Once the Art Institute of Chicago closes every night, the artwork hanging on the walls talk to each other. They like to discuss their histories and how they relate to one another. Sometimes they’ll brag about how long certain people looked at them that day.
It’s always fun when the curators mix the standard permanent artwork around. It gives the artwork a chance to compare and contrast themselves among new peers.
The Art Institute of Chicago is currently intermixing 20-30 photos of water within their permanent modern art collection. In every room alongside the paintings is one or two tightly cropped photographs of a water’s surface.
Now the modern art has a completely new set of buddies to yield a wide range of conversation and interpretation.
But who are these new photos? A gang of thugs? Or maybe a group of schoolchildren.
Here’s a few examples of the work side by side
Maurice de Vlaminck “Houses at Chatou”, around 1905
Balthus (Count Balthasar Klossowski de Rola) “Solitare”, 1943
Matta (Roberto Sebastian Antonio Matta Echaurren) “The Earth is a Man”, 1942
Jean (Hans) Arp “Manicure”, 1930
Jackson Pollock “Greyed Rainbow”, 1953
The photos fit in nicely—they look almost painter-esque.
Not only for their texture, but how they are displayed. The are not matted like traditional photos. Oh no! Instead they hang inside the frame as an object. (Much like how a painting behaves as an object). The photos even warp a bit from their hanging–evoking the nature of water of their depiction. Their spiffy white frames behave nicely indicating to the viewer that this is part of an ongoing series throughout the museum.
But the exact ways that they relate to the other paintings around them? Maybe in their color palette? After walking through about ten different rooms one begins to wonder if they become annoying. One could complain that some other art had to be taken down in each room, depriving the viewer a richer experience. Not really. One less piece of regular art. Quantity here is not as important as the quality of the new depth of experience these photos provide.
It makes you want to search deeper. To DIVE in.
Frustration sets in initially when trying to find meaning to how they relate to the artwork. It seems as though the photos should have more in them. Maybe something floating in the water, or a distinct reflection.
But their simple abstract nature compels you to learn the subtle language of the water. Upon first glance this language seems really simple. But after spending more time with them—looking at all the variables in this rich sea of photos—the delicate language unfolds.
- Color palettes
- Overall contrast
- Density of foam bubbles
- How much sunlight is reflected
- Flatness of water
- Choppiness of waves
- Time exposure
- How much zoom
Some of the photos best buddies are the abstract expressionists work (painted by Jackson Pollack, Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, Franz Kline). The water photos and these paintings have a lot in common to talk about—unity of surface, pure use of form and color, qualities of texture, and harnessing of accidents.
The pure invasion of these works into the museum do recall a quality that the abstract expressionists had: rebelliousness.
But they aren’t quite as anarchic, because of their tightly structured organization with matching white frames. Perhaps the white frames are like gang colors. Or schoolchildren’s uniforms.
Whether it’s a mischievous gang of thugs that invaded the space or a rowdy group of schoolchildren, the old paintings in the Art Institute are surely glad to have some new faces for awhile to chat with during after-hours.