On a cold day I walked into the Art Institute of Chicago, past the people taking selfies with the lions at the entrance. I checked in my coat and walked down to the basement to look at the collection of photographs from Japan, and was distracted by an odd collection. There was a room full of paperweights! The display was in a little corner, and most people seem to have walked in by accident or out of curiosity. I don’t know whether there was anyone there who looked at the displays with an expert eye. I walked around and took a photo of the stunningly kitschy piece that you see in the featured photo. I guess if you want to make an arresting piece which sits on a table and is seen every day you could do worse than load it with little details which can keep the user’s attention for years. I think this one succeeds.
The Art Institute has a beautiful small collection of classical art from Asia and India. One of the pieces which I spent some time admiring was the wooden image of the Shinto god Hachiman in the guise of a monk which you see above. The calmness is a special characteristic of Japanese divine images. I admired the texture of the wood, and wondered how the sculpture would have looked when it still had paint on it. This is over a millennium old. How old must human emotions be, to be able to communicate over such vast periods of time.
I don’t visit Chicago very often, maybe once in a decade. So there’s a lot of this lively city which I haven’t seen. Now that I have to spend a week there on work, I’m trying to figure out what I can take the time out to see.
The first step: recall what I’ve seen already. The one thing I remember most clearly is a wonderful dinner in Greek Town. At the end of the long dinner I wanted to taste the house-made baklava. I pleaded with the waiter to give me a small piece because I was too full to eat the normal serving, but I was told it was not possible. I got a full large helping, which I had to bag to eat at breakfast in the airport the next day. It’s such a great memory that I don’t want to go back and find something different.
The next thing I definitely remember is the Art Institute. I wandered through it once looking at the incredible collection of Mesoamerican and Andean art. That was the first time I’d seen such a variety of art from this part of the world. I don’t think I’ve seen such a collection ever since then. I might go back to look at it.
It is 33 degrees in Mumbai today, and I see that it is 3 degrees below freezing right now in Chicago! Even if I’m bundled up well, I’m afraid I might find it a little too cold for a few things: walking the lakefront trail, for example. I haven’t seen Anish Kapoor’s "Cloud Gate" (photo above), or Magdalena Abakanowicz’s "Agora". I hope I can acclimatize enough to go see at least one of these pieces of sculpture.
I do plan to visit the Ledge at Sear’s Tower. I’m sure it’ll be fun comparing this experience with standing on the viewing platform of the World Financial Centre in Shanghai.
While browsing for attractions I found a link to the Chicago Pedway. This sounds so quirky that I want to walk through this. I guess this list more than fills up the few spare hours I might have. Is there anything else which I could do?