Art Review: Art Institute Chicago

This post will make another entry on my Free Stuff page under Art Reviews!  Jerry and I had a wonderful visit to The Art Institute today, and the following is my review of the two exhibits we saw….

Mexican Political Prints

I always enjoy visiting the Jean and Steven Goldman Prints and Drawings Galleries, which I have written about previously.  The current exhibition is entitled What May Come: The Taller de Gráfica Popular and the Mexican Political Print.  You can read about the collection here.

The artists used a variety of printmaking techniques to comment on political situations in Mexico from a Communist point of view.  I have to admit to being almost completely ignorant of political history, so I didn’t get the many of the satirical and symbolic elements in the works.  But I did appreciate the graphic dimension of the pieces very much.  Most of the artwork was black-and-white, and many of the artists utilized linocut, one of my favorite printmaking techniques.  I often saw commonalities between the formal elements on display and my own work.


Dean and Jerry at Magritte show

The main buzz in the city right now is over another exhibit, Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary — which you can read about here.  I was suitably impressed with this collection, which is hung in a meandering maze-like hall.  The walls are painted slate grey, and the only illumination comes from spotlights aimed directly at the pieces.  These touches keep our attention on the works themselves, which exist out of any comfortable or reliable context.  We never get our orientation, either direction-wise or intellectually.  Just when you think you have cracked the code that Magritte is using to express his ideas, he throws a curveball, and you realize you know nothing.

magritte2Magritte often placed incongruous objects and text together, leaving the viewer to puzzle out possible connections between them — or to realize with anxiety that everything we behold in life is a jumble of incongruous bits.  Even our concepts of reality are nothing but messy collages — we ignore the seams enough to just function.  Magritte draws our minds to those seams, much as the lighting in the exhibit erases our bearings.

magritte1There were many technical approaches to analyze, more than I was aware Magritte actually utilized.  Appropriately, some of the works were collage.  There were even book and periodical illustrations.  Most of those pieces were simplified versions of full-size paintings, so it was interesting to see how the compositions translated to a simpler medium.  To an extent, the print versions reveal which lines and shapes Magritte considered to be most important.

A theme I never noticed before in Magritte’s work, but which was readily apparent in this exhibit, is doubling.  There were multiple instances of the same figure or object being repeated, almost as if it had been created using modern Pop Art reproduction techniques.  Splitting is a theme I have also worked with, and I’m inspired to delve into again, especially as I am becoming familiar with the aforementioned reproduction techniques.

Magritte’s work reminds me that we all have within us multiple selves.  Not all of them are familiar or even known to us.  The small section of self with which we identify is the tip of a very large glacier….