Thursday, February 25, 2010

And the Lord said...

Yesterday I went to the Art Institute in search of the light. Camera in hand, I searched the whole museum. Here is what I found.

Felix Gonzalez-Torres - Untitled (Strange Music) (42 lightbulbs, extension cord, and porcelain light sockets) 1993

This Gonzales-Torres piece is definitely a father to a few pieces of mine (such as 2700°K and My Universe and Yours). I admire the simplicity of his work - in his work very small gestures have grand and poetic connotations. In this piece the poetry is musical; as referenced by the title. The light bulbs act as and are transformed into vertical and piled musical notes on the measure of the extension cord.

Robert Ryman - from The Elliott Room (Charter Series) (oil and acrylic paint, fiberglass, aluminum, and steel) 1985-87

Robert Ryman - from The Elliott Room (Charter Series) (oil and acrylic paint, fiberglass, aluminum, and steel) 1985-87

These two pieces by Ryman do not have light in them, but anyone who has visited this room is at first struck by the lighting; one wall of the room is windows from the floor to the ceiling. These pieces seem to be vehicles for light and light play. I had the fortunate experience of seeing the blinds open once while viewing these pieces. The colors changed and it was like a dawning or enlightenment - both of which were a consistent theme in my search for the light in the Institute's galleries.

Max Ernst - Forest and Sun (oil on canvas) 1927

This one has an obvious connection, sundog - as a phenomenological and mysterious event. But surrealists were all about the magic.

Joseph Cornell - Untitled (Lighted Owl), c. 1949 [from the AIC website - I couldn't photograph this because of a really bad glare on the display case]

Cornell was the reason I decided to dedicate my interests to art. I couldn't talk about light without referencing one of his lighted boxes. The new installation of these are at once problematic and magical. This box and the other lighted piece (Untitled (Lighted Dancer)) are in very tall (too tall to see the things at the top) display cases in the cave area of the surrealist galleries. The darkness in this area is beneficial though. These two boxes are completely dark, to the extent that you can not make out any parts of the image until you manage to make the sensor turn the lights on. So here light is the momentary giver of image.

Georgia O'Keeffe - The Shelton with Sunspots, N.Y. (oil on canvas) 1926

Georgia O'Keeffe - Ballet Skirt or Electric Light (oil on canvas) 1927

I have to say that I've never really like O'Keeffe too much, but there has always been something that has drawn me to some of here paintings. Here these two pieces find their home in this group of 'light' works by their solid (in paint on canvas) representation of ephemeral light effects.

Edvard Munch - Girl Looking out the Window (oil on canvas) c.1892

Soooo awesomely sincere. A person at a window always conjures up notions of longing for me, so here the light is nostalgic, emotional, and hopeful. This piece rings nicely with my piece, Downtown Chicago Nightlight. As note, it is odd that the top two panes of the window do not project onto the floor. The girl looking out the window also seems to be praying, a nice segue into the next image.

John Martin - Joshua Commanding the Sun to Stand Still, from Illustrations of the Bible (mezzotint, on ivory wove paper) 1835

Here it is, light as God. Joshua is commanding the sun to stand still as a display of divine power - but the rays of sun is also a symbol of 'the light of God.' The light rays blast in through treacherous and stormy clouds to illuminate the people below.

Sanford Robinson Gifford - Hunter Mountain, Twilight (oil on canvas) 1866

I ended my search on a type of painting that I was looking for the whole time - romantic landscape. Romantic era paintings were about the splendor and awe of nature and God's creations - light almost always is a major player in these works for that reason. This painting by Gifford shows a beautiful sunset in the Catskill Mountains in New York. The sun bathes the landscape in glowing oranges while the crescent moon and Polaris usher in the night and guide the viewer though the darkness that will in no doubt be just as beautiful - I imagine the night time landscape bathed in blues and silvers.

Sanford Robinson Gifford - Hunter Mountain, Twilight (detail) (oil on canvas) 1866

Polaris and the moon here are the guiding light for what will come. I left the museum and headed home.

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