After several months of frantic flyarounds for my day job, things have slowed down a bit and I’ve gotten to stay home in Chicago the past several weeks. What a luxury! And part of the upside of getting a breather from work-related stress is catching up on my reading. I assume that if you’re reading my blog, you are as preoccupied with art, culture, travel, and food as I am (otherwise, you’d be over at TMZ.com). So I encourage you to join me in savoring and languorously perusing two of the best sources of writing I’ve stumbled across in the past few weeks: the impressively thoughtful new print publication, The Chicagoan, which is a must-read for anyone concerned with the vibrant history and artistic life of our great city Chicago; and the newly-launched website Roads & Kingdoms, which is essential for those of you who think about food within its cultural and socio-political context, engagingly put together for the transmedia-savvy 21st century reader.
The much-awaited, ten years in the making Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago finally opened its doors to the public last Saturday, May 16! And it is glorious, breathtaking, epic, dramatic, super-sexy, exhilarating in I’m-glad-to-be-alive-kind of way - it deserves all the superlatives it can get, plus it’s green-friendly too (with an automated dimming system that changes the amount of artificial lighting in use based on the the level of natural light entering the galleries). Famed architect Renzo Piano designed the Modern Wing (which adds 264,000 square feet to the Art Institute and makes it the second largest museum in the US, next to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art), and he has further enriched Chicago’s already world-class, much-acclaimed urban architecture. But I am personally grateful to him for designing the galleries in a very visitor-friendly way, as if you’re leisurely rowing along a gently flowing river. There’s none of the sometimes overwhelming maze-like complexity of the Art Institute main building. Plus there are these magnificent picture windows at the north side of the building that open into jaw-dropping views of the Chicago skyline and Millennium Park – enough for anyone to say, why live anywhere else? The Modern Wing curators confidently and smartly use the space to showcase the art in the most impactful manner possible. None of the galleries I visited during the opening night preview party on Friday felt crammed, and the design allowed you to really soak in Cy Twombly’s Peony series, or Robert Gober’s harrowing room installation which includes his infamous Hanging Man/Sleeping Man wallpaper (the ones hanging being black men and the ones sleeping being white men), a headless mannequin wearing a wedding dress, and bags of cat litter. I love the fact that you could actually focus on a piece, versus getting distracted by the other trainstopping art surrounding you. Although there has been some reservations from the usual know-it-alls about the comprehensiveness and diversity of the collection, the unveiling of the Modern Wing is a watershed in the evolution of Chicago as a global culture capital. By the way, Young Modern, the late night preview party for young professionals (as compared to what, Old Modern, the much-earlier preview party? The, ahem, traditional Art Institute crowd was out and about all around the museum pre-sunset on Friday night) was a blast. Boatloads of Chicago’s young (and not so young), attractively-dressed culturati (and not so culturati too) enjoyed a relaxed art viewing, mingling with other arts-oriented folks, numerous open bars, top-notch musical acts such as the Goran Ivanovic Group, and eccentric, artsy, trying-to-be-painfully-hip event touches that make art opening nights memorable such as performance artist Igor Josifov lying inside the glass walkway you cross to enter the party rooms, and serving pizza from the box with champagne at midnight. Lovely!
Tags: Art Institute of Chicago
After years of Oscar-watching, soothsaying, trend-spotting, kvetching, and celebrating, I FINALLY know someone who is up for an Academy Award. And in a major acting category at that. Here’s a heartfelt, awe-inspired congratulations to Michael Shannon, A Red Orchid Theater founder/ensemble member, for his nomination in this year’s Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role category, for his terrific, film-stopping performance as Kathy Bates’ mentally unstable son in Revolutionary Road. I’ve been volunteering with A Red Orchid Theater over the years through the Arts and Business Council of Chicago and it’s a Chicago theater company that is very close to my heart. With Mike’s nomination and soon-to-be widespread name recognition, I am equally thrilled for Red Orchid since it was on their stage that Mike brought a lot of indelible performances to life such as the lead role in the original production of Tracy Letts’ Bug, as well as his first directorial effort, Ionesco’s Hunger and Thirst. Although Mike is now an Academy Award-nominated movie star, I still think of him as a Chicago theater actor through and through, so his Oscar nomination is also fantastic for the city’s theatrical community. Very, very cool!
Unfortunately, the films I saw during Week 2 of the Film Festival were not as interesting or memorable as Week 1′s “Four Months, Three Weeks, Two Days” and “You, the Living” (see previous posting). Going to film festivals is much like gay online dating – you’re seduced by the intriguing, articulately-written profile (or film synopsis) with just the right amount of interesting tidbits that beg for more information, but once you agree to meet in person, you plunge into manic-depressive-with-ex-boyfriend-issues-and-Cher-fixation-hell. Or in the case of this week’s film festival movies, incomprehensibility-and-boredom-hell.
As a fervent theatre lover, I sometimes have to pinch myself when I see the extensive theatre coverage in the Chicago Tribune and Timeout Chicago, and realize how much interesting, creative, world-class theatre I have at my doorstep. There is absolutely no other city in the US, other than New York City, where this extensive array of theatrical experiences are available in any given night. You can literally see a play a day (and two on the weekends when there are matinees) given the staggering amount of choices. This week, for example, you can pick among the following:
The Chicago International Film Festival held every October is the oldest film festival in North America. It may not be as prestigious as Toronto, Telluride, or New York, so we do not have as many filmmakers and celebrities attending, but it does offer Chicagoans a great opportunity to see many films from other parts of the world that may not receive commercial distribution in the US. Several years ago, I had the notion of trying to see 20 movies in 2 weeks, which I soon found out was about as much fun as having a herniated disc, especially while you’re sitting through the nth artsy subtitled movie about 90 year old Hungarian barley farmers. You live and learn, so over the years, I have been pretty selective as to what I end up seeing. And the payoffs are huge- for every dud, there is at least 2 brilliant film experiences like Haneke’s Cache, one of the showcase films of 2005. This year is no different, out of the 5 movies I have seen in the first week of the festival, there are 2 exceptionally great ones, 1 very good one, and 2 perplexing ones. Here are my thoughts on the 5: