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30 September 2013 @ 06:04 pm
Impressionist Impressions  
On Saturday, softlykarou and I went with my parents to the Art Institute of Chicago's Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity exhibit, which I'm posting about now but you can't go to because it ended yesterday, which is why we went.

I was a little leery of going, because historically, my taste in art tends toward the ultra-realistic. I tend to view the progression of Western art history as being great in the Roman period, falling into crap like the rest of Western civilization after the collapse of the Western empire, then a steady climb as technique improved over the ages until paintings were almost photorealistic. Then along came a bunch of punks who thought that they didn't need all that skill and technique because they could just make blurry paintings or put shapes on canvas and call them "Black Square" or whatever. I mean, look at this fucking hipster:

Frédéric Bazille. Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 1867.

Of course, much like how I now like onions and celery but despised them in my youth, that's a pretty ridiculous narrative. It's easy to say that all art should trend towards realistically depicting life, but there's a perfectly reasonable argument that it's not an important question after the invention of photography. I mean, if we need photorealistic art, just take a picture. That frees art to focus on other qualities of life than just what exists, like the play of light and shadow (as in Impressionism), or the representation of pure emotion, or the sensation looking at a scene provides instead of a literal vision of that scene, or what have you. And those are pretty good goals, and not something photography does as well. Well, maybe light and shadow.

Anyway, the actual exhibit! As the title indicates, it was about all the Impressionist painting that was done on the subject of fashion, complete with actual dresses, shoes, hats, and so on. Mostly women's fashions, but there were a couple men's suits--the reason given is that men's fashion was pretty much "wear black or brown with a white shirt," so it didn't give nearly as much for the painters to work with as women's fashion did.

Much to my surprise, the suits they had on display were almost big enough to fit me, and while the dresses were the same size as softlykarou, the wasp waists due to excessive corseting would probably prevent her (or anyone else in the room) from wearing them. The shoes and gloves were definitely too small, and while the hats would have fit, a lot of them looked like alien mind control devices.

I think the part that sticks out most in my memory was there they had Monet's The Woman in the Green Dress:

across from an actual dress in the same style from the same period. I was really struck by the contrast between the old dress, faded with time and, well, "the play of light and shadow," and the vibrant colors in Money's painting. They had them set up across from each other, so it was easy to compare and contrast them. That was most of the exhibit--pairing clothing that had inspired paintings with the paintings themselves--but Monet's is the only one that easily springs to mind.

There were also some pieces of furniture and other household accoutriments, and wow were they ridiculously gaudy. Not the exact pieces displayed on this page, but pretty close. There were a few pieces that were less terrible, mostly the sort of dark wood that's probably my favorite decor ever, but if that's the kind of furniture that was in fashion in the U.S., but I can see just where the term "The Gilded Age" came from.

The second thing we saw was an exhibit of Hokusai's Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, and I must admit with some embarrassment that I had never realized that Mount Fuji was in the background of The Great Wave off Kanagawa. There's a full depiction of all the prints at that link. My favorite is probably #25--I love the way Fujisan is depicted in both summer and winter through the reflection in the water, and how it's given a prominent place because it's the only thing that's reflected. #2 is great also, but that's probably feeding into my own memories of having been on Fujisan at dawn:

Fun fact: the "san" in Fujisan isn't the honorific -san, it's 山 san, which means "mountain." That's one of the things I picked up from my Japanese, along with calling air conditioning "aircon" instead of A/C and calling softlykarou "my wife" in casual conversation even if she's literally standing right next to me.

And finally, something we once knew but had forgotten--as a Loyola student, softlykarou gets into the museum for free, and as a Chicago resident, I get in at a reduced price. We really should go more often. They have a collection of medieval arms and armor that I've heard is fantastic but which I still haven't managed to see, and we have ~9 more months of free admission for one of us to get in to do that.
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