Art Vent

Letting the Fresh Air In

Art: I love it, I hate it....

May 27, 2012 - 7:19am -- Carol Diehl
I went to Chicago recently, and had a mini art crisis. One dark and stormy Sunday afternoon, blissed out after a morning of kundalini at Yoga in the Loop in the landmark Fine Arts Building, I crossed Michigan Avenue to the Art Institute to see Renzo Piano’s much-touted Modern Wing—and got all cranky.

First of all, while my press cards got me in free, unlike other museums where press are treated like members, I was sent to the regular ticket line, which shrank my allotted hour by more than half. Having only 20 minutes and being pretty familiar with Roy Lichtenstein and photographer Dawoud Bey, the subjects of special exhibitions, I took in the lobby/atrium, and headed upstairs to the galleries displaying the permanent collection—which is where I had my meltdown. OMG I’m SO bored with museums where there is some spectacular entrance, hallway, atrium (or stairway, in the case of Richard Meiers’s Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art) that serves as a showcase for the architect’s creative genius, his use of natural light and ability to spend millions of dollars, while the art is shunted off to be imprisoned in the same-old-same-old square white boxes with track lighting. Really, if I never see another piece of white-painted drywall again (such a lifeless material!) it will be too soon. I don’t know what the alternative is, but there’s gotta be another way. Perhaps if, instead of designing temples to their egos, architects were to think creatively about new ways art could be displayed, they might come up with something.

Renzo Piano, Modern Wing, Chicago Art Institute: Where is the art?

Anyway, featured in this particular white box on the second floor (Contemporary Art from 1960 to the Present) the walls were lined with deadpan portraits by Dutch photographer
Gehry Bandshell, Millennium Park, Chicago

Of course our Marxian friends will surely point out that last week, not far away from “The Bean,” as Chicagoans call the Kapoor, military-style police were bashing the heads of NATO protestors, and that both that action and the sculpture are expressions of the same mayoral power structure.** But does that mean they must be uniformly evil? The truth is that inspiring art makes people want to lead inspiring lives. Boredom achieves nothing.

Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2004-8.
Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2004-8, view from underneath.

 **While Mayor Richard Daley’s influence was key in the realization of the park, we have no reason to believe his police would have been more restrained than those of his successor, Rahm Emanuel, or that Emanuel does not see the value of the park.


The large white box, and grand entrance are created to give a sense of permanence in the way banks used to be built. A sense that the bank would be here long after you are gone so that you could trust your (donations of art/money) would be safe. The large space then needs to be fit with art to scale.

I think artists and the public would be better served with small spaces that imitate there own homes. The intimacy and focus would be on individual pieces of art, and art could be seen as something the public could purchase and put on their own walls.

In regards to the lighting....I have worked in an art museum and the one factor that registrars will not compromise is the amount of light on works on paper or fabric. 5-8 lumens (track lighting). When the museums are built they want the flexibility to show everything in every room so there is almost no natural light. When they know that it will only be sculpture or even painting then they allow for natural light. PAFA in Philadelphia has some great natural light.

I think you make an accurate argument about the wow factor of museum entrances and the same ol'... for the exhibition areas. One exception that comes to mind (there's always at least one) is DIA:Beacon. That naturally lit space is breathtaking, regardless of weather, it always glows.

Agree too on Millenium Park, I found the public very engaged with the public art in Chicago when I visited. What about Jaume Plensa's "Crown Fountain!

Dijkstra seems to be carrying on the tradition of August Sander's portraits of German farmers and peasants in the early 1900's. Although from interviews I've read, it's not clear she has any idea of his work. If it's supersized, photography now gets noticed whether the artistry is there or not.

As for the empty white space in museums, this is one reason why the (old) Barnes in Philly was refreshing.
The building was old, too small and musty, the security was Gestapo-like and parking was non-existent. But boy, did you get to see a mess 'o art!

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