Category Archives: Art

Neko and Kiy

I’ve met several talented people through my local writing group, The Writing Journey. We’ve enjoyed putting story anthologies together, doing informal readers’ theater versions of Shakespeare plays, and going to see some of our members perform.

Neko Zujihan is someone I know from the group (mostly online) and he’s created something remarkable that I wanted to share:

His book is now available on severable platforms, and I hope you get a chance to experience the rich world he’s given us. Look for Kiy: Jumoku No Musuko (Son of the Forest) on his publisher’s web site, or on Amazon.

Van Gogh’s Bedrooms

The Art Institute representation of Bedroom in Arles

Vincent Van Gogh only inhabited this earth for 37 years, and in that time, he lived in 37 different places. That could be why,  when he got to Arles and finally signed a lease on a little house of his own, the theme of home emerged so gloriously in his work. Of course, he had represented places where he’d lived before then. But after arranging his house in Arles, he painted his bedroom not once, but three different times. You may think you’ve seen his famous bedroom painting if you’ve been to Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam. Another person might claim he saw it in the Musée D’Orsay in Paris, while a third would insist she’s seen it at the Art Institute of Chicago.

They would all be right. However, right now all three versions are being exhibited—side by side—at the Art Institute through May 10, 2016. This is the first time all three have been exhibited together in North America. This show has been ten years in the making

Van Gogh tried many lines of work, only realizing he was an artist the last 10 years of his life. In that 10 year span, he painted 900 canvases.

There’s so much to love about this exhibit. Many pieces by Van Gogh, Milliet, and others put the piece in context. There’s a re-creation of his bedroom that you can walk up to, though not into.

The Night Café by Vincent Van Gogh

The biggest surprise for me was in the last room, just before you get to the gift shop. Plan to spend a little time in the Night Café, which is set up to suggest a café in Arles where Van Gogh sometimes hung out. It doesn’t function at all like an actual café, but it does play a wonderful video loop which shows the many, many ways Van Gogh was celebrated in other media, especially film, television, by other artists, and in comics. And yes, the Doctor Who episode (the one that always makes me weep like a tiny little girl) was represented.


Visiting Vivian Maier at the Chicago History Museum


It was free day at the Chicago History Museum last Wednesday. I took nearly full advantage; didn’t arrive as soon as they opened, since it’s kind of a schlep for me, but I still arrived early enough to spend as much time at the museum as I wanted.

It helped that I’d already been through the Chicago: Crossroads of America guided tour, and thoroughly examined the Railroaders exhibit. While I enjoyed several new-to-me sections during this visit, taking copious notes in the Lincoln’s Chicago and Facing Freedom exhibits, and stopping briefly to revisit other rooms, the highlight of this trip was Vivian Maier’s Chicago

Vivian Maier (1926-2009), also known as the nanny photographer, lived in Chicago from 1956 until her death in 2009. She worked as a North Shore nanny for roughly 40 years, but spent her days off pursuing a vocation in street photography. Her work was discovered 2 years before her death, when she couldn’t pay the rent on her storage unit and her possessions (including scads of undeveloped film) were auctioned off. Shortly after her death, John Maloof (Chicago historian and collector) began posting her work on the internet to critical acclaim.

I spent at least an hour at Vivian Maier exhibit. At first I concentrated on the small strips of pictures, reminiscent of developed (and printed) film rolls that ringed the room, each of a particular event or neighborhood.

Strips I found especially resonant:

  • Grant Park – Democratic National Convention (1968), especially the shot of the earnest nun in conversation with a small group of people, all standing under a tree
  • A Day as a Nanny (1968), which mostly showed a young boy in striped shirt and small-brimmed madras hat clowning around a low hanging, backlit tree branch but had one shot I found particularly humorous: a tiny fish lies on the front seat of a rowboat, perhaps the boy’s catch of the day
  • Nixon Resigns (1974) which shows stacks of Chicago Tribunes, Daily News, and Sun Times with the headline; the strip closes with several grainy shots of Nixon on television, addressing the nation

The filmstrips were affecting, but for my money, the kick-in-the-gut stunning pictures, all unlabeled and blown up to 4’x4′ or larger single photos, formed cubicles in the center of the room. There were a few images of buildings, like Marina Towers and the demolition of the old Chicago Federal Building, but most were portraits of diverse people.

