Iraqi and Mideast cultural losses seen through an artist’s eyes

Visitors to "Backstoke of the Midwest" at the MCA walk through a recreated ancient Iraqi Gate. Photos by Jodie Jacobs
Visitors to “Backstoke of the West” at the MCA walk through a recreated ancient Iraqi Gate. Photos by Jodie Jacobs

 

It’s hard not to follow what has been happening to the people, politics and conflicts in Iraq and throughout the Mideast, but to get an artist’s take on the events see “Backstroke of the West” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago.

The works are Chicago-based, Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz’s take on the personal and historic objects destroyed during the conflicts and how they can be memorialized and interpreted through art.

Born of an American father and an Iraqi-Jewish mother, Rakowitz uses such ironic materials as newspapers to recreate looted items and Arabic food packaging to replicate the ancient Ishtar Gate. A section even illustrates how he served Iraqi dishes on Saddam Hussein’s china.

To further explain how Rakowitz seeks to bring people of different cultural and social backgrounds together he gives his projects such titles as “The invisible enemy should not exist”  and “May the Arrogant Not Prevail.”

To accompany the exhibition, there is a pop-up food truck outside the MCA that will serve Iraqi dishes from family recipes.

Curator Omar Kholeif, l, and Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz give an opening day tour of "Backstorke of the West" at the MCA.
Curator Omar Kholeif, l, and Iraqi-American artist Michael Rakowitz give an opening day tour of “Backstorke of the West” at the MCA.

Organized by MCA Manilow Senior Curator Omar Kholeif, Manilow, Director of Global Initiatives, the exhibit is the first major museum survey of Rakowitz’s work.

Opened Sept. 16, 2017, the show runs through March 4, 2018. The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is at 220 E Chicago Ave., Chicago, IL 60611.

For hours, admission and other information call (312) 280-2660 and visit MCA.

 

Around Town: Labor Day Weekend

If  you don’t want to compete with other drivers going out of town Labor Day, take advantage of the long weekend to visit events and places in the Chicago area.

Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico, is under the Big top next to the United Center now through sept. 3, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.
Luzia: A Waking Dream of Mexico, is under the Big top next to the United Center now through Sept. 3, 2017. Photo courtesy of Cirque du Soleil.

Cirque du Soleil

“Luzia, A Waking Dream of Mexico” will leave Chicago after this weekend. The final performance is Sept. 3. An amazing mix of color and culture, the show is under a tent at the United Center in Parking Lot K. For tickets and other information visit Cirque du Soleil Luzia.

Chicago Jazz Festival

Enjoy great music to sway and tap to under the stars in Millennium Park or surrounded by wonderful mosaics in the Chicago Cultural Center at the Chicago Jazz Festival this weekend. Admission is free. Millennium Park stages (201 E. Randolph St.) host music from 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m. For Cultural Center, (78 E. Washington St.) times and for who is playing where and when visit ChicagoJazzFestival.

Chicago Jazz Festival is in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center Labor Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Chicago Jazz Festival is in Millennium Park and the Chicago Cultural Center Labor Day Weekend. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Art Fair on the Square

Wander around historic Market Square downtown Lake Forest Sept. 3 or 4 to see 180 exhibitors at Art Fair on the Square. Sponsored by the Deer Path Art League, hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. both days. Admission is free.
For directions and more information visit Deer Path Art League.

Gauguin

Catch the Gauguin exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago before it leaves. It is an exceptional show of Paul Gauguin’s sculptures, ceramics, paintings and etchings, but it ends Sept. 10 so try to fit it in during the long Labor Day Weekend. The exhibit is so popular it requires tickets. They’re included in admission price but they are date sensitive. For information and tickets visit ARTIC.

Paul Gauguin, "Self Image with Yellow Christ." Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Paul Gauguin, “Self Image with Yellow Christ.” Photo by Jodie Jacobs

Breakfast and hike

Go to Morton Arboretum for waffles, eggs and other yummy treats in the Ginko Garden Restaurant, Saturday or Sunday.  Then, hike the trails to work it off. The weather is supposed to be perfect for exploring the Arboretum, 4100 IL Hwy 53, Lisle. For more information or restaurant reservations call (630) 968-0074 and visit Morton Arb.

