Saturday, September 5, 2015

Chicago trip round-up

I've covered the beginning and side trips of my summer trip through the Midwest, but I should attempt to briefly cover what I actually did in Chicago.  I landed at Midway on Thurs.  I was desperately trying to get something off for work, so I stayed in the terminal for a bit working.  Then I took the Orange Line in and stopped off at the hotel.  This was a new one called the Hyatt Centric -- it was nice, and I would definitely stay again if I got a good rate.  (It's probably just as well that I didn't learn about their complimentary snack center until the last day...)  My room had a great view of Bank One Plaza with its huge Chagall mosaic.

You can't quite see it in this photo, but there is an Italian restaurant called Italian Village just across the street.  It was actually one of the first places my wife and I ate when we started dating.  I wrapped up another short project, then went off to see the kids at my mother-in-law's house on the South Side.

It was good to see them, as I had been away for something like 6 weeks.  I went through a bunch of mail and packages and we caught up a bit.  My wife turned up just as I was about ready to leave.  I had planned to see A Perfect Ganesh by Terrance McNally up at the Athenaeum.  The Red Line back north was quite dreadful as there was a Cubs game on.  I just barely squeezed out the door at Belmont.  I was running late, but fortunately I did catch the Belmont bus and it wasn't overcrowded for once.  Nonetheless, I had very little time to eat, so I ended up just getting a sandwich and wolfed it down on the way to the box office.  I was a bit startled to see what the city has done at the corner of Lincoln and Southport (you can just see the vertical red Athenaeum sign in the background).

I was surprised to find out it was almost a full house, which is quite good, considering that the Athenaeum is a bit off the path theatre-wise.  I have to admit, I didn't think A Perfect Ganesh was a very good play.  I thought the actors did a fine job, but I had a hard time imagining these two older ladies spending much time together, since they were so dissimilar and one was really a piece of work.  It just seemed endless, and indeed, it turned out that it was much closer to 3 hours than the promised 2!  I thought the plot, such as it was, was pretty mundane and even cliched: women come to India hoping for some spiritual balm and eventually receive it.  The one thing that might have given this a bit of a spark (the death of one's son at the hands of a Black street mob) was put so early in the story that it actually had little emotional force.  It would have been much better to gradually reveal it, sort of like Williams's Suddenly Last Summer.  But basically, these two women were not good enough company to want to spend 3 hours with them, and I don't think I would have felt any differently back in 1993 when the play had its initial run in Greenwich Village.  I think in the back of my mind, I had suspected that it just wasn't my thing (not all the reviews were glowing even back then), though I have enjoyed a couple of McNally plays.  So at least I found this out for much less than it would have cost me in New York...

To some extent, I am a creature of habit, and I do tend to do things in certain patterns.  When I see a play at the Athenaeum, I often go to a late night Thai place, and I did drop in.  It looked like the bus back to Belmont was going to be quite a wait, so I walked down Belmont and then up Southport, through our old neighborhood.  Quite a few things have changed, particularly near the CTA stop, and in some ways it was less appealing to me.  Of course, the bulk of the changes that really saddened me happened through the early 2000s, while we were living there as almost all the used CD stores shut down and a used bookstore/sandwich shop that I adored, though that was a bit more in the heart of Lakewood (Belmont and Clark mostly).  The 7-11 on Belmont is still open, so maybe one of these days I'll write that piece about the aliens invading...

I put in a solid day of work on Friday, though quite a bit of it was taken up with phone calls.  I did leave just a bit early so that I could hit the Chicago Cultural Center before meeting my wife for dinner and Moby Dick at Lookingglass.  (As I mentioned, I just managed to finish the book Friday morning, right before work!)  Most of the art exhibits were changing over, but they had a special exhibit on the African-American artist Archibald Motley that was quite interesting.

While the Art Institute did loan them a self-portrait, they hung onto the fairly amazing painting Nightlife (which I made sure to show the kids on our visit Saturday).  I think either they should have lent it to the exhibit, or at least put up a note in each location saying to go look at the other location for more Motley.  Most of the paintings at the Cultural Center were either from the Howard University Art Collection or still in the hands of Motley's family.

Archibald Motley, Nightlife, 1943

I have this weird feeling that I had an opportunity to buy a monograph on Motley, but I passed (though I may possibly be thinking of a Bob Thompson monograph).  The new catalog that accompanies this exhibit is a bit nicer, but seems to have gone out of print.*  I guess I'll keep my eyes open.  There is actually a copy at the Toronto Reference Library, but of course it doesn't circulate.

I thought about trying to take the kids by, but I do have to say that most of the paintings are either these wild parties or are nudes, and I guess I didn't really want them to get the wrong impression.  It also doesn't help that many of the figures are very close to stereotypes of Black men with huge lips and bulging eyes and the women are all over-sexed.  (Nightlife isn't too bad in that regard actually.)  So that was also going on in the back of my mind, and in the end I didn't take them.

Still, I was glad to stop by.  I think my favorite two in the show were Barbecue and Siesta.  The latter one is one of the paintings Motley did while on a tour of Mexico.

Archibald Motley, Barbecue, 1960

Archibald Motley, After Fiesta, Remorse, Siesta, 1959–60

While it seemed to me the bus up Michigan Avenue took forever, I made it to the Thai restaurant with a few minutes to spare.  I already mentioned that the performance of Moby Dick was quite gripping, though they did cut out a lot of characters.  I think it might have been worthwhile trying to capture a bit more of the monotony of life on a whaling ship, as well as make it more clear that there were multiple encounters with Moby Dick at the end of the novel, not a single one.  In fact, I think if you hadn't read the novel it would have been quite difficult to follow the ending as they portrayed it.  On a side note, I had forgotten just how much Melville borrowed from Shakespeare.  Not only has Pip lost his wits and become a bit of a holy fool (a bit like Lear towards the end) but Melville came up with a somewhat labored prophecy about Ahab dying only by hemp rope, which seems borrowed/stolen from the witches' prophecy for Macbeth.

