I went to the Art Institute of Chicago recently for the first time since the covid pandemic hit the U.S. last Spring, and I was surprised by how much I felt like I had to re-learn how to look at art and get the most out of a museum visit. I suppose we’ll have to re-learn how to do a lot of things post-pandemic. The Art Institute was quite crowded, which I was not expecting, and there was a three hour wait for the Monet exhibition. I didn’t wait for it, but I definitely want to see it before it goes down in June. It was incredible and rather surreal to see some of my favorite works of art at the museum, and I found myself spending more time than usual in front of them to soak them all in – scanning them from top to bottom so that I didn’t miss anything. I mostly went for the Henri Toulouse-Lautrec special exhibition, Toulouse-Lautrec and the Celebrity Culture of Paris. He’s one of my favorite artists and I always spend time with his works when I go to the Art Institute. They are typically on display in a room close to where the special exhibit is now. To have a full room dedicated to him and his large colorful posters and prints was spectacular. I love the playful imagery in his works that have a slight sense of mockery underneath their artistic virtue.
During my first museum visit since the pandemic started, I had this New York Times article about museums in the Berkshires on my mind. The Berkshires hold a special place in my heart. I love the beauty and the peacefulness of these majestic mountains, that take on a purple hue in just the right light. My mom grew up in the Berkshires and I lived there for one year before going to grad school. This area might be rural, but it is certainly rich and vibrant in art and culture. With numerous museums for its small scope and population, it’s a destination for visitors seeking solace in nature and intellectual awakening in its cultural institutions. The house that my mom grew up in in Williamstown, MA (the same house that I spent my time in while living there) was just steps away from the Clark Art Institute. We also took advantage of and appreciated MASS MoCA and the other museums in the area.
What I really appreciated about this article was the commentary on contemporary art. Contemporary art is certainly contemporary, relatively speaking, but it’s not as contemporary as it claims to be. As this article points out, it can’t keep up with the current times that we have experienced over the past year. What then, one can argue, is the value of contemporary art? I agree with the author, Jason Farago, that we can learn just as much from the old masters as we can from contemporary art. Furthermore, art isn’t so much about what we can learn from it, but how it reminds us of our humanity.
“If I seek out art in a time of national catastrophe, it’s not because I need that catastrophe explained to me. And it’s not because I want to block that catastrophe out with a veil of pretty pictures. It’s simpler than that. It’s because I need to be reminded what to live for.”Jason Farago