Hear UB40 or Aretha Franklin

Picnic on the lawn at Ravinia Festival in Highland Park where UB40 performs Sept. 2 and Aretha Franklin gets respect Sept. 3. The UB40 concert is 7:30 p.m. Aretha Franklin, original scheduled for June 17, also starts at 7:30. Original tickets will be honored. Ravinia Festival is at 418 Sheridan Rd., Highland Park. For directions, parking, tickets and other information visit Ravinia.

Enjoy the weekend and be safe.

Robots and aMAZing mirror room tantalize at MSI

 

If asked what would you like a robot to do what would be your answer?

Robot Thespian by Engineered Arts greets visiotros at the entrance/exit of Robot Revolution at the Museum of Science and Industry. Jodie Jacobs photo
Robot Thespian by Engineered Arts greets visiotros at the entrance/exit of Robot Revolution at the Museum of Science and Industry. Jodie Jacobs photo

That’s a question that Tom, an employee who often can be found taking a shift in the Museum of Science and Industry’s “Robot Revolution” exhibit, asks the crowd of kids and adults who gather around while he explains drones.

Homework and housework are two of the frequent answers he said he gets.

If you go MSI’s Robots exhibit you can see a robot that is doing some housework. It moves along the floor cleaning dirt and debris. And that robot is on the market.

The other robots in the exhibit also exist in today’s world but are used by industry, health care and other commercial ventures. They are fascinating to watch. They come in all shapes. And they can do tasks that might be harmful to humans.

When you first walk in you see a person-type of robot. Press “How Do I Work” to have him talk to you and explain what makes him move. Don’t be surprised when you walk away if his eyes follow you even though he has stopped talking.

There are robots you can touch, such as a cuddly stuffed-animal that is used in hospitals and clinics that make patients feel better when they pet it and robot “bots” that you can put together yourself to do some things such as shine a light.

There are robots that can move up and down stairs and inclines that can be used in dangerous situations and robots that can be programmed to play soccer.

Just allow enough time to try everything in this exhibit but don’t forget to check out some of the science museum’s other wonders.

Enter the Mirror Maze to try and find the hidden room. MSI photo
Enter the Mirror Maze to try and find the hidden room. MSI photo

For example, on the same level as Robots is “Numbers in Nature: A Mirror Maze.

It’s fun, dizzying and challenging. There are dead ends and a hidden room of images.

After tentatively trying it and figuring out that you can exit, go back in to explore it further and solve some of its puzzles.

The idea is to look at nature from a mathematical point of view that appreciates how patterns in nature are important.

There is so much to see and do at the museum that best plan is to allow several hours there.

The Museum of Science and Industry is at 5700 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago. For a museum  overview visit MSI.

 

At Driehaus: Toulouse Lautrec and Tiffany

A visit to the Richard H. Driehaus Museum, a magnificent late 1900’s mansion on East Erie Street, is a double treat.

 

Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec "Jane Avril" 1893, color lithograph. John Faier Photo
Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec “Jane Avril” 1893, color lithograph. John Faier Photo (c) Driehaus Museum

In 2016, the museum hosted an exhibit of Downton Abbey’s fabulous costumes. The mansion’s elaborate rooms which hold several items from Driehaus ‘ vast collection of decorative arts, perfectly fit the exhibit titled “Dressing Downton: Changing Fashion for Changing Times.”

This year, the museum is featuring art of a different kind in “L’Affichomani: The Passion for French Posters.”

Spread across two upstairs floors of the museum, the exhibit comes from Driehaus’ own large collection of turn-of-the-last-century posters.

Dating from the Belle Époque of about 1875 to 1910, they show off the wonderful lines and colors favored by their artists: Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Alphonse Mucha, Jules Chéret, Eugene Grasset and Théophile-Alexandre Steinlen.