Saturday we retrieved the kids and I took them to the Art Institute.  It was a fairly compressed visit, and ultimately we had to skip the Chagall windows at the back of the museum, but we saw just about everything else.  (Though one of my favorite paintings by Caillebotte was on loan to a museum in D.C., but there was plenty else to make up for it.  I've put up a somewhat distorted version to indicate I just had to rely on memories of it on this trip.)

Gustave Caillebotte, Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877

While most of the paintings were quite familiar, and going through the galleries is like visiting old friends, the Wilfredo Lam piece caught my eye for the first time.

Wilfredo Lam, Untitled, 1947
I think the Braque below is normally on display, but it made a stronger impression on this visit than before.

George Braque, Still Life with Fruits and Stringed Instrument, 1938

This one by Max Maxy does appear to have entered the collection recently, so it probably was my first time seeing it.

Max Herman Maxy, Untitled, 1923

After looking more closely, this Cezanne is actually on loan from a private collection, but I certainly hope it is going to be bequeathed to the museum.  It compares very favorably to the ones I saw at the Cezanne show in Hamilton last year.  It is in fact possible that this was the first time I had a chance to see it, but I am not certain either way.

Paul Cezanne, Curtain, Pitcher, and Fruit Bowl, 1893-94

I dropped the kids off and went to fulfill my obligations at the ASA meeting.  I gave my talk at the round table session.  I spent just a bit of time (and only $9) at the book exhibit.  I even ran into the photography exhibit at Columbia College, but I only had about 10 minutes to look at some photos taken in North Korea.  Back at the Hilton, I met a few people, including my dissertation committee chair, and caught up with them.  It turns out that my evening plans fell through, so I stayed for the entire urban sociology reception.  But I did not attempt to join any sociologists for further revelries, since I had a long day ahead of me.  Sunday is already pretty well covered here.

Monday I was back at work.  I actually ended up shifting my bags to the Hilton, since I knew I would be out relatively late at the Jazz Showcase (another ASA event).  I had dinner with a professor that I always try to catch up with at ASA meetings, and we went over to the show.  I stayed longer than I expected.  Probably that's just as well, since it turns out that the Hilton is one of those expensive hotels that rip you off by charging for the wifi.  Boy, that burns me up.  So it was a real challenge getting some work done in the evening, as I often need a connection back to the home office to load certain software.  (Thus, being in the hotel room instead of out at the Jazz Showcase would have just meant more hours stewing about the lack of connectivity.)

In the end, on Tuesday I went back to the downtown office in the morning, then met Jacky Grimshaw at CNT right before lunch.  It was nice catching up with her and talking a bit about transportation issues in Vancouver and Toronto.  I grabbed a very good burrito right at the Damen L stop and then went out to O'Hare which is where our other, larger Chicago office is located.  I put in several solid hours of work, though I had to stop a bit early. I really wanted to see the MCA.  On top of everything else there, they have live jazz Tuesday evenings.  Unfortunately, I was very pressed for time, since the Hilton only allowed you to retrieve checked bags until 7 pm.  (I guess after that you had to wait until the next day.  I have never heard of such a policy and quite frankly don't think I will ever stay there again.)  This really did suck, since Tatsu Aoki was playing (the bass player on the left), and I definitely would have stayed longer.  (In the end, I was super stressed, struck on another slow bus down Michigan Ave.  I made it with about 5 minutes to spare!)

One thing that has changed at MCA is that they were allowing photography.  I'm quite sure that wasn't the policy before.  At any rate, I did manage to see an interesting exhibit on the intersection of jazz and art on the top floor before I had to run.  (Out of Office was a small but well-focused exhibit that took common office items as the starting point for art works.  The piece below is actually a pair of enormous wall hangings.  Unfortunately, this exhibit closes tomorrow (and the Motley already closed**), so there is not much point in my praising them.)

Gabriel Kuri, untitled tsb mini statement details, 2014

Here are a couple of pieces I found interesting from the upstairs exhibit.

Jose Williams, Ghetto, 1969

Matana Roberts, always say your name, 2014

Wed. we tried to mail off a big package and ended up just taking it with us on the plane.  That meant that we had to drive to Midway rather than taking the CTA (in two stages most likely).  While driving to O'Hare is stressful, I would say that the signage is reasonable.  The signage is very poor as you approach Midway, and from here on out, I will try to stick to taking the CTA, which is much more straight-forward.  Anyway, we made it through security very quickly and settled down to wait for our plane back to Toronto.  So that's how I spent my week off this summer...

* It may actually be on sale but only if you go to the Nasher Museum at Duke.  I've been once before, and might be able to make another trip the next time I visit my dad. Something to keep in mind, I suppose.

Edit (4/5/2016): For a while it appeared this would be reprinted, and I had an order in with Amazon that was ultimately cancelled.  As I was cleaning things up, I found my Motley monograph, which is better than I remembered but not quite as good as the new one.  I also found the Bob Thompson monograph but I sold that off, since I just don't think Thompson is a particularly good painter.

** However, the Motley exhibit is a touring exhibit organized by the Nasher Museum, and there is one more chance to catch it at the Whitney from October through mid-January.

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