The Art Institute exhibition “The New Contemporary” (re)opened in mid-December. Once we had made our way through, I was glad to climb the stairs to the modern galleries — some Picasso, Ernst, Dali, Beckman, et al. to clear my head. Oh, there were some high points in “The New Contemporary“: The Hockney that looks like an Updike novel to me (“American Collectors“) has a wonderful space, for example. But Pollock’s “The Key” is off-exhibit, and its replacements don’t interest me as much. The underlying narrative of many of the featured works in the contemporary galleries isn’t as clear or, when it is clear, as compelling to me, as, say, the modern galleries.
To me. Those two words explain, of course, why it is impossible to define art. “To me” varies so widely. One man’s sculpture, book, movie, play (see below), etc. is another’s bit of rubbish, and all that. There are some who say that primitive pieces, like the Venus of Willendorf, aren’t art, for example, or the Chauvet Cave paintings. I’d heartily disagree, but then who am I? I had trouble seeing the art in “The New Contemporary” but have absolutely no trouble seeing how typeface could be described as art. Shrug and chuckle. There is so much to see. No need to get hung up on what doesn’t speak to me. I just climbed some stairs and (re)discovered something that does.
I keep meaning to return to Cynthia Freeland’s short treatise But Is It Art, but then I remember that it sort of annoyed me when I first began it, and I’m really more of a Sister Wendy or Simon Schama sort of gal. So it mocks me from the art bookcase.
Speaking of rubbish, one man’s and not another’s, I disliked The Heir Apparent. David Ives drew from Moliere’s The Misanthrope for The School for Lies, both of which delighted me two seasons ago. He drew from a contemporary of Moliere for Heir, but the results were just not my cuppa. Too much potty humor and too thin a plot, which was actually a damned shame because the cast they assembled was superb — comedic timing and delightful verbal gymnastics galore. And the set was stunning. Oh, well. Not every play can be four stars.
The following images include detail from works seen during my most recent visit to the Art Institute of Chicago.
■ Jackson Pollock’s “Number 17A” (1948)
■ Jackson Pollock’s “Greyed Rainbow” (1953)
■ David Hockney’s “American Collectors” (1968)
■ Jasper Johns’ “Alphabet” (1959)
■ Jean Dubuffet’s “Head of a Man” (1945)
■ Alberto Giacometti’s “Couple” (1926)
■ Fernand Léger’s “Reclining Woman” (1922)