Archive for January, 2012

Cool, cold and colder in warm Chicago

January 31, 2012

Diane (saved by Amy's down coat) and Chicago Greeter Larry Ambrose in front of 'The Bean' in Millennium Park

Update: Globe story is here.

My friend Amy, whose downtown Chicago high-rise we were fortunate enough to stay in a couple weeks ago, keeps apologizing for the frigid weekend we encountered. I told her we wouldn’t have had it any other way. We needed bragging rights! It had been unseasonably warm there, until we arrived, when it snowed and the days dipped into the 20s and the nights, oh, who wants to think about it. Two things saved us. Amy and her partner, Deanna, keep their heat higher than we keep ours (yay!) and Amy loaned me her shin-length North Face down coat. Yes, yes, oh yes.

The `Crown Fountain,' a video sculpture and fountain by conceptual artist Jaume Plensa in Millennium Park

So, yes, we had a blast –of arctic air, but of fun too. Amy had given us with a travel-writer-worthy list of things to do, plus I had a few story assignments. Saturday we met our “greeter,” for my Boston Globe story about the very cool Chicago Greeters program. Greeters are locals who give free tours of their city. We picked “public art” from a smorgasbord of options. Our guy Larry took us to the beyond-thrilling Millennium Park, and then through a greatest-hits list of sculptures by Picasso, Dubuffet, Chagall, Miro, and Calder.

Farm manager Dave Snyder grows vegetables on the organic roof-top of Uncommon Ground

That afternoon Lina and I hopped on the Red Line to Edgewater, where we visited Uncommon Ground, “the greenest restaurant in the country” (according to the Green Restaurant Association) for a little Ode piece I was writing. I’m very skeptical of green claims and usually that proves founded, but not so in this case. From the organic roof-top farm to the tables made from local fallen trees, and many things in between, this was the real deal.

We took Amy’s suggestion (and discount) and headed across the street that night to the venerable Gene Siskel Film Center to see “Newlyweds” starring and directed by Edward Burns. Oh, yeah, and it was followed by a Q&A with Ed himself. Total thrill!

Sunday we got lost in the Art Institute of Chicago for hours and hours. In one room we soaked up more masterpieces than many people see in a lifetime. The new (2009) Modern Wing, designed by Renzo Piano, is a soaring three-story beauty chocked with modern, contemporary, and cutting edge show-stoppers.

Sunset over Chicago as seen from the 94th floor of the John Hancock Center

What could top that? Literally, sunset from the 94th floor of the Hancock Tower Observatory. (We went to the Willis Tower/Sears Tower the next day. Much longer lines, but it was worth it to stand on the transparent Skydeck Ledge 103 floors above ground.) On the way to meet Dutch friends of Lina’s living nearby, we stopped at American Girl Place for an overdose of pink before returning to adult fun — outstanding brew and food at Revolution Brewing in Logan Square.

Diane ventures out on the Sky Ledge at 1,353 feet in the air

On our final day, our hosts returned from Florida (oh, did I not mention we had the run of their splashy condo for the weekend?) and Amy and I caught up on some 15 years! Since college, she’s become a city mouse, while I’ve turned into a small-town girl who appreciates the big city from time to time. Thanks for the Midwestern hospitality, Amy and Deanna! We shall return!

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At MFA in Boston, old, new, and still friendly

January 9, 2012

The original grand entrance to the Museum of Fine Arts remains the same

When I lived in the Boston area, from 1989 to 2003, I visited the Museum of Fine Arts often and knew the layout and collections pretty well. Returning to the MFA recently was like visiting an old friend who had struck it rich but was as likeable as before. From November 2010 to September 2011, the museum grew by about 200,000 square feet, first with the Art of the Americas wing and then with the smaller but also wonderful Linde Family Wing for Contemporary Art. Everything was familiar, but different.

Glass tower anchors the courtyard

Most visually new and exciting is the Shapiro Family Courtyard, a huge gathering space with café and the 42-foot “Lime Green Icicle Tower” by glass artist Dale Chihuly. The museum appealed to the public last year to help purchase the yummy cylinder of glass for $1 million. They came through, and we’re all benefiting. (I love this time-lapse video of the tower going up.)

Before I go further, let’s discuss the rules, summed up succinctly below in the neon installation “Please” by Danish-born artist Jeppe Hein. Delightful, playful, informative. Love it!

You'll want to follow Jeppe Hein's rules

In the Art of the Americas wing, I gave up trying to find my place and just enjoyed the 53 (!) galleries, including nine period rooms that are like little extra museums. The more than 5,000 works shown more than double objects previously displayed. About 500 are new, 175 are loans and the rest had been stashed in the basement.

The European art was moved around enough that it took me forever to find my favorite Van Gogh, “Lullaby,” a painting of Madame Roulin, the postman’s wife. But where I was when I found it I had no idea. Clearly I’d need to spend many more afternoons here.

In the contemporary wing, which tripled the space of the previous area and shows 250 works in seven new galleries, I was thrilled to find my favorite Kiki Smith, “Lilith,” hanging from the wall as always, along with many more purchases and loans. The last rooms we entered held a special show, 30 of Ellsworth Kelly’s wood sculptures, spanning his career. (It’s up through March 4.) Unlike his colorful paintings, these are natural wood tones, sparse and elegant.

Alas, time has run out for 'The Clock'

Before we left, we watched 30 minutes of  “The Clock,” a 24-hour video by Christian Marclay that apparently is no longer at the MFA. (FIND IT AND SEE IT!) The compilation of thousands of movie and TV clips of clocks and watches tells the current time at any given moment and is synchronized with real time. While there’s no plot, we were hard pressed to leave our seat, waiting to see how, for instance, 1:42 p.m. will be depicted. While we were constantly reminded of the time, it still got away from us.