Saturday, March 30, 2013

Picasso And Chicago at Art Institute (See It!)

When trekking through Chicago, disappointment of "what could have been" (2016 Olympics) still crosses my mind. That October morning beside the Picasso sculpture and City Hall was a bummer.

But with each return to Chicago, new memories get forged, and the Chicago Art Institute's outstanding current exhibition "Picasso And Chicago" provided a great bridge to new cheer about the windy city and its rich ties to art and art history.

Chicago's Picasso show was not the first experienced in early 2013 -- a couple months ago the Guggenheim's P.R. team arranged tickets for "Picasso Black and White" (excellent). The Chicago exhibition rounded out a lot of the Picasso story for me, showcasing career details that did not previously resonate.

For instance, I had no idea Picasso created hundreds of ceramic items in one year of focus on this medium. "Picasso And Chicago" includes several examples, including a beautiful and tall work with four human figures (a modern take on the Greek urns on loan from the British Museum a couple of galleries from the special exhibition space).

Picasso also wrote hundreds of poems and two plays, creating illustrations to bring some of these works to life on paper or canvas. His tiny drawings are simply amazing in their detail.

The Art Institute show also taught more about Picasso's love life and the women who influenced the artist.

I loved discovering (spoiler alert) that when Chicago's mayor travelled to meet Picasso about the City Hall sculpture commission, the politician brought along works by famous Chicago-born artists, prompting Picasso's excited reaction (paraphrasing here), "Hemingway -- my friend! He's from Chicago?" and comments about how the master painter taught the master writer "everything he knows about bullfighting."

The exhibition is bookended by the history of Chicago's most famous sculpture, with the entryway showcase of a bronze model of the work, flanked by "The Blue Guitar" and speakers broadcasting news interviews from the sculpture unveiling event in downtown Chicago (as today, folks on the first day shared candid comments spanning the spectrum from instant love to perplexed reactions to the work).

One work stood out for this blogger -- "Peasant Woman With A Shawl" -- presented as the first Picasso that Chicago and American audiences viewed in the artist's first USA exhibition. A handful of massive canvases, several two-faced female portraits, and several of Picasso's 2,500+ prints round out the exhibition (250 works in all -- my head was spinning in a good way).

For those who visit "Picasso And Chicago" be sure to pick up the audio tour and museum card highlighting several additional Picasso that are in the museum but not included in the exhibition.

Many thanks to the Art Institute for setting up the blogger tickets. Many new happy memories forged in Chicago.

Now if we can just convince the mayor of Chicago to pursue the 2024 Olympic bid ...

Photos by Nicholas Wolaver

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Thank You, MAM -- Milwaukee Art Museum Mounts "Color Rush" Photography Exhibition

On a chilly night in southeast Wisconsin, tonight the Milwaukee Art Museum provided a warm welcome to guests who enjoyed free Thursday admission to the new exhibition "Color Rush: 75 Years of Color Photography in America."

The exhibition is a preamble to MAM's 125th Anniversary celebration set for the warmer days of spring.

"Color Rush" introduces visitors to the earliest uses of color photography, starting in the early 1900s and leap-frogging a few decades at a time. The first main exhibition room features the early 1930s photos crafted as feature magazine covers and advertising. A cover for a summer 1932 edition of Vogue popped from the walls (the closest image and timing for an Olympic-themed moment as the cover debuted when the Los Angeles 1932 Olympic Games launched).

My docent host (girlfriend's mother) also pointed out the vivid holiday cookie visuals shown enlarged beside the eventual use of the photograph as part of a lifestyle magazine advertisement. The exhibition has a lot of these -- fine examples, mind you -- juxtaposed with early "hard news" color photos of the Hindenburg disaster. Impressive! Another sports-related magazine cover showcased a figure skating couple in flight above an unseen ice rink. Slick!

As the exhibition advanced to the post-war years and into the 1970s, with a few sets of color slides and some Kodak history, I got that funny feeling that's hit me at other photo exhibitions. Driving home and talking about the exhibition, it hit me again, with the questions I've asked before: Why do museums decide that "art" photography requires the photographers' subjects to be destitute, drug users, or trashy? Why must "museum quality" photography appear at the dregs end, or the Architectural Digest perfect end, of the photo spectrum?

The middle ground in this exhibition featured hotel interiors, urban landscapes and other (for this blogger) ho-hum images.

I guess this is my way of saying that after the High Museum of Art exhibition "Up & Down Peachtree" (photos by Martin Parr), recent Dorothea Lange images in the news, and MAM's exhibition, I'm now tired of photos of the poor, or snapshots of "the ordinary" appearing as "art." What sealed it for me was the "behind the curtain" parental advisory slide show of brothel employees, bodybuilders and dope heads in various stages of undress. What does this have to do with the color photography process?

Fortunately, "Color Rush" includes some dramatic and (never seen by my eyes until tonight) panoramic landscapes by Ansel Adams. It was also fun to discover the surprising pumpkin patch shopper while a three-story house burned in the background in a 1970s color photo by Joel Sternfeld.

Though going to the exhibition I had no specific hopes nor expectations, it was a moderate let down that more iconic color images, or perhaps early color images from cinema, did not make the cut. In that drive home conversation, I found myself asking "what about Annie Leibovitz's landscapes and portraits?" and "what about modern color photography in National Geographic as influenced by early color images in the same or similar publications?"

Is the exhibition "Color Rush" worth a look-see? Absolutely! And the information shared in the exhibition is something I will have to keep processing to see what develops.

Photos via MAM, as well as Vogue UK and

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