Are we having fun yet?
We started the day just as we always start a day here
with breakfast at Tempo.
The corned beef hash person was happy.
And since Mary the waffle-eater wasn’t here yet, I did my best and sampled a banana-nut waffle on her behalf, just to make sure it was good enough for her. I think it might meet with her approval.
Suitably stuffed, we made our way onto Michigan Avenue. Our main target for the day was the Murakami exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Institute and with the weather forecast to turn showery later, we aimed to be there sometime in the afternoon. Before then, we decided to mooch along the Miracle Mile, pop in and out of shops as we pleased and generally enjoy being in one of our favourite places.
We popped into the shops at Water Tower Place, where the fountain which sits between the up and the down escalators amused us just as much this morning as it has done all the time we’ve been coming here. Those water hollow shapes look like glasses, don’t they? So clever.
In the shops, I found nothing special and didn’t really think the topless look was what I was seeking. The reasonably priced stock in Chico’s was disappointing, with a preponderance of synthetic fibres and designs best described as nunty whereas the elegant Eileen Fisher clothes were way out of my price range today. Never mind, we’ll hold out for some discounts in the next three weeks, eh?
There in the shopping centre was a cute Lego figure, life sized, characterising the Windy City.
But outside, the sun was shining, the temperature was rising and we were enjoying the walk.
A little further along the Magnificent Mile, I found my way into Sephora and whilst my Hero went off to explore something more interesting than make up, I spent half an hour discussing chemical peels with Brianna, who kindly shared a few samples of the $88 product whilst recommending (and selling me) the $27 one
Further along Michigan Avenue, by the Du Sable Bridge, we came across these two large figures: Abraham Lincoln and a another more modern chap. We recognised Abe Lincoln, of course, but didn’t know anything more until we came back and googled.
Here, by the river, it was a few degrees cooler, with a pleasant breeze blowing from the lake. The Architecture Tour boats were doing a brisk business, but we were feeling thirsty and spotted a sign in the window opposite.
Ghirardellis ice cream parlour and chocolate shop would do just fine!
So sitting looking out of the window overlooking the bridge, we spent a good half hour with our rootbeer float and chocolate malt shake, watching the world go by before heading back out into the afternoon heat with the intention of making our way to the art gallery.
But along the way, there was a known distraction. We knew of a Microsoft store along here and it was no accident that we “just happened” to stop by and find the new Surface Studio, launching in the next couple of days but here for us to try and play with.
Oh. My. Goodness. We want one. (Each) !
Dragging ourselves away, we eventually made it to our main target – the Museum of Contemporary Art.
The exhibition we wanted to see had only just opened and since Illinois residents get free entrance on a Tuesday, it was pretty busy. Never mind, there was still room for the two of us!
We’d decided to absorb ourselves in this single exhibit and not try to see everything. So, with the whole afternoon stretching ahead of us, we settled down to watch the introductory video. The artist explained his work and how it had developed, influenced by traditional Japanese themes. Though some of this was familiar, we hadn’t grasped the fact that there is no division between “high” and “low” art in Japan; that a piece of Manga comic book art is valued as much as a Hokusai print. Well, perhaps that’s pushing it a little far, but generally speaking, there’s a lack of snobbishness regarding “commercial” work and Murakami was not embarrassed to describe his own work as populist and very commerical.
During the film, we were introduced to a character he had designed early in his career, called Dob. Some way between Mickey Mouse and Sonic the Hedgehog, iterations of Dob popped up in many of the works throughout the exhibition. At different stages of Murakami’s career, a variety of events had caused him to reassess his priorities and one definite theme early on was the atom bomb.
So one of the first, large pieces was this very striking canvas with the remains of a firework alongside, displayed on the pink plinth.
Around the corner was another video presentation though, with explanations of how these huge pieces were created. The artist himself creates the original design, which is then transferred to the full sized panels using silk screens and layers of paint, applied by a team of artisan workers in the vast studio.
There were examples of works at every stage here, from the pencil sketches to the imagined colour designs, silk screen panels and finally, the full size finished segments. I found this really interesting and could have spent longer just working out how this all comes together.
The end results were so precise, so carefully executed, it was hard to identify the artist’s hand at all, beyond the initial concept and drawing. Meticulous detail on an enormous scale.
And cute. A good deal of cute – because it’s Japanese, after all. (Even if the mushroom cloud is still there in the imagery)
The concept of superflat was explained and applied to this piece in particular.
But we’d already been drawn into the next room, where a whole wall full of daisies was smiling at us. This was Murakami at his most commercial with a small, repeatable – and marketable – design, almost a logo, created specially to repeat and to sell.
Fascinating. And yes, meticulous.
The next piece to catch my eye was entitled “Graduation”. I rather liked the fun image of a small character being shot out of a machine of some sort, out into the world.
The small character had been acquired by/identified with Kanye West and the works which stood alongside were both created for the star, including this album cover
My Hero was already in the next room though!
These are enormous works, too large for me to capture in one photograph and the detail is incredible.
In this series of paintings, a recurring character is that of the arhat, an elderly Buddhist figure who wanders through the countryside. Murakami included these figures in several works, varying the scale and the interpretation.
These are screen printed in layers, much the same as his earlier works, and the high gloss finish was difficult to capture. Layer upon layer of paint was evident but the surface was incredibly smooth and shiny. Polished, even.
Here were the arhats, huge larger-than-life figures and tiny little chaps right down there at the bottom of the canvas too. All screen printed with a variety of interesting visual texture in there.
Some of the printing revealed the bare canvas in places – here as part of the polka dot background. The matt surface was quite a contrast to the high gloss finish of the tree in this corner of the work.
These were huge canvases too.
Last but not least was a piece of work created by Murakami epecially for this exhibition, entitled “The Octopus eats his own leg”, based on a Japanese saying.
Here again was a blend of traditional and contemporary themes, referencing classic Japanese prints in a highly original way.
It filled all four walls of the last gallery of this area and could easily have kept us looking and noticing small features for several hours. We loved it.
Feeling somewhat overwhelmed by what we’d seen, we followed the crowd to the Museum store, where Murakami merchandise was selling so fast, there was no time to take it out of the boxes. Everything was limited to 5 of a single item per customer, including these $40 T shirts which will surely turn up on eBay soon.
What an afternoon! How glad we were to have seen this and to have learned so much about the artist and his work. So shell-shocked were we though, we didn’t want to overlay what we’d seen with any other art right now. It was time to return to the Sofitel.
It’s actually down a leafy street nearby and yes, our feet were glad it wasn’t so far away!
This evening, we ate dinner at Eataly, another long time favourite.
The weather forecast was warning of an incoming storm, so we took our brollies with us and kept our fingers crossed.
Thankfully, we got there and back in the dry.
The pleasing scent of Essence de Sofitel greeted us upon our return. We recognise the aroma from Sofitels worldwide, but this is the only one to have a display and explanation of the concept. Fascinating!
Another grand day in the city then. Tomorrow, we look forward to Mary’s arrival and the real fun can begin!