A sample:

  • A thin, handsome young white man wearing a hooded sweatshirt and jeans under a wrinkled topcoat, his hair in a pompadour, leaning against a warehouse door
  • Three African Americans on a gray winter day – a small boy in a stocking cap and a heavyset man in an ivy cap flank the thin, worn man in the center. He wears a herringbone tweed coat but no hat; his hair is graying and his face unshaven, and he looks down, lost in what appear to be discouraging thoughts
  • A woman, probably in her 60s, who wears a dark boiled-wool coat and a small-brimmed cloche with a black patent leather band. Her direct, open gaze through cat-eye glasses seems happy and curious, though she shows barely a trace of a smile

If your interest is piqued , you can see some actual Vivian Maier images here

Love, love, love the Chicago History Museum. The exhibit I’m looking forward to next is The 1968 Exhibit, opening October 4, 2014. Maybe I’ll see you there.

Magritte With Some Fellows

Magritte liked to wear-and play around with-bowler hats

Cookie brought Cookie Junior, Sis, and me to a swell do at the Art Institute the other week. Cookie is a Fellow there, and as such, she gets to learn and do more things than a regular member like me. Luckily she can invite several commoners along to special events, which is how I got in.

We learned more about the Belgian surrealist Magritte than I already knew, but that isn’t saying much. Everything I knew about him prior to July 1, 2014 I learned from watching the 1999 remake of The Thomas Crown Affair.

After learning a few things, and hearing stories I’m not supposed to repeat, we went to the reception. They do lovely receptions for Art Institute Fellows and their guests, but this one was something special. In keeping with the surrealist themes, many things were not what they appeared to be.

The most obvious place to acquire a napkin was from the young woman who wore thousands of them as a cocktail dress. As guests entered the reception and were drawn irresistibly to her bright turquoise form, she invited them—actually it seemed more like a  dare—to remove a napkin from her dress. Each paper square came off, with a bit of tugging, mostly to reveal more napkins underneath. Her knee-length skirt stood out like an inverted bowl, easily five feet in diameter at the bottom. Much hardware went into the design of her ensemble, but it would take a determined investigator some time to discover exactly how her dress managed to keep her decently covered while performing its useful service. We wanted to get to the exhibit itself, so we let that remain a mystery.

Red-and-white-striped cartons labeled “popcorn” were found to actually be holders for broccoli and cauliflower florets. Pale turquoise acrylic martini glasses contained a clear, cold liquid, but they were in such high demand that it was impossible to acquire any of this particular refreshment. Likely they held water, thus providing another means of astonishing the evening’s attendees. Small, pale egg-shaped forms floating in a creamy orange sea turned out to be white chocolate truffles. Adorning each round table was a silhouette of René Magritte in his iconic bowler hat, made of foam core, painted black, and stuck into a square pewter-colored metal vase that was filled with glitter-covered Styrofoam. At the the end of the evening, guests could be seen making off with these mementos. I might actually know someone who helped herself to one, but if so, I’m not squealing.

In the exhibit itself, trains roared out of fireplaces, a man peered into a mirror at a reflection of the back of his own head, a nude woman was painted into existence by a man who clearly longed for her, and an easel set up before a window might have shown what was outside the window, but might just as easily have obscured the actual view.

Magritte and the Mystery of the Ordinary. There’s a story there. I’ve got to go back and find out what it is.

Gorey at LUMA

B is for Basil, assaulted by bears*

Mary Anne Mohanraj recently spilled the beans on Facebook about the Edward Gorey exhibits at Loyola University Museum of Art (aka LUMA). My BFF Cookie went to Loyola for both her undergrad and med school, so she was all over the idea of visiting her old stomping grounds. Her daughter (and my goddaughter) Cookie Junior was on spring break, so we all went together.

If you watched the PBS show Mystery during the 90s, you already know Gorey’s style from the animated opening credits. Or you may have seen his elegant, unsettling work–somewhat Victorian or Edwardian, with a touch of the Gothic–in The Gashlycrumb Tinies or The Doubtful Guest. In addition to illustrating his own work, he worked for a time at Doubleday Anchor, providing book art for such famous works as Dracula by Bram Stoker, The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells, and Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, by T.S. Eliot.

He resisted classification in many ways. He wrote, he illustrated, he did theatrical design. In fact, he won the 1977 Tony Award for Costume Design (and was nominated for set design) for Dracula.

Since he preferred not to be classified, there’s no way I’ll attempt it here. Edward Gorey must be seen (in person, the web doesn’t do him justice) to be appreciated, and I feel that I just scratched the surface during my recent visit. Well, Bro is visiting in late April. Maybe I can sucker—uh, talk—him into a trip to LUMA. In any case, I need to get back there before the exhibit closes on June 15, 2014. Next time, I’m bringing a notepad and pencil so I can take numerous notes.

*Image: Edward Gorey, B is for Basil assaulted by bears from The Gashlycrumb Tinies, pen and ink, New York: Simon & Schuster, 1963, Illustration © The Edward Gorey Charitable Trust. All rights reserved