Alphonse Mucha " Sarah Bernhardt as "La dame aux Camelias," 1896, color lithograph. John Faier photo.
Alphonse Mucha ” Sarah Bernhardt as “La dame aux Camelias,” 1896, color lithograph. John Faier photo

Of course as posters, they do more than serve as advertisements for particular artists. They advertise entertainers, products and events of the time. In doing so they turned the streets of Paris in art galleries while bringing together art and commerce.

So go for the exhibit, but stay to see the mansion. The Driehause collection includes Tiffany glass.

“L’Affichomani: The Passion for French Poster” Is at the Driehaus Museum, 40 E. Erie St., Chicago, through Jan. 7, 2018. For admission and hours call  (312) 482-8933 and visit Driehaus.

 

 

An art exhibit worth a gasp or two

Each time you walk into another room up on the fourth floor of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago you’ll hear a gasp or a wow. The responses are to the wall-filling, psychedelic art of Takashi Murakami.

Visitors were taking photos of Takashi Murakami's works throughout the exhibit at the MCA. This room held "Tan Tan Bo Puking - aka Gero Tanm 2002, courtesy of Galerie Perrotin and its companion piece. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Visitors were taking photos of Takashi Murakami’s works throughout the exhibit at the MCA. This room held “Tan Tan Bo Puking – aka Gero Tanm 2002, courtesy of Galerie Perrotin, and its companion piece. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

A Japanese artist who has studied the traditional methods of his country but favors anime (Japanese animated film) and manga (Japanese comics), Murakami mixes folklore, politics, Asian culture and contemporary pop art in highly-patterned or deeply contrasting paintings and with fanciful or foreboding sculptures.

Titled “Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” the MCA exhibit is a retrospective that begins with early, fine-art works using traditional Japanese Nihonga materials on paintings of turtles. However, look closer at their themes and you understand that Murakami is concerned about industrial pollution and nuclear power..

As you walk through the exhibit and see different themes and materials that Murakami favored during the past three decades, you will understand that the title refers to regeneration. If an octopus eats off a damaged part a new one will grow.

Some motifs are scary or critical commentary. Others are cheerful and playful. But no matter the subject matter, Murakami’s works are eye-catching and show great attention to detail.

To accomplish his more complex and very detailed works, Murakami has a studio of artist assistants. Indeed, one room shows what a work looks like when drawn but not completely painted in. It looks like a page from the currently popular patterned coloring books enjoyed by youngsters and adults.

It’s also okay to see commercial value in what Murakami does. He worked with pop star Kanye West on an album cover and with Louis Vuitton on a fashion product.

But as you walk through the rooms, remember that Murakami has done and continues to do is what other artists do. Their works express inner emotions and also are responses to surrounding cultures and what is happening in the world.

Murakami has merely been responding in hi definition and amplification.

”Takashi Murakami: The Octopus Eats Its Own Leg,” organized by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and curated by Michael Darling, is at the museum now through Sept. 24, 2017.

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago is at 220 E. Chicago Ave., Chicago. For admission, hours and other information call (312) 280-2660 and visit MCA.

 

Rashid Johnson exhibit reflects the times

 

“Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy” is worth the drive across Illinois’ northern border. Up now through early fall at the Milwaukee Art Museum, the most current works of Johnson are monumental.

Milwaukee Curator of Contemporary Art Margaret Andera and artist Rashid Johnson in front of "Antoine's Organ." Photos by Jodie Jacobs
Milwaukee Curator of Contemporary Art Margaret Andera and artist Rashid Johnson in front of “Antoine’s Organ.” Photos by Jodie Jacobs

More often than not, an exhibit features works large and small. And Johnson, a Chicago native and New York-based artist, has worked with a variety of formats from photography to installations. Many of those works were in a 10-year retrospective at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary in 2012.

Now, isitors to the MAM show are likely to get the message of how Johnson, a black artist who grew up in Evanston and studied at Columbia College Chicago and the School of the Art Institute, views the world today. They are  immediately aware upon entering the exhibit that this time Johnson is thinking large scale.

