For a museum that bills itself encyclopedic, the Art Institute of Chicago was long lacking a comprehensive contemporary section to complete its smorgasbord of the world’s greatest art. Last April, plastics tycoon Stefan T. Edlis and his wife Gael Neeson changed all that with a gift of forty-four pieces by such recognized names as Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, and several others. These works are currently on display in the Modern Wing of what TripAdvisor has dubbed “the world’s best museum.” The Institute’s pledge to display the works rather than pack them away was “an offer I could not refuse,” Edlis stated, leaving him and the general public equally happy. Edlis, although still in good health, wanted worthy homes for his extensive collection while still alive. These forty-four works now rest comfortably on the “Big Shoulders” of his adopted hometown.
No British artist in living memory has achieved the glaring notoriety of Damien Hirst. As a teen-ager his idea of a fun photo was posing next to the swollen head of a corpse in a morgue. In the photo he grins with crazy intensity, and ever since then his aim has been to dazzle with disgust. One imagines that he wanders the streets in an acid-green spotlight waving off paparazzi the way Orestes waved off flies. In fact, flies figure into several of Hirst's pieces. One is an installation in which maggots are eating a skinned cow's head. Another is a black disc mounted on the wall made of resin and squashed houseflies. The repellent is Hirst's muse.
Oh, that this rain would end! I dried my socks by stepping into the Tate Britain this afternoon.The museum collection is divided into three parts – the glorious, the dull, and the querulous. The glorious, all those luminescent Turner paintings, went on tour this year, so the mobs aren’t in attendance. The management left a few strays lingering in various galleries (like the sublimely bucolicGolden Bough and a Venetian water scene where only an outlined gondola betrays that Turner wasn’t painting a celestial city), and these left-behinds glow like yellow sapphires. The dull part of the Tate consists of traditional British paintings, large rooms hung double-decker style with portraits of horse-faced lords and their pale, powdered ladies. I have to squint to read the labels, so it’s work to separate the Reynolds, Gainsboroughs, and Van Dycks from the acreage of peerage that surrounds them. If I sound captious, it’s because the third portion of the Tate Britain, devoted to modern art, exasperated me.