FROM out of an endless black passage, hovering in shimmering
silver brilliance, strollers on a warm Sunday linger by a lake in
a park's shady green verdure and gaze at pure water and light.
"A Sunday on La Grande Jatte" is the cynosure for "Chicago's
Dream, A World's Treasure: The Art Institute of Chicago,
1893-1993," an exhibition that marks the move by the museum into
its stolid, Beaux-Arts building on Michigan Avenue 100 years
As the title of the exhibition suggests, the institute's display
of 350 of its most significant works is an act of
self-congratulation. But it is also an opportunity for
self-examination. "Chicago's Dream" reviews how the museum has
collected and displayed its works since 1893, and it shows how one
of America's most important museums has refined its tastes and
those of its patrons.
"The museum is an active participant with the viewer in
discussing, displaying, and understanding the works of art," says
Teri Edelstein, deputy director of the Art Institute and organizer
of the exhibit.
The "Palace on the Prairie," as the museum has been called,
was built alongside the din and coal-smoke pall of an Illinois
Central freight yard, a begrimed cultural pearl at the city's core.
It included a backward-looking school and staid venue for plaster
casts of ancient sculpture. "Chicago's Dream" illustrates how the
Art Institute evolved in this century from a tradition-bound center
for the imitation of classical works to a forward-looking museum.
In its early years, the identity of the museum was closely tied
to the flamboyance and boldness of its donors. None were more
lavish and extravagant than Bertha Honore Palmer, Chicago's
glittering turn-of-the-century socialite.
With the help of her friend, the artist Mary Cassatt, Mrs.
Palmer began in 1898 to collect the works of Pierre Auguste Renoir,
Claude Monet, Edgar Degas, and other Impressionists.
The exhibition features many of these works in a room painted a
dark shade of pink that matches the color of the velvet walls in
the Paris gallery of Paul Durand-Ruel, the art dealer who sold many
of the paintings to Palmer.
After returning to Chicago, Palmer showed off her acquisitions
in a room in her home painted the same color.
Palmer's bequest of 52 paintings to the Art Institute in 1922
includes nine of Monet's "grainstack" series. Among the paintings
on display in the "Chicago's Dream" exhibition, the pink walls
most vividly draw out the shades of red in four of the grainstack
paintings and accentuate the flesh tones and small flower bursts in
"On the Stage," the pastel by Degas. …