Posts Tagged ‘Chicago’

Sparks & Beauties: Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity at the Art Institute of Chicago

It has been a remarkably chilly week for mid-July: the coldest July since 1980-something, according to local meterologists. I don’t exactly mind, really, except for the whole global climate change things, which is admittedly pretty apocalyptic-inspiring. My world is full of ups and downs, peaceful meadows and tumult, and I’m sort of in a very “WHERE IS EVERYBODY/GET AWAY FROM ME” headspace. And since I can’t really figure out the middle ground between the two, I’m kind of just being a recluse. But a glamorous one!

Anyway, there are some bright spots on the horizon: Eleanor Whitney, author of Grow, which I big-upped earlier, gave my book a great write-up at her blog, which made me so happy. As a writer, it is always so wonderful to know your work makes some kind of impact in the hearts and minds of the people who read it. Thank you, Eleanor! And academic superstar, fellow punk expat and feminist of color firebrand Mimi Thi Nguyen gave props to my old fashion blog nogoodforme.com in her recent interview at The Feminist Wire, which made me feel so proud. Anyway: this edition of Sparks & Beauties is devoted to one giant gorgeous firecracker of an art exhibition. I hope you enjoy it!

One beautiful thing possible when living in a city like New York: you get to have up-close and personal relationships to museums. And when I lived in NYC and was going to Columbia, I got to have lots of them, because one advantage of paying nosebleeds of tuition was free admission to places like the Metropolitan Museum and MOMA. After my two years of intensive coursework, I tried to go as often as possible — and I noticed I had very specific relationships to each museum. For me, MOMA was a bit like that person you date who looks good on paper — you think it aligns perfectly with everyone you ever thought you wanted in someone, but there is something missing. Some human eccentricity, some hidden dork factor that makes them genuinely fun to be around.

The Metropolitan, though, was my true love in museum form. For one thing, it was just so immense — I went almost weekly and there were still rooms I’d stumble into, having never seen them, so there was a constant sense of discovery. I had particularly favorite rooms and galleries: I loved the 19th-century American and European painting sections, for example: I’d sit for an afternoon in one of the galleries and just write or read. (I graded a whole sheaf of papers there once, much to the amusement of the guards.) I loved the decorative arts wings, and marveled at Marie Antoinette’s furniture. When I needed to think, I sat in the Temple of Dendur and the immense echo of the large room often soothed me.

I don’t really have a steady relationship with a museum anymore, and that’s a pity. So, in some major respect, my whole take on the “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity” exhibition currently at the Art Institute of Chicago feels incomplete — it doesn’t quite benefit from the feeling of having lived with and experienced the work in a way that intimacy and familiarity grant it. I also feel as if, since leaving NYC, I’ve lost the “art muscle” that comes from seeing, hearing about and discussing art on a regular basis. It used to be easy for me to “keep up” with modern art, but since being isolated in the Midwestern semi-countryside, this kind of thinking doesn’t come easy to me anymore. Still, I gave it a try on my recent trip into Chicago: I spent almost three hours at the exhibition, as a result, felt like I was cramming in all the beauty and insight that it offered — because it’s truly an astonishing exhibition on aesthetic, intellectual and historical levels. It did its job, though: I walked out of it feeling thoughtful, inspired and energized — appreciative of how the past shapes the present moment, and full of a kind of serene lightness that only spending time with such wondrous art can give you.


On Becoming a City Girl Again, At Least for a Weekend

The past few weekends I’ve been heading into Chicago to see various friends coming in from out of town, so I’ve been gallivanting and flaneuring and gadding about a lot more than I usually do these days, especially since I moved from NYC. And it’s been super-wonderful: being a city girl is kind of in my blood. After all, I lived in them for so long during some very formative years. I have the instincts and inclination towards exploration, adventure and, yes, public transportation that living and working and playing in cities seems to spark in people.

A city, of course, is a type of enchantment: a playground for curiosity and experience. And the wonderful thing about my wanderings and adventures in Chicago is feeling my mind wow and flutter in new combinations, even if the city is familiar with me. There’s just so much to see and take in, starting with the visual inspiration on the street:

Or even the skyline:

And of course, there is access to world-class cultural resources, like the amazing “Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity” exhibition I caught at the Art Institute of Chicago, which I’ll write about more in detail later because I found it so rich and intellectually stimulating:

And I got to do things like go to Pitchfork and eat at Cosi (my favorite city chain), take the subway and drink at semi-fancy places. Cities constantly renew themselves, if only because there’s always an influx of new people, new endeavors, new ideas. It was easy for me to slip back into “city mode.” But there were some differences, some things very different about me this time around that changed the way I experience the city and everything it has to offer.


