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Published: November 21st 2018
Our lecture this morning was about the historic power brokers of Chicago – no one has really mentioned anybody after about the 1950s. Maybe that’s the design of the tour - to avoid political controversy, because there were and are some very controversial power brokers since then.
Our excursion was to the Field Museum
, devoted to natural history. It was established after the 1893 World’s Fair
, in part to house the gigantic collection of artifacts assembled for the Fair. Now, the Museum is famous for the largest, most intact skeleton of a T-Rex
, and for the first taxidermy done by stretching the skin on an armature rather than stuffing. Although the first instance of this revolution in taxidermy was on a raccoon, the display in the huge open lobby presented two bull elephants fighting.
A volunteer docent led us to her favourite displays. The Native American section was excellent, featuring figures with traditional beaded clothes done by an artist who is preserving this part of her history. I liked some modern “ledger drawings”. People used to sketch in their ledger books, and a modern artist unexpectedly found some new ledgers (who does accounting by hand?) and decided to continue the tradition. Except,
Church and business in partnership
his portraits are slightly skewed and mildly distorted as a commentary on the distortions in the usual portrayal of the Native American story. All the museums in Chicago seem to rely on dioramas – a few here depicted traditional Native American villages.
We got glimpses in several places of meteorite pieces. One we could touch – a remarkably smooth surface, melted perhaps by entry into the atmosphere. One piece of rock is actually still on Mars – it was 3-D printed from photos sent by one of the rovers. Most unusual were those rocks containing gemstones, quite rare. And a tiny vial under a magnifying glass contained “star dust” - diamond dust that floats in the tails of comets and rings of Saturn.
Our boxed lunch was handed out at the Museum, in one of the larger galleries with dioramas of African animals. After this the afternoon was free. A few of us got off the bus near the Institute of Art; Andrea, one of our guides, offered an informal walking tour of public art. First stop was inside the Chicago Cultural Centre
, which used to be the public library. All the marble was highlighted by inset mosaics patterns. When
Playing on the Picasso
Street art for everyone
we stepped fully inside, Andrea pointed straight up to the Tiffany
stained-glass art-deco ceiling six storeys above. Our glowing astonishment only grew when she took us up in the elevator to gaze at the chandeliers and the ceiling close up. The rounded classical arches were decorated with detailed mosaic motifs and inspiring classical quotations. In the same spirit, she took us into Macy’s
store (once Marshall Fields
). Virtually ignoring the merchandise, we took the elevator to the top floor where we gazed in admiration at their mosaic Tiffany ceiling.
Already feeling privileged, we walked a few blocks to Daley Plaza
, where a Picasso
metal sculpture challenges viewers – or at least foreign visitors. Screeches and laughter surrounded the installation as dozens of children climbed and slid down a large curved panel in the base. Crowding the sculpture were about a dozen food trucks, adding to the irreverent mayhem.
A couple of blocks away we entered a building of happy compromise between business and faith. The main floor was a highly decorated Methodist Church
such as I have never seen. The rest of the tall gothic revival structure was an office tower, until the very top, where the church’s cross called to
Joan Miro statue
This is a Chicago streetscape!
the faithful. The interior of the office lobby was highly decorated in marble and brass.
Walking along we stopped momentarily at a graphically simple, tall, thin, abstract sculptured figure, surrounded by hoarding. This was a Miro
! Just there! Identified only by a sign in the distance. To my overflowing astonishment, in a couple of blocks, we were introduced to a huge mosaic artwork by Marc Chagall
! Called “The Four Seasons
”, it extended about twenty feet in length and about five feet in height, with mosaic impressionist figures and scenes flowing continuously around. To me it was unbelievable to have such major artworks that are fully accessible public art, as I have not seen in any other city; Andrea’s response was simply, “Chicago is a sophisticated city.”
I departed from the group to scout out the way to the “L” station that I will use on Friday morning. In the calm of the afternoon without luggage, it does seem uncomplicated and not too distant from the hotel.
For our free evening, Rachel, our other guide, offered to escort those who wanted to the Goodman Theatre
to see a play, Objects in the Mirror
. Yesterday, while I was revelling in the modern painters, Connie
Goodman Theatre and Picasso's
Good food and thoughtful theatre
and Linda had stopped at the half-price ticket outlet to buy us tickets ($27.50). We all met in the hotel lobby and walked the few blocks to Petterinos, where we had eaten yesterday, for Happy Hour before the show in the adjacent theatre. The French windows were open to the street patio, encouraging people-watching in the warm evening air. The bar special was short-rib beef sliders, possibly the left-overs from last night’s dinner. I drank a local Pilsner, quite tasty.
The play was mesmerizing! The subject was “identity”, focusing on a true story of a young man from Liberia who had immigrated into Australia with the papers of his cousin who had died in the civil war. The casting, the writing, the acting, and the staging knit together in a way that completely captured my attention. The plotting avoided stereotypical pressures, focusing instead on the main character’s dilemmas regarding his own self-definition, in the midst of the definitions strongly laid on him by an Australian friend, his uncle, his mother and even his dead cousin. The facts of the Liberian war, Australian racial attitudes and immigrant cultural assumptions anchored the story in this time and place.
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