My spouse and I went to The Art Institute on Michigan Avenue in Chicago this past weekend. We went to see “Arrangement in Grey and Black No 1” a/k/a Whistler’s Mother. Well, to be even more precise, we went to see the painting of Whistler’s Mother painted by her son, James Mc- Neill Whistler in 1871.
The painting was last on display in Chicago in 1954. Its first visit to the Windy City was in 1933 for the World’s Fair. And now it is back for a third visit, on loan from its permanent home in France. The large canvas is referred to by some as an American Icon which lives abroad.
The Art Institute is a wonderful place, a cultural haven, an enduring institution, but it is not my favorite place. My wife knows this about me. When there is an art exhibit in town that Deb wants to see she will go on her own, go with a friend or she will coax me along with the promise of a quick strategic stealth visit. That was Sunday’s agenda.
We went. We saw THE painting. We ate a chocolate chip cookie in the cafeteria. And we left. That’s my kind of art tour. Last year we saw Vincent van Gogh’s “Bedroom in Arles,” his series of three similar chamber paintings. We saw the van Gogh exhibit with the same strike plan, although I think it was cupcakes and not cookies that we ate in the cafeteria. A nice pairing, perhaps, van Gogh and cupcakes.
Deb specializes in, and may possibly have invented, the quick strategic strike art tour.
When we are in the city, and have out-of-town guests, Deb is likely to ambush, cajole or entice said guests into a visit to The Art Institute. This ambushing, cajoling or enticing is done with the promise of the viewing of only three paintings, the added promise of a cafeteria treat and the option of high tailing it out of there immediately and guiltfree after completion of that short list.
It is the perfect reluctant art lover’s tour. Often, but not always, the guests opt to voluntarily extend the tour. The excursion also guarantees a good hike across Millennium Park to get to the place - and so the intersection of culture and exercise is also achieved.
The three paintings that are viewed on Deb’s strategic strike art tour include two given works and one optional. The first given, absolutely, positively must see work, is “American Gothic,” by American painter Grant Wood. This circa 1930 oil painting is the famous, often parodied, dour couple standing in front of what is now known as an American Gothic styled house with distinctive arched window. The man in the painting is clearly a farmer and he is holding a pitchfork. The woman is either his sister or his wife and she is wearing an apron.
The second stop is the enormous, amazing “A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,” painted in 1884 by French artist Georges Seurat. The sheer size of this work is impressive and the painting invites the viewer to step into the tranquil scene, thus the required stop as number two on the stealth art tour.
Deb varies her third stop depending on the subject interest of our guests, or if something notable is featured on display as is currently the case with the Whistler. Often stop three is a quiet, contemplative Mary Cassatt oil painting, and then…
Off to the promised study of chocolate chip cookies in the lower level cafeteria. This is indeed my kind of art appreciation.