The first gallery is dominated by a 10-foot high black scaffolding that is overflowing with plants in hand-built ceramic pots, small shea butter sculptures, books, a video, an upright piano and lights.

A gallery is covered with the faces of the "Anxious Audience" pieces made with wax on black soap backed by ceramic tiles.
A gallery is covered with the faces of the “Anxious Audience” pieces made with wax on black soap backed by ceramic tiles.

Titled “Antoine’s Organ,” the piece is Johnson’s nod to the African Diaspora but the work is named for Antoine Baldwin, a pianist and music producer. Musicians will be up in the grid of scaffolding periodically to play the piano.

It doesn’t matter which way visitors continue behind the grid into the next galleries. There are just four rooms. Each has one theme: “Antoine’s Organ,” “Anxious Audience,” “Escape Collage” and “Falling Man.”

Faces, all looking as if they were inspired by Edvard Munch 1893 painting, “The Scream,” look from the walls in the “Anxious Audience” gallery. Made with wax on black soap backed by white ceramic tiles, the faces seem to reflect the racial violence and conflicts in the news.

“Escape Collage” in another gallery, goes in the opposite direction. The

Colorful paintings, all titled "Escape Collage" offer a hopeful view of tropical warmth.
Colorful paintings, all titled “Escape Collage” offer a hopeful view of tropical warmth.

works, made from custom wallpaper appear to have black smudges that may be figures entering a colorful, tropical world of multicolored tiles and paint. Johnson has said he equated palm trees with success because they meant being able to leave a cold climate for a tropical one.

A table filled with blocks of Shea butter will capture viewers’ attention in the fourth or second gallery depending on which way visitors walk after “Antoine’s Organ.”

Johnson leaves it up to the visitors to interpret the meaning of the butter although Shea is often thought to be soothing and even a balm.

Table with blocks of shea butter surrounded by "Falling Man" art work.
Table with blocks of Shea butter surrounded by “Falling Man” art work.

However, all the works on the walls of this gallery are called “Falling Man.” They are made with red oak flooring, pieces of mirrors, black soap, wax and white ceramic tiles.

Although the figures resemble video game people, the pieces’ titles of “Falling Man” beg other interpretations such as violence or unsuccessful economic ventures.

Viewers should find Johnson’s work relevant now and reflective of the past given that art through the ages has historically reflected the times when created.

“Rashid Johnson: Hail We Now Sing Joy” is at the Milwaukee Art Museum, 700 N. Art Museum Drive, Milwaukee, WI 53202, now through Sept 17, 2017. For admission and hours call (414) 224-3200 and visit MAM.

 

Paul Gauguin revealed

It’s likely no surprise to art aficionados that an extraordinary exhibit has opened at the Art Institute of Chicago this summer.

Paul Gauguin, 1889 "In the Waves (Ondine l). Photos taken at the exhibit by Jodie Jacobs
Paul Gauguin, 1889 “In the Waves (Ondine l). Photos taken at the exhibit by Jodie Jacobs

Chicagoans don’t question an oft used phrase referring to the Art Institute as a world class museum. Arguably, among the things that have made it so in their minds are its large collection of French Impressionists and such famed paintings as Grant Wood’s “American Gothic,” Edward Hopper’s “Nighhawks,” Pablo Picasso’s “The Old Guitarist” and Georges Seurat’s “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte — 1884.”

But a great institution does more than collect. It investigates well-known works were created and why and also presents new and lesser known works.

There was “Seurat and the Making of ‘La Grande Jatte’ ” back in the summer of 2004 which revealed other figures in the famous painting and included related sketches and paintings.

Then there was “Matisse: Radical Invention 1913-1917” in spring of 2010 which revealed new information about “Bathers by a River -1909-1910” found through technical research. It also offered a more in-depth view of the artist’s works.

More recently, the museum focused on the paintings: “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms” which were researched and compared in order to shed more light on the artist and his time in Arles.

