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Giorgio de Chirico

The Art Institute of Chicago – Where it is Always Halloween?

I was at the Art Institute a few weeks ago, and for some reason, all I saw was death.

It started with Charles Ray’s “Unpainted Sculpture.”

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Dig the “Jesus is Lord” decal on the upper left (rear). I knew it was a death car as soon as we walked in the room. Why else would it be here? Thankfully, it wasn’t the actual car, and what we were seeing was an exact replica cast in fiberglass.

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We walked around the car, and even though I knew I wasn’t looking at anything “real,” I still felt really screwed up about it. It was an exhibit, and it was put here to be observed and talked about, but it feels sort of wrong to talk about. Yet here I am. I don’t know who the driver was. It would almost make me feel better somehow to know, although I don’t know why. It wouldn’t change anything. Maybe the message is that death is faceless, nameless. A force that will one day come for each of us, and all that will be left are shells of materials around us. We won’t be here anymore.

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That message taken at face value is macabre and ominous, and totally depressing. But, it doesn’t have to be. There’s no sense getting down about a fact that you are powerless to change. And in that letting go, is freedom. Besides, only empty soulless people even believe in death. It is a change in circumstance, to be sure. But it isn’t real, you know.

The artist could not be reached for comment, but the placard on the wall said: “After studying automobiles that had been involved in fatal collisions, Ray eventually chose a wrecked 1991 Pontiac Grand Am that he felt held the presence of its dead driver.” Is there a ghost in the machine? I don’t know, but I’m sure it happens. The scene was uncomfortable, as though I was having a glimpse of something private, something that no other human being was meant to see.

“Unpainted Sculpture” was not a permanent exhibit, but the remaining images that continue to haunt me are.

Frances Bacon’s “Figure with Meat,” 1954

No further explanation is needed. This is very similar to the first Bacon painting I saw (in Des Moines, of all places). The guy made Halloween art, plain and simple. It looks like something that should be hanging on the wall of a haunted attraction. How he ever got himself into museums, I will never know. This fact proves that many artists are famous for shocking the conscience rather than for creating anything of substance beyond the shock.

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Kurt Seligmann’s “Magnetic Mountain,” – 1948

Fascinating, but totally weird. Interesting factoid – Seligmann authored a history book about the occult (The Mirror of Magic), and was readily acknowledged by the Surrealists as an expert magician. I’m going to steal a phrase from Bob. When we were out in Bisbee, Arizona, he called that town Beetlejuice on Drugs. That’s what I call this painting. I’m not saying it isn’t interesting or thought-provoking, but it creeps me the hell out.

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Yve Tanguy’s “The Rapidity of Sleep,” – 1945

Does it mean you have slipped away into Freddy Krueger’s Dream Land, or that you are dead, sleeping the ultimate sleep?

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Salvador Dali’s “Inventions of the Monsters,” – 1937

You can always count on Dali to put together something that will totally rock what you think the world is. He tapped into his dreams, churled them around, and came up with his image of a world without a safe haven. What I want to know is – was he actually the great prophet of the modern age?

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Giorgio de Chirico’s “The Philosopher’s Conquest,” – late 1913, early 1914

This one is less obviously macabre, but macabre it is in fact, still. I saw his “Gare Montparnasse” painting at the MOMA last year, and was blown away. The artichokes are nutty, but he has the clock and the train again, which we know are symbols of death.

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Rene Magrite’s “The Banquet,” – 1958

I love this one. Although, the more I look at it, the more convinced I become that I am standing inside the painting. The scene is a crumbling European castle full of royal vampires, and they have just arisen from their coffins because the sun is now setting. They’re coming to get you, Barbara. Wait! That line is for when the zombies are coming, not the vampires.

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Sweet dreams. Happy early Halloween!

Morning at the MOMA

Labor Day found me fighting for a place amongst a crowd at the Museum of Modern Art. I like to walk with my elbows protruding up around my shoulders. Correction – I do not LIKE to, it is just sometimes necessary so that others know that I am not amenable to them getting free rubs. Moving on.

I did get to see Starry Night and Persistence of Memory. The former was impressive because nothing you see online does it justice. The reason is because none of the photos capture the actual swirls in the paint. I probably appreciated this painting more than most because I thought about poor tortured van Gogh sitting in his little asylum cell in Saint-Remy and looking outside at the sky to paint this image. This is the first time I have ever actually seen lasting evidence of insanity in art (in person). The swirls are manic, and they impressed me with their blatant craziness. The latter was cool for novelty,  but honestly there was nothing gained by me from in-person viewing. I am very aware of time and how it will kill everything and leave rotting decay in its path.

Links from the Moma for the above-mentioned paintings:

http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79802

http://www.moma.org/collection/object.php?object_id=79018

The real surprise show-stopper for me was Giorgio de Chirico’s Gare Montparnasse (The Melancholy of Departure), 1914.

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The very title alone made me stop in my tracks. The Melancholy of Departure? This guy was brilliant. I always just called it a vacation hangover. But the way he writes it, you can be melancholy over your departure whether you are going home or leaving home. Montparnasse was a real train station where Chirico lived in Paris. The critics like to debate about what the bananas mean and call out his skewed sense of perspective, since he is making the wind blow from both directions – as evidenced at the top where the flags are going to the left, and the smoke from the train is going to the right. Let me tell you what I think about all of this.

The bananas don’t mean anything. There is clearly a circus tent to the left of the painting and he is telling us that the earth is populated by a bunch of monkey clowns. This is more evidence of the Great Emptiness. We are all living (or escaping from if we are smart/lucky) our own nightmares. There are things all around us (like bananas) that just don’t mean squat. We have to navigate around all this meaningless crap because we are fighting against the clock always to find meaning and purpose. But there is no meaning or purpose in the Great Emptiness! It’s a cosmic joke. Earth is hell. Surprise! And the train? The train is empty. When the clock runs down the train comes for you and you alone. There is no conductor, no other passengers. Just an empty black train.

Coming for to carry me home…

That’s what I think he was trying to say. He died in 1978 or I would call him up and ask him.

Be sure to keep all of your adventures logged and indexed in your very own copy of “Play,” by Stealth Journals. “Play” is an indexed book journal that should be used to record all of your good times!

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