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Sunday morning we got up at a leisurely pace and had breakfast, finishing off the two remaining polish sausages as well as leftovers from Saturday. Afterward we did a through cleaning of the kitchen. The floor especially needed some attention. We finished the kitchen in about an hour. It was fairly cool inside so we kept the backdoor open to let in the breeze.

Afterward I headed down to the Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago. I’m a little burnt out with their permanent collection but they had a few special exhibits which peaked my interest: Souvenirs of the Barbizon: Photographs, Paintings, and Works on Paper, Belligerent Encounters: Graphic Chronicles of War and Revolution, 1500–1945, and Windows on the War: Soviet TASS Posters at Home and Abroad, 1941–1945. These three exhibits took up the entirety of my visit but they were well worth it.

My first stop was Windows of the War which was located in the Regenstein Hall. Here I spent about two hours absorbing old Soviet propaganda posters from WWII. The vast amount of information available was incredible. Context and translations were provided for each of the 150+ posters on display. The exhibition literally told the story of the war by way of these powerful images, a majority of which demonstrate a mastery of studio craftsmanship given the tools available. I especially enjoyed the series of posters which showcased Russian victories over the Germans throughout the ages. One poster even featured a Nazi solider drowning after a confrontation with the Soviets only to discover the remains of a Teutonic Knight from the Battle of the Ice (1242), another notable Russian victory, sitting at the bottom of the ocean floor. Woah.

Yes, these works were propaganda, all executed with the specific political objective to demonize the Hitler and the Nazis, a feat which might not seem difficult to us. You have to consider though the limited means of communication and that these posters were essential tools for teaching the Russian people about Nazi atrocities. This was art used as a weapon against a country ruled by a madman. Of course the Soviet Union also terrorized their own citizens by incarcerating them on bogus charges so they could throw them in the Gulags to work as free-labor for infrastructure projects, but that’s a different side of the coin. Anyway, I highly recommend checking out this exhibit while it’s still at the Art Institute. I’m actually considering picking up the accompanying book as well.

Afterward I headed over the Belligerent Encounters exhibit, a showcase of anti-war themed work in early modern-Europe. The more memorable works include prints by Goya and Otto Dix, which most people are already familiar with. I personally didn’t care much for the Max Beckmann prints but I’ve never been particularly fond of his style. The series on the Thirty Years War by Jacques Callot was interesting though I found it difficult to absorb. There’s a wide selection of work from various points in history, including pieces by Manet, Albrecht Dürer, Gericault and Egon Schiele. In all honestly seeing this exhibit immediately after Windows of the War left me a wee bit burnt out on this sort of imagery. I’ll make an effort of see it again in the coming months.

The last exhibit I saw that afternoon was Souvenirs of the Barbizon. Around 1849 the Barbizon and its Forest of Fontainebleau became assessable to Parisians by way of railway line. Painters and photographers from the city would flock to this small rural community to use the people and natural sites as subjects for their work. The most renowned painter of this movement was Jean-François Millet, who on account of his use of light is regarded as a precursor to Impressionism. This past November at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts I stumbled upon an excellent exhibit called Millet and Rural France which showcased his landscape paintings as well as various sketches, pastels, ect.

Souvenirs of the Barbizon features a couple paintings by Millet but to a greater extent focuses on the lesser known artists and opportunists who documented the area’s many rural sites. Certain trees and rock formations became increasingly popular, and of course they were the subject for photographers and sketch artists who would sell their product to painters as visual aids. To give this movement some perspective, Barbizon was a getaway from the developing industrial city of Paris and it gave artists access to scenes which—relatively speaking—were still undisturbed by big industry. The theme of retreating back to nature was practiced amongst American artists as well; In fact, Barbizon painting had a major influence on William Morris Hunt, Homer Winslow and Thomas Eakins. Anyway, it’s a nice little exhibit and I recommend checking this one out as well, you know, if such a thing would appeal to you.

And that’s about it for my visit to the Art Institute. From there I went home and called it a night. END.

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againstathorn

December 2016

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