Originally uploaded by .Kerri..
Seldom a Tuesday off, so after a tremendous sleeping in- in lieu of bike ride and yoga- a walk to the grocery and a leisurely breakfast with J and then on foot for the loop. Hit the farmers market at Federal Plaza- passing the Dunkin Donuts across from the Mies van der Rohe complex of federal buildings am reminded of a first argument that so tainted the accessory donut it was given to panhandler just outside the door. Cherries and blueberries aplenty at the f.m. and I left with an armful of eucalyptus bound for the Art Institute on free day. The coatcheckers were only too pleased to admit my greenery- heeding my suggestion to put it next to a stinky backpack or two. J had been telling me to go check out the exhibition in the contempo wing of Magnus Von Plessen..will post an image here in a bit if one is online..but together with Gerhard Richter, Von Plessen's work disproves all those curmudgeons who say that painting is dead (relatives I think of those grunting similarly about poetry). His paintings use a squeegee-looking technique to break their subjects into horizontal and/or vertical planes. The subjects are abstracted, but not entirely broken away from representation. Plus his palette was up my alley- frequent use of a mud-mask shade of green. And the big horse-racing canvas that looks like a rusted futurist jockey riding a horse shape evocative of Troy. Which reminds me my (random) horse pick for the Belmont Stakes, Pinpoint, didn't win either. (Closing Argument, my pick for the Kentucky Derby, was also a loss, but I'm more interested in their names than how fast they can run..)
The reason for Shiva-- One of my favorite spots in the Art Inst. is the "Smith Gallery" an annex, really, between (on the first floor anyway) the Asian galleries and the contemporary wing. It's a 2-story foyer with 2 floor-to-ceiling glass walls and a winding staircase in the middle of the room. The ever-changing installations in this space couldn't be more various or fascinating. Last month it was- I never got the name of the artist- a 30-foot high sculpture of an iceberg made of what looked like the kind of rods one would pitch a tent with..and/or the models of chemical compounds used in science classes. Today on my way to the Von Plessen I passed through this space and was surprised again. The sculptures dotting the space were familiar ones, from the museum's permanent collection of Southeast Asian art from 0 to the 12th century. These pieces have long languished in one of the least impressive sections of the museum- a neglected corner where only wayward bathroom seekers trod. The curatorial equivalent of tacking artwork on a bulletin board, these recesses cram the museum's impressive collection of relief work, sculpture and objects from this region into a dark dusty spot few seemed to purposefully venture into (it's way off course for those looking for Impressionism). I think this area must be under demolition now as the museum just broke ground for a splashy new wing in that, its northeast corner. This new wing looks like it will relocate the gigantic Warhol Mao which would be a separate tragedy I'll get back to in a minute. So the choice picks of the collection were glorious in this light-filled annex, including a large stone seated Buddha behind which a brilliant blue sky dotted with clouds was visible through the sheer white curtain.
The reason for Shiva-- a statue identical to the one pictured here was situated in this space as well and with enough light and space to "breathe"- and with its relationship to other dieties in the room more apparent than in its previous location- it grabbed me like never before. Is there a figure in Western tradition that encompasses all of these ideas at once like Shiva's dance? Here, I've hijacked the text from the highly informative plaque beneath the sculpture:
"Each gesture, part, or attribute of this Chola-period icon of Shiva of the Dance has symbolic meaning. The dance of Shiva is said to take place within the heart of the devotee. By understanding the total image, the devotee is led to salvation. Shiva's dance sets the rhythm of life and death; it pervades the cosmos, symbolized by the ring of fire that is filled with the loose, snakelike locks of Shiva's hair. Opposite arms balance the flame of destruction and the hand-drum that beats the rhythm of life. The raised hand means "fear not", while another points downward toward the raised foot, signifying release from that which hinders the realization of ultimate reality. Shiva's other foot, planted on the back of a demon-dwarf (apasmara), stamps out ignorance."
In this week of another G8 summit this strikes me as particularly resonant.
Of course the curators never place anything in this gallery without thinking of the relationship it will undoubtedly have juxtaposed in front of the commanding Mao by Warhol that looks out from the entrance of the contemporary galleries. And here too- hung on the wall parallel to Mao like a spirit over his shoulder is a 17th century copper Head of Bhairava from Nepal. The plaque offers an additional insight- that this depiction of Bhairava is the wrathful manifestation of Shiva.
After peeking at the architectural models of the new addition to the museum, I popped into the museum store to see if they had an exhibition catalogue for the Von Plessen. They did not- in fact, almost the entire store has been transformed by Toulouse-Lautrec mania. I couldn't leave without 3 Paris-travel-writing type of books, since J promptly stole and is reading and telling me all about "Paris to the Moon" which I salvaged from a donation pile at work a few weeks ago. This will no doubt stoke the expatriatism already much on our minds. The books that got bagged up with my eucalyptus were: "Paris in Mind," a collection of essays edited by Jennifer Lee; "The Flaneur: A Stroll Through the Paradoxes of Paris" by Edmund White; and "Paris out of Hand" by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, a fake traveler's guide inspired by Surrealism and book-arty in the "Griffin&Sabine" order. (Speaking of book arts.. the Art Institute has an excellent collection that they keep squirreled away in one of their libraries, but they had a few exquisite things on display by Mary Louise Reynolds up in the room full of Dalis.)
Walking home I see the segway tour warming up in Grant Park..I still can't get used to the look of those things..how can they exist but my hairbrush still lacks jet-propulsion? There's a little patch of concrete where the segway initiates ride around in a perfect circle for a while to get the feel of things. I have to get video of it someday.
And, in my flaneur-ing, on my own block where nothing out of the ordinary ever happens, I saw a woman strolling down the street with a bright green parrot on her finger.