Got my first look at the Art Institute’s new Modern Wing last week. I wanted to see the building itself as much as I wanted to see the collection inside--which was a good thing, because the place was so crowded (admission was free for the big opening) that I didn’t get very close to much of the art. I think I may have caught a brief glimpse of a few Picassos and a big, yellow Cy Twombly before the tide of humanity swept me off in the direction of the gift shop and café. Mostly I’d describe the experience as one long jostling. I’m all for making art accessible to everyone, but can’t we do it just on days when I’m not at the museum?
(The day before my trip to the museum, I had to run to the local Target to pick up some baseball cards for my son’s pee-wee baseball team. It was around 8:30 or 9 in the morning, the store had just opened, and it was still mostly deserted. It was just me and a few yoga moms pushing their kids around in strollers. The wide aisles were empty and clean. The long day stretched out ahead of me and out ahead of the kids in their strollers. We had our phone calls to make, our naps to take, our food to spit up, but all that would come later. For now, it was pretty cool to wander the aisles of Target and consider all the possibilities, check out the packaging and the brand names, all relentlessly optimistic. The store seemed like one big warehouse of potential. Is something wrong when a trip to a big-box store produces a more intense aesthetic experience than a morning at one of the world’s great art museums?)
But back to the museum. The highlight of the day might have been the view from the pedestrian bridge that spans Madison Street and connects the museum to Millennium Park. You can see Lake Michigan and Monroe Harbor, you can see Frank Gehry’s band shell and the serpentine BP bridge, and best of all, you can look out over the Lurie Garden, which on this day was a very painterly and textured field of grasses and massed purple, a canvas in itself. It was gorgeous and, unlike the museum itself, it’s there for free every day.