The Art Institute of Chicago is famous for its collection of Impressionist paintings, and if you have ever been a college student with a poster of some pastel flowers on your dorm wall, then you will be amazed to look at the real source of that piece of wallpaper.
The first time I went to Paris and saw the ‘Mona Lisa’ at the Louvre, I was shocked by how tiny the painting was. ‘How could it be so small?!’ I thought, ‘when she is so big and famous?’ Besides being small, you can’t even find her because in Paris she is known only by her nickname on all of the signs, “La Joconde”.
You will have the same experience with every original you see.
Sure, you think you know Monet’s wheat fields, or Van Gogh’s pathetically small bedroom with the cute little wooden chair, but until you are standing right in front of the master that has spawned millions of posters and screensavers everywhere, you have not truly met its depth. An original painting is almost three-dimensional. Standing looking at something original like Manet or Monet, you feel as if you are greeting royalty, or an internet date. “Well, so there you are! That’s what you look like in person! You know, you are really not quite what I expected.”
And after you have voyeured through Van Gogh’s bedroom and Georgia O’Keefe’s ‘Red and Pink Rocks’, move on to the lesser known, but just as fascinating artists in Chicago’s modern design sections.
Hughie Lee Smith, for example, has a huge landscape piece called, “Desert Forms” which I swear could be a scene right out of Waiting for Godot. In fact, if I were to set the stage for Godot, I would want to use Smith’s version as a blueprint. The characters are eerie, alone, desolute, but still seemingly going somewhere or nowhere.
And in a city known for its architectural design, the Art Institute does not let you down. There are cushy arm chairs designed out of corrugated cardboard, and rooms designed out of old computer monitors.
Walking outside in Chicago, you walk amongst the giants of building with diverse cityscapes at every compass point, and sculptures of those giants at every lake-side step.
The moral is: when in a large city, visit the masters, and the masters-to-be.