Visitors at that exhibit in 2016 may remember that Van Gogh set aside a room for Gauguin whom he greatly admired and hoped would help start an artists’ commune there.

Now the museum is turning its spotlight and technical research onto Gauguin. The resulting exhibit sheds extraordinary light onto an artist who is much more than a painter particularly fond of Tahitian figures.

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You only think you know Paul Gauguin

 

Go to the Art Institute of Chicago to see some fascinating paintings of  Breton and Tahitian  women or of Martinique landscapes by Eugène Henri Paul Gauguin.

Gauguin, 1889 "In the Waves (Ondine I), oil on canvas Photo taken at the exhibit by Jodie Jacobs
Gauguin, 1889 “In the Waves (Ondine I), oil on canvas.
Photo taken at the exhibit by Jodie Jacobs

Or go to the museum to see extraordinary ceramics by Gauguin. He called them his “monstrosities. They really aren’t.

Or go the museum to see Gauguin’s fine prints and woodwork.

But no matter what you expect to see in the Gauguin exhibit now at the Art Institute of Chicago through Sept. 10, 2017, you will be astonished.

As Gloria Groom, curator of “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist” says in a video on the museum site, “Just when you think you know what he is doing he does something extraordinary and surprises you.”

What you will see are images that may start as drawings or be used on a ceramic piece and end up in paintings. You will also see decorative art.

But also look up on the walls. There are quotes by Gauguin that offer insight into the man, the painter, the philosopher, the traveler and the artist who influenced other artists. So don’t hurry through the exhibit.

“I must work seven or eight months at a stretch absorbing the character of the people of the country, which is essential for good painting… You must remember that I have a dual nature,” says a quote high on one of the exhibit walls.

The introductory panel at the entrance explains the exhibit’s title. “As an alchemist converts one element into another, Gauguin believed in the artist’s ability to take raw materials and transform them into something entirely new.”

Paul Gauguin 1890-91 "Portrait of the artist with the Yellow Christ" Musee d'Orsay. Photo thanks to Art Institute of Chicago
Paul Gauguin 1890-91 “Portrait of the artist with the Yellow Christ” Musee d’Orsay. Photo thanks to Art Institute of Chicago

Look for objects including furniture that Gauguin decorated. Also take time to watch some of the videos that show how the artist worked with different materials.

A short movie near the entrance talks about trying to define Gauguin’s style and changing focus. It offers more insight into the artist and his works.

In the video on the Art Institute site, Groom says, “This man is so amazingly layered. He’s so complex.”

So, it is very likely that what “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist” does for viewers is introduce them to an artist they only thought they knew.

The Gauguin exhibit at the Art Institute requires tickets. Tip: get the ear phones available near the exhibit entrance. They are quire helpful. The exhibit will go to Grand Palais in Paris in October 2017.

The Art Institute of Chicago is at 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago, Illinois. For ticket and other information call (312) 443-3600 and visit AIC.

Medieval aura permeates five Art Institute of Chicago galleries

There’s another place to put on the must see list when visiting the Art Institute of Chicago.

Two armored horses and riders dominate a great hall in "Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe" at the Art Institute of Chicago. Jodie Jacobs photo
Two armored horses and riders dominate a great hall in “Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe” at the Art Institute of Chicago. Jodie Jacobs photo

Tourists and regular Art Institute goers often have a must see stop when visiting the famed museum.

Some visitors head to the French Impressionist galleries while others go to the Modern Wing. The Thorne Miniature Rooms are also a draw as are such works as Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” in the Modern American galleries that lead to Regenstein Hall’s special exhibitions.

But now, the museum has redone a space for its armored horseback figures, swords and such altarpiece panels as Bernat Martorell’s “Saint George and the Dragon.”

Opened this spring, it’s the Deering Family Galleries of Medieval and Renaissance Art, Arms and Armor, a gorgeous, Gothic-style space for nearly 700 items from the years 1200 to 1600. The museum has titled these displays “Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe.”

