Friday, December 22, 2006

Art Institute 1916: The Other Shows

As recorded here , the Palette Chisel had its 20th Anniversary exhibit in 1916 at the Art Institute of Chicago.

But while while I was looking that one up --- I was surprised by all the other exhibits that the A.I.C. hosted during that year: a total of 24 to be exact -- some of them showing a dozen pieces over a week's time -- and some filling the galleries with over a thousand works over the period of a month.

So..... what happened ? Why -- and when -- did the A.I.C. abandon its commitment to local artists, artisans, and architects --- as well as to a wide selection of contemporary art ?

This was the first exhibit that I found -- and it's hard to imagine anything like it today. Can you image the museum today giving an exhibit to a local 23-year-old ? And it was not a small exhibit -- with over 100 drawings and 30 sculptures. (and by the way -- although everything kept in the Warsaw museum given to him by Poland was destroyed in the war -- he is now recognized as among the leading Polish sculptors of the last century)

But that was just one show of many --- and here are all the others:

The American art show was a Who's Who of American painters and sculptors

... and as you can see by the last page of the catalog, it had over a thousand pieces

Wouldn't you like to see an annual exhibit of the best portrait painters in the country ?

Wouldn't you like to see an annual exhibit of works on paper ? (selected not just from the members of the Palette and Chisel -- but from all over the country)

And it wasn't just fine arts that got shown - there were ceramics, wood, glass -- the kind of things that today might go in S.O.F.A.-- except that it was pieces, rather than galleries, that got juried.

And whatever happened to the Atlan Ceramic Arts Club ? They were four years older than the P&C -- but now have almost completely disappeared.

Here's another Ceramics Club -- also now defunct.

The A.I.C. still has shows of hot, young, cutting-edge architects -- but I think this show drew from the larger field of all the leading designers working in Chicago. I wonder if this show did for builders what the McCormick Place show now does for auto makers ?

Then there's the Chicago Artists exhibit -- which later was called the "Chicago Vicinity Show" -- and finally was discontinued in 1985. Why ? Why has the A.I.C. not shown Chicago artists for more than 20 years now ?

And here's a few more artists from around the country -- including Wilson Irvine from the P&C. ( and BTW, John White Alexander was one incredible painter !

More on this painter can be found here

Other regions of American art were shown:

And artists from organizations in other cities -- like Ben Foster or Anna Hyatt (Huntington)

Special exhibits on the contemporary art of other countries were included. When was the last time the A.I.C. had an exhibit of contemporary painters from ANY country ?

When was last time he AIC exhibited the work of a on-going ceramics factory ?

All these things: decorative arts, portraiture, landscape painting, local painters, national painters -- these are all beneath the contemporary international artworld --so the A.I.C will have nothing to do them -- and will show common, African village clay pots before it will ever show any living European tradition.

This may have been the last time that the great Hovsep Pushman showed at the A.I.C --but his still-lifes can still be seen in Chicago --at the Union League Club.

I'm not sure why this Chicago/Brown County painter never joined the Palette and Chisel -- he fit the member profile - and he joined many other local artist organizations.

Here's one kind of show we still get: the display of someone's private collection -- conditional, one supposes, on their bequeathing some or all of it to the museum.

The point is -- if I haven't already made it -- that in 1916 the A.I.C. was a far different kind of community arts organization than it is today -- with no small credit going to its two founders and longtime leaders, Charles L. Hutchinson (board Chairman (1882-1924) ) and Martin Ryerson (Board treasurer) -- both of whom were "Life Members" of the Palette and Chisel.

With the opening of it's new wing in a few years, the A.I.C. will once again return to a focus on contemporary art -- but with the loss of any kind of ideals or aesthetic -- it will probably just serve the wealthy collectors of contemporary art whose collections will be validated in exchange for their gifts.


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