Having almost actively avoided art galleries for the past ten years, it came as quite a shock that I actually felt drawn to visit Chicago ‘s Institute whilst visiting this American city.
Thankfully we arrived a day or so AFTER the record breaking polar vortex froze the city in temperatures below minus 26 centigrade, without calculating the windchill.
Without fail, each conversation with a local, after discussing the deep freeze, stressed that we must visit the Institute.
Obligingly we’d wandered into the vast entrance hall to find out more and once I noticed the visitors guide was covered in a Georgia O’Keeffe painting ‘sky above clouds’ I had to find out more.
‘Liz’ on the front desk was a fabulous point of information, able to tell me that they currently had 21 O’Keeffe paintings on display, which was enough to spark interest.
We were both flabbergasted at the constant stream of great paintings, one after the other, as we took the recommended route from the Michigan Avenue building through to the Rice building where the O’Keefes could be found.
The impressionists collection on level 2 really is something to behold.
I have been lucky enough to see many great paintings over the years when they’ve been on tour in London, however to be able to walk around Degas’ Ballerina and notice the silk ribbon in her hair, rarely an angle shown in books.
Then to have an enthusiastic curator encouraging us to get up closer to Seurat’s ‘A Sunday on La Grande Jatte-1884 ‘ and take photos of the dots. Explaining to us that we can then really see how this painting was created.
I was particularly excited to see Claude Monet’s Stacks of wheat. Six of his collection of 25 were on show together.
Leaving the impressionists we got the full impact of O’Keefes Clouds. So massive that it can’t be moved, anywhere!
Georgia was in her seventies when she painted this, inspired by her first flights to Europe after her husband Alfred Steiglitz had passed away.
I loved her gallery of paintings from Peru to New York via New Mexico. My favourite was the yellow leaves with a daisy painted during one of her and Stieglitz summers in Lake George.
I could write so much about this incredible Art Institute, but my initial inspiration to write anything was the feelings being here brought back to me, another phase in life’s great healing.
When I fell ill ten years ago and came to realise I would not paint again,( and worst of all, that my name would not be among the great artists I have seen here as one of the great artists of my time), the only way to cope with that grief was to shut it away, and focus on what I could do rather than what I could do no longer.
Any engagement with art, great or amateur was painful. The classic emotions familiar with any form of loss had to be worked through.
Happiness and peace come from within, and now I truly am happy and reasonably peaceful, I can again enjoy the achievements of great artists. Now I have the comfort of a deeper understanding of their work, because of my past. An appreciation of just what an achievement it is to be an artist, to ignore all the distractions of life , love and loss, to create, to express the soul in a way that can touch others.
There is always the discussion of wealth when talking of art, usually ‘starving artists’ and whenever I meet people and talk about my past life as a professional artist the comment ‘well there’s no money in that’ often comes up.
I still dispute that, and as I’m older and wiser I realise that in actual fact there is a lot of wealth behind art. General cash flow is often stagnant with individual artists because whatever they do have is reinvested in creating more.
What other occupation has individuals re investing their total income in self improvement and investment in materialising their dreams?
Many an artist will find cash to frame a piece or buy materials but struggle to pay rent or food, which is down to priorities.
The need and desire to create is so strong that it becomes the prime importance.
We also have a disregard for the importance of wealth in society to fund art. I’m not talking of the mind blowing millions spent on a great master or a controversial contemporary installation.
I’m thinking about the normal people who chose to spend a few hundred pounds, or thousands on a piece of art they see in a gallery or an open studio.
Then there are the more wealthy who give work to artists by commissioning new work , also in the form of furniture and public pieces.
The wealth invested in these pieces is an integral part of culture and human civilisation.
So today I am grateful of the wealth of so many, not just in cash terms, but the wealth of creativity which lifts civilisations to a higher level with each generation.
Unlike galleries in the UK which have free entry to the general collections and charge for tickets to specific exhibitions, here the daily entrance was $24 each. A second visit the following day was reduced to $20 but with two of us and with over 300,000 works of art on show, it could work out very expensive.
After investigating various ticketing options including other tourist attractions, we decided on an annual membership for $105 which allowed entry with a guest.
Just two visits together with the free hot drinks in the members lounge and free coat check we had covered the cost.