pygmy from Madagascar has clearly been getting a lot of action; her nipples are practically blinding they’ve been rubbed so much.

– H.I.

P.S. Did you know that a group of porcupine is called a PRICKLE of porcupine?—See, this blog can actually be educational sometimes.

This guy also inspired my current haircut.