Today, the last day of Greg’s spring break, Greg and I slipped away into Chicago to see Morbid Curiosity, an exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center that explores, as the brochure states, “the theme of death.”
The Cultural Center has long been one of my favorite places in Chicago to listen to music, and to see art, theater, and dance–and today’s exhibit met my expectations, yet again. Housed in the beautiful 4th floor galleries, Morbid Curiosity is curated as a kind of Kunstkammer—a cabinet of curiosities, where Jodie Carey‘s massive chandelier made of plaster-cast bones hangs near a display of Day of the Dead skeletons, surrounded by vast walls of paintings, drawings, sketches, prints, collages—innumerable Memento Mori, by the likes of Albrecht Durer, Kathe Kollwitz,the Mondongo Collective, and so many sculptures, scrolls, and ceremonial objects by unknown artists–including those from South and East Asia. It’s an exhaustive (and exhausting) exhibit. And just when I thought it was over, for me it actually really began.
We moved into the gallery devoted to (again as the brochure says) “the horrors of war.”
Dix was a gunner in the trenches of World War I, and his etchings are astonishingly immediate and intimate. (Season Two of Downton Abbey, War Horse . . . you pale in comparison.)
Just down from The War was a series of woodblock prints called The Depravities of War, by Sandow Birk. These monumental images explore the Iraq War. Because my forthcoming novel, While He Was Away, deals with impact of a loved one being deployed to Iraq, I stayed with the prints for some time. The images are disturbingly familiar, yet surprising and provocative. I wonder how they will fill my dreams.
Greg and I left the Cultural Center and made our way to the Art Institute, where we saw only one, contained exhibit: The Last Harvest: Paintings of Rabindranath Tagore. I admit I had never heard of Tagore (1861-1941), a poet, playwright, musician, and philosopher, who was the first non-European recipient of a Nobel Prize for literature, and who is a fundamental figure in the modern cultural history of India. He was also a pacifist, who started painting when he was in his mid-60s. His paintings are gorgeous, richly hued and emotionally expressive—I found myself looking into his portraits as I have looked sometimes at icons, and if only I could have stepped into his landscapes, which were not easy places, but were such a relief after the foxholes, trenches, and littered marketplaces and detainment centers that filled my field of vision at the Cultural Center.
I suppose this sounds like a good, hard day of looking. It was. As it should be.