One thing I love about travelling is the opportunity it gives you to get to know someplace new. It’s why I eschew experiences I can have other places in favor of things like visiting the local grocery store instead of a big box or checking out the local diner over a more convenient continental breakfast—to see a place through the eyes of the people who live and lived there.
This type of exploration doesn’t necessitate travel, though. No matter how long you’ve lived somewhere, there exist opportunities to connect with a place’s unique history. So it is with the Art Institute’s massively popular Monet and Chicago. You can see Monets other places, and you can see the largest collection of Monets outside Paris on a regular day at the Art Institute of Chicago. But, aside from the fact that you can now see exponentially more of Monet’s works, including some rarely seen works, the Art Institute’s Monet and Chicago reveals a relationship between our city and his artwork that, even if you were aware of, is worth celebrating.
The names you’ll hear in the history of this connection between Monet and Chicago are ones you often hear when reliving Chicago history. Palmer, Coburn, Ryerson. They’re the storied Chicago elite, and a lot of the reason we enjoy some of the art we do today. Impressionism was making its mark on the world and Chicago was taking notice, with private collectors and the Art Institute itself bringing Paris itself to Chicago, as one reviewer so notably put it in a Tribune article of yore.
Monet was a master of light and color, with visceral brushstrokes that add an emotional intensity to his work, giving the viewer an intimate portrait of a place or a moment in time that makes you feel like you too might exist in that space. Seeing Monet’s work in person adds context through texture, and the Art Institute has chosen to display these works in a subtle, simple space that allows you to take your time with them and see them as they should be seen.
One thing I had not expected from this exhibit was its use of technology. Monet and Chicago looks at Monet’s paintings through the lens of science with X-rays and imaging that show Monet’s process- a lot of which, it turns out was trial and error, often seeing Monet reworking paintings multiple times to remove people and objects, with visible traces of what was changed in many of even his most famous works. It’s an inspiring peek at his artistic process, and something any creator can relate to, this process of working and reworking in the pursuit of perfection of the picture in your mind’s eye, and knowing what he changed gives us a more intimate look at his perspective.
Monet and Chicago takes you through Monet’s life and his relationship with Chicago, and includes some of his rarer works, like the caricatures previously owned by Carter H. Harrison Jr, former two-time mayor of Chicago and donated to the Art Institute as part of a larger collection. It also expands any Chicagoan’s already privileged view of some of his famous series. Though the Art Institute already owns more of the storied Stacks of Wheat series than any other institution, even more are available in a 360 degree view that spans the seasons and times of day. Likewise, visitors can enjoy a full room of the gorgeous waterlilies that are so often people’s first introduction to the artist.
Monet and Chicago is a perfect deep dive into not only the artist, that runs the gamut from early works and scientific surveys of his process to exploded views of his most famous works, but a look at Chicago’s intertwinement and appreciation for his works—the story of private owners of great influence as well as the Art Institute’s own relationship with Monet. It’s uniquely Chicago and a reminder of the great privileges we enjoy being part of this city, able to wander into these hallowed halls. It’s something you can literally not see anywhere else, and that’s why, as more Chicagoans become vaccinated and COVID-19 restrictions begin to lift, we recommend making it a priority to see Monet and Chicago before it’s gone on June 14.
Monet and Chicago will be on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through June 14, and visitors should make a reservation in advance for Monet and Chicago. The Art Institute is currently open to the public between 11am and 6pm on Mondays as well as Thursday through Sunday and is closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Members can enjoy an extra hour of museum time, meanwhile, with the Art Institute opening for them at 10am on those same days.
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