I haven’t been to the Art Institute of Chicago in well over a year. This was due mostly to rising living costs and my willful decision to spend less on myself and more on those around me. There may have also been a few forgetful moments that inhibited the purchase as well, but that’s just a funny dig at my sister and I. I tend to place my entertainment costs off to side in favor of others, but with the Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926–1938 quickly coming to a close, I had no choice but to swallow my principles and actually purchase something for myself.
I can’t actually pinpoint when and where my fascination with Magritte’s work came from, which is endlessly unfortunate for me. I can tell you what Picasso work spoke to me first (The Old Guitarist), which Duchamp made me dizzy with delight (Nude Descending Staircase, No. 2), or when I initially realized that I like girls with expressive eyebrows (for sake of privacy, no name mentioned). However, I can say which works of Magritte have prevailed my wandering eye and maintained my interest. These works are The Banquet and Time Transfixed, which actually ends the exhibit, but with both these works being regular fixtures of the Art Institute, I will neglect speaking of their effects here.
With dozens and dozens of works on display, it would take a book’s worth to explain them with the level of detail I would truly want to. The notes I took on my second trip to the exhibit occupied over fifteen pages of my tiny handwriting in my large Moleskine. So instead of boring you and myself with with overtly analytical with dubious understanding, I’ll relate what struck me most on my two visits, which works of art forcefully stopped me and which incited the most memorable reactions. I’ll have to limit it three or four, maybe five, but probably not. Also there is only one photograph I took during my visits, taken outside the exhibit due to strict rules of doing otherwise.
La trahison des images (Treachery of Images)I have seen this work in countless books, TV shows, poster, and digital images, but nothing ever comes close to seeing it in person. Now, its not that difficult to see in person as it is exhibited in Los Angeles, but with so many artworks that I do in fact want to experience in actual real life connections and a unsurprising about of responsibilities and utter lack of funds, it becomes less and less likely that I will see everything I want. Tours and exhibits like this grant me the possibility to actually see these works in all their glory. In a sense, my desire to actually see the painting and not a reproduction of it works around the art work’s message, those poor recreations are not the Treachery of Images, but this was.
My experience with the painting on display was heavily influence by those around me. People stared at this work longer than any other, most likely due to the familiarly with it. It is such a renown image, seen and imitated with hilarious effect. I too was captured by its pull. I know more than enough about it, but seeing the focus and allure it had amongst even the most unknowing filled me with delight. Nearly every person referred to it by the English translation of its French inscription. “This is not a pipe” or “Ceci n’est pas une pipe.” . The piece works on its sly simplicity, stating a fact from a perspective that is often never thought of or ignored.
Part parting, part sculpture. This piece immediately has an evocative nature, centering and enhancing parts of the nude model, in this case his wife, in order push you out from what is there. The eternally obvious here isn’t whats in the painting, even though many would simply stare at the separate images and conclude that the focus is that of each body part. What could be more suggestive that making your eyes lurch over the models feet, face, knees, breasts and crotch? Everything else. It is meant to have you fill in the blanks, view the image as a whole, more than simply the sum of its very defined and separated parts. The nature of this work isn’t to just tantalize you, but reconstruct a beauty within you mind, to subvert the crisis of deconstruction Magritte created.
Les Amants II (The Lovers II)I felt like all the are escaped me when I turned a corner and saw this painting. It’s Magritte’s romantic kiss, a take that changes the emotion connection between the man and woman to a more visceral and lonely position. This loving embrace was obscured by cloth around their faces, distancing them further that any amount of space could. I connected with this image, another on my list to see in person, so strongly. that I almost began to cry. It filled me with a frustration and sadness, something so good and beautiful obstructed by a mysterious shroud. The disconnect between the figures and the viewer is continuously amplified the longer I looked at it. It hit me so hard and brought a question after question, feeble attempts to understand both the painting true meaning and my reaction to it. Magritte would place the mystery surrounding the message as nothing, simply the unknowable aspect of mystery. My view and thoughts about this painting say more about me than the painting itself, a sort of therapeutic mind game that wasn’t necessarily created (but possibly intended) by Magritte.
The Red Model/On the Threshold of Liberty/Youth IllustratedThe penultimate presentation of Magritte’s work is a collection of three paintings being displayed as they once were at Edward James’ Wimpole Street house. Immediately the already large room in which these paintings were housed looked even large, grander than it would have without them. The depth of “On the Threshold of Liberty” sucks your vision deep into its recesses, while to the right “Youth Illustrated” road disappears into the distance, its objects lined up past the horizon. The large version of “The Red Model” brings the perspective a little closer, as if to close the ever reaching effect the other two have, but its size does the opposite. I stood closer to the back of the room, admiring the painting from afar and letting my vision be tossed around by the compositions. Most people quickly walked up to the paintings (as I eventually did), but never bothered to take them in as a whole. People crossed my line of vision but for a few fleeting moments I could see the entirety of the three painting as they once were.
There are countless other paintings I would love to talk about, how their impacts on me were just as powerful and alluring as the previous. Unfortunately time is short and I feel bad that I wasn’t able to express by thought on these works sooner. The exhibition colses up on October 13 and I’m sure lines will be long and unforgiving. That being said, I am ultimately happy I was finally able to return to the realm of the Art Institute with just enough time to capture the experience of one of my favorite Surrealists.