The Agony and Ecstasy of the Summer Music Festival

Gen X vs. Y confusion aside, I consider myself part of the Lollapalooza Generation, I suppose — I went to the original fest ages upon ages ago as a wee one, back when it toured arenas and outdoor amphitheaters. Isn’t that nuts, especially now that the big music festivals function more like pilgrimages now that you have to travel to and often camp at? So it’s always with a modicum of amusement that I go to Pitchfork Music Festival. I have been to Pitchfork pretty often because I grew up not incredibly far from Chicago, but it’s always a touch-and-go affair. Some years I go; some I don’t, and it often boils down to sheer whimsy.

This year I went. I wasn’t planning on it, but then my friend Tobey came to town to film it and had an extra pass and, well, I certainly couldn’t turn it down, especially for one afternoon, right? You can do anything for one afternoon. So I improvised with an old summer dress, some flat sandals and hoped for the best. I didn’t really have any goals but to spend time with my friend, and basically make like a social anthropologist, keeping my eyes and ears open for anything intriguing, fun or interesting.


Feminist Performance Art for Teenagers, Apps for Creative Spirits & My Monthly Mixtape

Ah, yes, the inspiration/round-up post of this week’s sparks, as I call them: things that got me thinking, feeling, thinking again and sometimes dreaming and scheming. Suggestions? What’s got your interest lately? Please let me know in comments below!

Please Let Carrie Bradshaw Go to CBGBs

I’ve written before about my odd fandom for “The Carrie Diaries,” its mix of 80s NYC nostalgia and its refashioning of Carrie Bradshaw as a wide-eyed innocent. It’s a standard issue CW/Josh Schwartz kind of show, but one thing I’m really enjoying are the references to NYC hotspots at the time: Indochine, Mudd Club, all of those mythic venues you read about in social histories of the city. Last week’s episode featured a central scene where Carrie and her good friend Mouse get into real-life storied avant-garde performance space Franklin Furnace and are confronted with feminist performance art! (Basically: a fictional porn star sits on a throne at a gallery, people put money in a jar and she flashes them her hoo-ha. Very Karen Finley-like.)

First: I think it’s just rad that feminist performance art has made it into a mainstream American TV show. I was also amused by the mild satirizing/earnest shoutout of sex-positive “reclaiming your vagina” discourse — as well as a knowing wink to the original SATC show. There’s an odd pleasure in seeing how this show on this very commercial network refracts gritty NYC downtown history — seeing what it elides, distorts and glosses over, but also what it cheers and bestows its affection upon. I’d be happy if Carrie got to CBGBs or Max’s Kansas City, but now it’s kind of my dream that the show makes it into the early 90s and there’s a shoutout to riot grrrl somewhere. Please, someone at the CW, make this happen! You can option my screenplay about 90s zine girls if you want!

I Heart These Apps

I write about technology as a day-job, but it’s taken me forever to get an iPhone, due to my own contrarian nature, my personal laziness and general rather-spend-my-money-on-other-thingsness. But now I have one, and use apps all the time. I review apps for my day job, but I don’t often get to write about them from my personal perspective of a creative lady writer and artist — nor do I get to write about them in my personal voice. But this is my blog, and I can say what I want and how I want! Which is: I’m proud to hype up some apps I’ve found particularly useful and creative-sparking. My favorites right now include WorkFlowy, which is essentially a giant list-making app. It sounds nightmarish but it is not: it’s very simple and elegant and it has made a big difference in organizing my time and things-to-do in such a way that I spend a lot less time doing these things — so I can spend more time actually making work.

Also: in the interest of streamlining digital clutter, I discovered Feedly, which ports my RSS reader to my iPhone. And for fun, Hello Kitty Mahjong wiles away minutes spend otherwise standing in lines that don’t move at various places and times. It is super cute. If you have other apps you use, iPhone brethren, please let me know — I am always interested to know what people use and how.

Monthly Mixtape: Surprisingly Energetic for a Cold January

Usually in January I hunker down with music and treat it more like a security blanket, swaddling my spirit in familiarity and comfort. Maybe it is the sense of possibility that January can have, but this particular month I actually felt myself much more open to new sounds. So here they are, some old, some new, some rediscoveries.

Here is the track listing below: