Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Live-Action Frogger: Navigating "The Mystery of the Ordinary" at the Art Institute

Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926-1938 at the Art Institute of Chicago
While many people were reaching their personal bests in the Chicago Marathon Sunday morning, I was also able to accomplish a personal goal:  getting to an exhibit before it closed!  (Our next post will share an instance I was not so timely) Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary 1926-1938 closed yesterday at the Art Institute of Chicago, and I was able to sneak in before they shut the doors on it!

Confession:  I hate big exhibits like this, only because of the throngs of people snaking through the gallery trying to get by.  It’s disruptive to a good gallery experience—too many irksome things going on to really be able to connect with the works.  It was very dumb of me, then, to wait until Magritte’s final days to go see it, as the crowds were even heftier than usual.  Actually, the Chicago Marathon provided a great foil to this exhibit experience: the participants outside running freely through the streets of Chicago, compared to the dozens of people inside the Art Institute slowly shuffling through cramped quarters in The Mystery of the Ordinary.

Those Darn Audio Tour Devices!
Add on to this my introduction to the new/different audio tour devices, and the experience was mildly aggravating.  Approaching Regenstein hall, I thought it odd there was a crowd of people on their cell phones standing in front of the exhibit introduction label.  Imagine how angry I was when all of those same people were still on their phones inside the gallery!  At some point I realized that these people were not cell phones, but in fact the devices used for the audio tours for the exhibit.  At a closer glance, the devices sort of looked like calculators or maybe a large cordless house phone.  The tour was rather loudly playing out of the speakers of the “personal” device, which made it hard for the audio to be controlled. What was odd to me was that none of them came with headphones…so the audio tour really was available to everyone in the gallery for the exhibit (whether or not you wanted that), if you weren’t already distracted by the ever-glowing light of the devices.  I was amazed that the stewards inside the gallery were able to pick out the cell phones from all the audio tour devices!

That said, the exhibit itself was very well done.  AIC made great use of the sheer space of the gallery in terms of placement of the works.  Although the exhibit only covered Magritte’s works from a 12-year period, there were many, many paintings to be displayed—what a prolific artist he was!  Fortunately each work was given ample space for consideration, and I loved the way the moody gray paint really let Magritte’s colorful works shine all on their own.  Although I did not receive the time with each painting that I would have liked, it was very easy to grasp that Magritte’s ideas are timeless and provocative. “The False Mirror” (the giant, round eyeball reflecting clouds) is among my favorite works of his for this very reason – it’s just so meta.  It was quite something to see in person.  With “The False Mirror” and Magritte’s other works, it is easy to think that his painting is rather straightforward appearance-wise, given that his subject matter tends toward the use of everyday items presented in an unconventional method.  Viewing these pieces online, for instance, gives you zero clue as to his incredible way with depth and distance.  In person, the clouds on/in/against the iris of “The False Mirror” leap off the canvas; you feel like you could fall into the eye itself, it looks so dimensional. 

A view of "The Gigantic Days," from behind some tall people
This was also true of seeing “Time Transfixed” in person.  That train protruding from the fire place also truly appears to be jutting out at you leaping off the canvas.  Take if you will a picture of this particular moment, to get a sense of this exhibit experience: there I am, attempting to follow the steward's advice at viewing “Time Transfixed” from the left of the picture and then the right (so as the highlight the genius and presence of that train).  There, too, are 3 groups of 5 people stationed in front of the painting, so I try to go from left to right, blocked by the middle group of people.  I try to go around that middle group of people, think I am in the clear, when another person cuts me off and I have to veer yet again out of the way.  Who knew one would need such navigational skills inside an exhibit!  It was not unlike live-action Frogger… Left, Right, and then out the door to relish the fresh air and personal space!

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