First, Chicago

I’ve been to many, many art museums, in many different cities, so when people kept telling me that I had to go to the Art Institute while I was in Chicago, part of me kept thinking, Really? Is that really what I want to do with my teeny bit of free time? Wow, I’m so glad I did. I decided just to wander, rather than trying to aim for specific things, because I didn’t have a lot of time and running around museums just to see the most famous stuff doesn’t really appeal to me. My wanderings, unavoidably, brought me to the main staircase, which is itself an exhibit. A contemporary Indian artist named Jitish Kallat has installed an artwork called “Public Notice 3” along the risers of the 118 steps of the Grand Staircase (this picture explains what I mean). It’s the text of a speech about religious tolerance, an actual speech that was delivered by Swami Vivekananda in Chicago on September 11, 1893, 108 years before the 2001 attacks. The speech is beautiful. It’s also short, and you can read it here. It’s about how all religions lead to the same place and all religions are true, so let’s have some tolerance and respect, and let’s knock it off with the fanaticism. The words of the speech glow in lights on the risers, displayed in the colors of the alert system of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, and the whole effect is chilling and hopeful and sad at the same time. The staircase is worth the price of admission. Here’s are some other photos of the exhibit, and here’s more info about the whats and whys.

I also stumbled across an exhibit of children’s book art, which was frankly kind of heartbreaking. Why? Because though publishers do the best they can at reproducing illustrations, sometimes, when you’re actually standing in front of the original art, the difference is shocking. In particular, the original paintings from Timothy Basil Ering‘s The Story of Frog Belly Rat Bone on exhibit were extraordinary — I thought they stole the show — and while the picture book is beautiful, it doesn’t even begin to capture those paintings. I suppose this is often the case with all kinds of reproductions, and I’m just super-lucky that I had the chance to see these originals. Kudos to the Institute for hanging so many of the paintings low to the ground.

A couple other things I did with my teeny bit of free time: I went to the bean in Millennium Park, which is this wonderful silver, mirrored bean-shaped sculpture that reflects the sky, the skyline, and you, all distorted and beautiful and funny. I also went the the Tribune Tower and looked at all the unmatching bricks — because when this building was built, correspondents for the Chicago Tribune collected bricks and stones from historically important sites all over the world and brought them to Chicago, so that they could be incorporated into the building’s structure. Today, they’re labeled, and if you walk around the building, you can see stones from the Taj Mahal, the Vatican, the Great Pyramid, the Parthenon, the Great Wall of China, the Berlin Wall, Angkor Wat, etc., etc. It’s really cool.

I suppose I should mention that I also did some FUN FUN events? :o) The Chicago Public Library is kind of amazing, to be honest, and I’m endlessly grateful for having the chance to blather and meet people and talk about books. THANK YOU to everyone.

A couple final delightful things about Chicago: because it’s right on Lake Michigan, the skies at sunset are gorgeous, in that way that skies only ever are around water. Also? The city architecture really is beautiful to look at, walk through, drive through. Also? My hotel was right across the street from a magnificent cupcake store called More.

I fell in love with this city and will definitely go back there someday.