Magritte at the Art Institute of Chicago

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen an exhibition as great as the one I saw this weekend. On Sunday, I took myself down to the Art Institute of Chicago for the members-only opening of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938. It blew me away.

Right from the start you could tell the exhibition of Belgian surrealist René Magritte’s work was going to be special based on its installation. The light levels are low, really low, and the walls were painted a really dark grey, almost like a soft black. It takes your eyes a bit to adjust to the darkness. But every single piece of artwork is spotlighted so that it glows. It is the definition of art as sacred object.

The Secret Player, 1927, from

The exhibition begins with a replica of Napoleon’s death mask on which Magritte has painted a sky scene with clouds. Then you move into an intimate gallery of his most early surrealist paintings from 1926-1927. These are my favorite pieces because they seem filled with magic and wonder, particularly one called The Secret Player, seen above.

Next are a series of small galleries focused on his works from his prolific Paris years. Word association paintings are a focus here. Magritte’s most famous painting The Treachery of Images, also known colloquially as “Ceci n’est pas une pipe” or “This is not a pipe” is included.

The following section documents his return to Brussels, and its installation is genius. The long gallery is broken up by a series of parallel walls (there must have been 15-20 of them), each of which has a single glowing painting on it. I loved how it forced you to look at one painting at a time. The repetition of moving between each wall was oddly rhythmic and allowed reflective time between pieces.

Then you come to room of cases documenting Magritte’s commercial work, photographs of him in artistically composed shots, and surrealist publications he worked on. The exhibition ends with works he created in London and Brussels from 1937-1938, many of which were commissioned by British collector Edward James.

Personally I find Magritte to be a great technical artist, and the content of his work is confusing, funny, odd, and/or deep. Definitely go see the exhibition if you can! Just keep an open mind and remember that you don’t have to understand it to enjoy it. Sure, some pieces are deeply symbolic, but others might not have any discernible meaning. And it’s ok to laugh at the absurdity. Magritte’s art is filled with jokes.

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 is open through October 13, 2014.

Friday File – Spring Break

It was a very quiet week. At work the students were on spring break, so I had fewer scheduled appointments, tours, and meetings. I wasn’t any less busy because there’s still so much to do to turn the collection into the dynamic place I want it to be. But the silence was really hard to deal with so I had to turn up my music.

And now, some links:

Self-portrait by Gertrud Arndt at the Bauhaus in 1926-27, from the Bauhaus Archive via The New York Times

The Bauhaus was a German school of design and fine arts that functioned between 1919 to 1933. It’s influence on Modernism was very important. However its female students were often forced to enroll in the “feminine” subjects instead of the ones they had originally came to the school to study. Now the Bauhaus Archive is trying to amend its wrongs with a series of exhibitions called the “Female Bauhaus.” The New York Times examined three female students whom attended the Bauhaus in this article.

Zelda Fitzgerald is suddenly very popular among novelists. Partially because The Great Gatsby comes out in theaters this summer and partially because a couple other novels featuring famous men’s wives have done so well in recent sales, authors are turning to Zelda, F. Scott’s wife. She’s an interesting figure I can’t wait to read about after I finish a few more biographies about the Hemingways and Ernest’s novels. Did you know that Zelda claimed Scott plagiarized her short stories, letters, and diaries in his work? A few weeks ago I bought her only novel, Save Me the Waltz, at a used bookstore, and I’m looking forward to reading it.

Newcity published an article last Friday on “Design 50: Who Shapes Chicago.” It’s a really interesting look at the creatives doing big things in Chicago.

And this week, Design*Sponge finally put out a city guide for my former residence, Fargo, North Dakota! It’s about time other people knew about some of the cool gems hidden in the backwards state. If you ever find yourself in Fargo, it’s a good roundup of what to check out.

And lastly, here’s an article for when you have a chunk of time. I’m a little late on this story, but I still had to tell you about The New Yorker piece on the drama and scandal at the Bolshoi Ballet in Russia. This story about the creative director who was burned with acid is full of politics, history, brazen ballerinas, corruption, and detective work. Don’t miss the slideshow either.