A winter journey in Chicago, 'with' Renzo Piano and Ellsworth Kelly.

    Frank Gehry Walt Disney Concert Hall in winter Los Angeles CaliforniaWalt Disney Concert Hall
    Late December 2009
    Los Angeles
    Architect, Frank Gehry

    I left L.A. on New Year's day,
    took off my shades,
    closed the shade on the window of the airplane to Chicago.

    To glide into a dreamland more dreamy even than life in L.A.

    After three and a half hours in heaven a voice overhead said "prepare for landing."

    How to prepare for 0º weather?

    Unprepared, I opened the window shade.

    Chicago Midwest aerial view winter
    (To enlarge a photo, click it.)

    I had expected maybe palm trees?

    And so, I wondered, has any artwork captured a Chicago winter?

    Blues music maybe? How about visual art?

    My mind conjured up a piece I'd seen last spring - ah spring! - in the garden in the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute. In spring it bloomed.

    New Pritzker Garden Chicago Art Institute Modern Wing Renzo Piano Ellsworth Kelly
    On the wall on the right hangs Ellsworth Kelly's "White Curve." Under a blue sky in spring "White Curve's" lacquered surface absorbs and mutes and then reflects a wide ever-changing and very subtle spectrum of colors and light. Like Michigan it absorbs and reflects colors.

    Now I had to see this white work in the snow. (Like Ahab, obsessed with a great white whale.)

    I waited some days here. No real snow fell. Last night it came down. Lovely. Most of the night and into the morning.

    I made the trek. To see the Kelly and the building around it and its reason-to-be-white- Renzo Piano's also very white Modern Wing of the Art Institute. The wing opened last May, looked terrific in spring and summer, but buildings and outdoor sculptures in this part of the world need to look good in four seasons. (We love Mies van der Rohe's white Farnsworth House in winter.)

    Today the top floor galleries of the Modern Wing which are covered with glass were also covered with snow. I was surprised they let the snow remain, but pleased. The light filtering through was cozy. And yet, when I saw

    I wondered

    Does it feel not quite right
    To see Hockney hang in wintry light?

    And those scowls on the Weismans make it a modern L.A. version of another painting in the Art Institute- a famous Midwestern duo also united by the flat, plain house they stand in front of:

    Grant Wood's American Gothic (1930)

    On a lower level hangs

    George Bellows Love of Winter Art Institute of Chicago

    "Love of Winter" - George Bellows - from 1914. It doesn't begin to convey the pain.

    The scene hardly looks cold, the sun is shining and they're having fun outdoors. It's an east coast winter, with hills and happiness.

    To capture Chicago's brutal yet romantic winter would require a more abstract art. I remembered grade school art class- we joked that we'd turn in a sheet of white paper and say it's a polar bear in Chicago in winter.

    Time to see what I came to see- Ellsworth Kelly "White Curve" in the Pritzker Garden. To see if it is a Sculpture for All Seasons.

    I pushed open the door from the Art Institute atrium that leads to the garden, and there it stood

    Art Institute Chicago Modern Wing winter Ellsworth Kelly Renzo Piano Gustafson Pritzker Garden

    Yes, the Kelly holds its own in winter. It sings poetically, if a lonely song.

    The guards don't let visitors traipse out to see it, not wanting snow brought back inside to melt.

    From inside, with those Renzo reflections that the Modern Wing is full of, the garden has its own color, even in winter.

    Art Institute Chicago Modern Wing winter Renzo Piano Pritzker Garden reflections

    I stood a while as the light changed and look at this "winter garden" from many angles until I thought "I heard" Schubert's Winterreise (Winter Journey)- the twenty-four poem melancholic song cycle. But modern winter in modern Chicago in the Modern Wing is not that bad. Technology certainly makes it more pleasant to get through winter.

    Art Institute Chicago Modern Wing winter Renzo Piano Pritzker Garden Gustafson
    The Modern Wing cost some $300 million dollars and they find out in its first Chicago winter that they need to plug in not one but two space heaters to keep the new entrance on Monroe Street toasty.

    Art Institute Chicago winter

    Yes, it's cold out there. You think back to where it's 73º. Part of you wishes you were there. But don't you always feel like you're floating in L.A.? You button up, pull the twine in your hood, put on your polar guard gloves, pause a moment to think if you can really make it where you're going, brace yourself and then push open the door. Every time it hits you in the face you can not believe how cold that air is! Tears leak out of your eyes.

    Quickly, go left to Michigan Avenue. Yes, city life here goes twelve months a year and Michigan Avenue is still happening. The cold never stopped us, it just makes us question our sanity.

    On your way you look up, as we do around here. You're under the Renzo Piano-designed bridge from the Art Institute to Millennium Park. The steel is icy. Its sublime whiteness in the sky reflects the snow below. It is going where it is going in the most direct route possible. It belongs here. You hunker down and realize you do too.

    Renzo Piano bridge Chicago winter
    .Source URL: http://ecleticsergio.blogspot.com/2010/01/winter-journey-in-chicago-renzo-piano.html
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