Sunday, May 24, 2009

The Modern Wing, Art Institute of Chicago

"The Bathers," Henri Matisse

Chess Set by Man Ray

The Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago has opened this week after a 4-year anticipation and 294 million dollars in design and construction. The building designed by Renzo Piano extends the modern and contemporary art collection through the north wing of the Art Institutes's 130 year old classic design building. The sparkling modern expansion bridges the museum into Millennium Park and spills into the more flamboyant architecture of Frank Gehry's band shell.

The atmosphere of the modern wing is extremely tranquil and looks and feels modern in it's bright airy flow and environmental considerations in space and light. The roof garden provides natural noise and thermal heat installation, while the public gardens provide stunning views. The building was constructed with recycled and local materials where possible and is illuminated by photocell lighting. The towering steel and glass facades pay tribute to Chicago's hallmark architect, Mies Van Der Rohe, who also inspired the steel-rod suspended staircase for the Arts Club of Chicago.

As you enter the wing from either Monroe or the museum you are sucked into a bright, narrow minimalist hallway that offers nothing you would expect from a museum. The first floor houses rooms for temporary exhibits, (currently Cy Twombly) classrooms and The Modern Shop but absolutely void of any interest in it's corridor. Perhaps this will change as they curate sculpture for the main level or it was intentional for renting the space for events, but it feels more like a sterile office building than a museum.

Up the staircase - and if you get vertigo you may want to take the elevator - and you are on the second floor which displays several rooms of Contemporary Art, 1945 to 1960, and after 1960, much of which the museum never had room to exhibit. Another room of interest is Architecture and Design which displays tomorrow's classic modern contemporary furniture and lighting made by Capellini, Flos and Vitra, to name a few.

Up one more flight of stairs and you've arrived to what makes this whole expansion worth the visit; European Modern Art, 1900-1950. The museum is very proud to include in their collection Henri Matisse, "The Bathers by a River" a significant painting in size and in the cradle of cubism and surrealism and the story that follows in the works of Picasso, Juan Gris, Rene Magritte, Salvidor Dali, Mondrian and Man Ray. For me entering this room was like hearing Puccini while everything that led to it was merely the orchestra warming up.

I attended college at Columbia across the street and spent much of my 20's in the museum on Tuesdays (free day) getting inspiration or sketching paintings by Max Beckman or Giorgio DiChirico - so much of this collection is as familiar to me as an old friend. But to see it expanded and included with dozens of new acquisitions that contribute to the European Modern art genre is a special treat that will give me reason to revisit the Art Institute more often... that and the opportunity to dine at Tony Mantuano's Terzo Piano for lunch (always been a fan of Spiaggia) on the third floor.


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