Up on Level 2, a darkly mysterious archway sets a “Game of Thrones” tone as visitors step back in time in Galleries 235-239. Vaulted ceilings are reminiscent of chapels and great halls that once held the objects.

“Ayala Altarpiece,” a 24-foot funerary chapel altarpiece from 1396 dominates the first room. “Saint George and the Dragon” is further along in another vaulted gallery.

Bernat Martorell, "Saint George and the Dragon" in the Art Institute of Chicago's "Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe" galleries. Photo by Jodie Jacobs
Bernat Martorell, “Saint George and the Dragon” in the Art Institute of Chicago’s “Saints and Heroes: Art of Medieval and Renaissance Europe” galleries. Photo by Jodie Jacobs

The great hall at the end of the space beckons with its impressive armored horseback riders but the galleries leading up to it are worth perusing. They offer clues on how some people lived from jewelry to art and dining.

After first walking through an arms-filled rotunda, patience is rewarded as visitors ooh and ah when stepping into the great arms and armor hall.

An armored horseback figure is ready to battle but look behind him. Another rider is dressed for sport. Snap the photos then gaze around and up. Two figures are battling on foot. More arms are displayed high above the figures.

There is one more gallery. It features fine firearms and hunt equipment.

Visitors who don’t go through too quickly will see digital labels that are there for an interesting, interactive experience.

The  Art Institute of Chicago is at 111 S. Michigan Ave., Chicago. For hours, admission and other information call (312) 443-3600 and visit AIC.

 

A Jurassic World has come to The Field

The Field Museum is known as a good place to visit dinosaurs. All photos by Jodie Jacobs
The Field Museum is known as a good place to visit dinosaurs. All photos by Jodie Jacobs

Say T-Rex around the Chicago area and chances are the response will be Sue at the Field Museum.

However, beginning May 26 Field visitors can get almost within a ferocious T Rex’s drooling distance one floor down from where Sue resides.

The Tyrannosaurus rex is caged in a large tent outside the museum’s east, ground level entrance where its neighbors (never mind different time periods) include a Velociraptor, Brachiosraurus, Stegosaurus and other dinos and even a lab where dinosaur eggs are cultivated and embryonic dinosaurs are incubated.

Dinosaurs from Jurassic World are at The Field Museum
Dinosaurs from Jurassic World are at The Field Museum

They are cavorting in “Jurassic World: The Exhibition,” a traveling production put together by Universal Brand Development and Imagine Exhibitions and co-produced by MagicSpace and IES. The Field is the third stop on a tour that began in Melbourne, Australia followed by the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, PA.

Designed by The Creature Technology Company, the animatronics dinosaurs’ roars paired with sudden neck swivels and gazes frightened a couple of tots during the preview May 24 but most children there were fascinated.

“Cool,” “great” and “liked it, were just some of the comments overheard walking through the exhibit. But an area where budding paleontologists spent more time was a lab mock-up that had fossils, specimen props and a map of “hot” fossil digs.

Where the fossile action is now.
Where the fossile action is now.

The map shows digs in United States and all over the world. BTW, Sue was discovered by paleontologist Sue Hendrickson in western South Dakota in 1990.

If the fun Jurassic exhibition whets appetites for more dinosaur info visitors should go up one level to see Sue by the north entrance of the Great Hall, then to the upper level to walk through four billion years of life on Earth in Evolving Planet. It includes outstanding recreations of dinosaurs.

“One of our goals as a museum is to provide visitors with the best dinosaur experience in the world,” said Field Museum President Richard Lariviere. “Our fossil collections are one of the greatest things about the Field Museum and the Jurassic Wold dinosaurs are an incredible way to spark our imaginations about them,” said Lariviere.

If interested in the next movie in the Jurassic World franchise, it currently is scheduled to be released June 2018 and star Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard.

“Jurassic World: The Exhibition”, is at The Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, May 26, 2017 through Jan. 7, 2018. For exhibit tickets information call (312)665-7959. For general admission information call (312) 922-9410. Visit Jurassic or The Field.