Representatives from three top Chicago area museums recently shared with Art Media Agency details of their recent acquisitions. The historical and stylistic range demonstrates a continued high level of commitment to strengthening the permanent collections of the city’s vital art institutions.
Founded in 1879, The Art Institute of Chicago (AIC) is one of the most important and visited art institutions in the world. Their permanent collection includes more than 300,000 objects and represents every historical period, nationality and culture. The newest addition to the museum came in 2009, with the creation of its Modern Wing, which enhanced the institution with 264,000 square feet of exhibition space and educational facilities and features state-of-the-art green technology. The Art Institute of Chicago is supported through donations and admission fees, though special free admission times are frequent, and include free admission Thursday evenings from 5:00 to 8:00 pm year round to residents of the State of Illinois.
The Art Institute of Chicago has acquired Christ Carrying the Cross, by the 16th Century Italian painter Sebastiano del Piombo. The painting was only recently rediscovered, and was brought to the attention of the AIC by London-based art gallery Colnaghi, who facilitated the transfer of the painting to the museum. “We couldn’t be more thrilled to have this rare and wonderful opportunity to bring such an important painting—our first by Sebastiano—into the Art Institute’s permanent collection,” said Gloria Groom, David and Mary Winton Green Curator and Chair of European Painting and Sculpture for the AIC.
Sebastiano del Piombo is notable as one of the only major painters of the High Renaissance to combine the Venetian School’s focus on color with the Mannerist’s exaggeration of proportions. As a result his work was hailed for its ability to evoke a monumental, heroic elegance while still attaining the more sensual aesthetic of painters such as Titian and Veronese. Christ Carrying the Cross is representative of Sebastiano’s distinctly emotional compositional style. This particular composition was so successful he created multiple variations of it. The AIC’s recent acquisition joins other known manifestations of the image currently held in the collections of Madrid’s Museo del Prado, Budapest’s Szépmüvészeti Museum, and the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg. The work is currently on view at the AIC in Gallery 205.
A painted porcelain altar set from China dating to the Jiaqing period of the Qing dynasty was also recently acquired by the AIC. The altar set is comprised of five pieces: a tripod censer intended for the burning of incense, two matching candlesticks with attached drip trays midway down their shafts, and two matching beaker vases, all measuring around 10.5 inches in height. The objects were likely used in Buddhist rituals.
Aside from their beauty and historical relevance, these objects are of particular interest to the city of Chicago because of their provenance. They came to the AIC from the collection of Edward H. Bennett. Bennett was an influential architect and a pioneer in the field of City Planning. He co-authored the 1909 plan for the development of the City of Chicago, and was the designer of two of the city’s most prominent landmarks: Buckingham Fountain and the Michigan Avenue Bridge. Prior to joining the permanent collection of the AIC the altar set had been on display in the Bennett’s private residence.
Smart Museum of Art
Established in 1974, the Smart Museum of Art is named for brothers David and Alfred Smart, the publishers of Esquire Magazine. Although David was an avid collector of art, the brothers’ initial gift to help establish the museum came in the form of Esquire stock rather than art. The museum collects Modern, Asian, European (pre 1900), and contemporary artworks. Its mission is to serve the broader Chicago community and is free to the public. Its permanent collection currently holds more than 15,000 objects, including sculptures by Jean Arp, Henry Moore, and Auguste Rodin, paintings by Norman Lewis, Joan Mitchell, Jean Metzinger and Mark Rothko, and The Disasters of War, by Francisco Goya.
Chicago’s Smart Museum of Art is now the new home of several outstanding works by Wolf Vostell, one of the most influential pioneers in the Fluxus Movement. The acquisitions are part of one of Vostell’s most innovative bodies of work in which concrete was his medium. They include two concrete cuffs, or restraint devices, used in the making of Vostell’s 1972 performance film Desastres. Also included are two concrete collages, including Fliegende Zementwolke ueber Chicago, or Flying Cement Cloud over Chicago, which feature molded concrete forms attached to photographs mounted on board.
The highlight of museums Vostell acquisitions is the artist’s Cadillac in Concrete, a 1957 Cadillac encased entirely in concrete as part of his 1970 Concrete Traffic series of Concrete Happenings. Also acquired are supporting materials such as 12 documentary photographs of Concrete Traffic and a copy of the film Desastres. Vostell was an active organizer of Happenings from 1958 onward. In addition to his happenings and his concrete works he was a pioneer in installation art and is considered to have been the first artist to incorporate a television set into a work of art. The Smart Museum of Art’s entire Wolf Vostell collection is currently on view at the museum through 11 June 2017.
Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art
Established in 1980, the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art is located on the campus of Northwestern University, just north of the Chicago city limits, on the shores of Lake Michigan. Originally conceived as an example of the German tradition of Kunsthalle, meaning it would not have a permanent collection, it nonetheless quickly became home to a growing permanent collection of global contemporary art. Today the museum boasts a permanent collection of nearly 5,000 objects in all mediums, representing some of the most important names in contemporary and modern art, including Jasper Johns, Barbara Hepworth, Chuck Close, Andy Warhol, Joan Miró, Kara Walker, Jean Arp, and thousands more. The museum includes an outdoor sculpture garden and a cinema, and is free and open to the public.
Among the most active institutional collectors in the Chicago area recently has been the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art at Northwestern University, in the lakeside community of Evanston. The museum has recently acquired a number of important objects of contemporary art representing the mediums of sculpture, painting, installation art, film and photography. Of particular interest is the museum’s recent acquisition of One (1970), by American artist Sam Gilliam. At age 83, Gilliam remains one of the most influential living members of the Washington Color School. One is a prime example of his iconic drape paintings, lyrical Color Field experiments in which he works on raw, un-stretched canvas and hangs the work in a sculptural format.
Chicago area collectors Richard and Jackie Hollander recently gifted the museum more than 30 photographic prints by the renowned Luxembourgish-American photographer Edward Steichen. The acquisition includes items from Steichen’s series of botanical photographs as well as examples of his photographs of dancers. Steichen is best remembered for being the most active contributor to Camera Work magazine, published between 1903 and 1917 by Alfred Stieglitz, owner of the 291 gallery and husband of Georgia O’Keeffe. Also recently acquired by the Block Museum in the realm of photography are 15 photographs by the American photojournalist Donna Ferrato from her iconic series of works documenting domestic violence titled Living With the Enemy; the photograph Ayuba Suleiman Diallo by Senegalese photographer Omar Victor Diop; the photograph Nightshift 3 by Turkish-born, New York-based dissident multimedia artist Vahap Avsar; and selections from Memoirs of Hadrian by the multimedia artist Lyle Ashton Harris.
These recent acquisitions compliment the major gift the Block Museum received late last year of 68 artworks from the personal collection of Peter Norton, of software fame. Included in that gift were the installation Ritual and Revolution (1998), by the contemporary American multimedia artist Carrie Mae Weems, and the film Happiness (Finally) After 35,000 Years of Civilization, from 2003, by the Hong-Kong-born American artist Paul Chan.