The Power to Surprise and Delight Us (René Magritte)

This came across one of my social media feeds today:

René Magritte, Empire of Light (L’Empire des lumières), 1953–54, oil on canvas, Peggy Guggenheim Foundation, Venice, Italy

I was momentarily taken aback, completely engaged in the moment. Clearly, I thought, this painting is showing that time of day when the sun’s going down, in the spring or fall, but the sun’s behind the trees, so where you are is already dark while the sky is still light. It’s getting cooler where you are, without the sun. But it’s not yet night. Kind of cozy. Maybe you’re hurrying home or heading out to meet friends. A lovely moment, I thought, captured beautifully.

But wait. That looks like Magritte, although this painting isn’t supernatural or weird (in a good way, Magritte). It’s a building lit by a streetlight as the sun’s going down. I’m not a Magritte expert, but I didn’t think that Magritte would paint a lovely moment. So I peeked at the caption (yep, Magritte) then clicked through to the description by the Guggenheim, where their writer uses very different words than I do to describe this painting: paradoxical, confusing, unease, confusion, unsettling. Magritte has painted day and night together, and  experts agree that this is unnerving. Continue reading


Miró in Chicago! (and other public art along the way)

How many times have I been to Chicago and walked past this sculpture, I mean, right past it, without even noticing it?

Joan Miro, The Sun, the Moon, and One Star, Chicago, 1969/81 (Brunswick Plaza, between the Cook County Administration Building and the Chicago Temple Building)

Many, many times. Because right across the street is this Picasso sculpture:

Pablo Picasso, The Chicago Picasso, 1967, Daley Plaza, Chicago

This time, though, I actually turned around and saw the Miró sculpture. Miró! Right there on the street! And making it even better, in the little courtyard behind the sculpture, a little playground crouches in the corner:

Playground behind Miro sculpture, Brunswick Plaza, Chicago

Continue reading

Rainy Days with Caillebotte and a Little Bit of Hockney

We’ve had more than our share of rainy days this summer. Today is another one. And I love it. Looking out the window at the gray roof next door and the gray sky above it brings to my mind Gustave Caillebotte’s Paris Street, Rainy Day. This is one of those paintings that I’ve seen so many times, I don’t even see it anymore. Know what I mean?

This painting has always looked like a snapshot to me: The feet of the people in the foreground are cut off, the top of the lamp behind them is cut off. The focus of the painting, the man and woman walking under and umbrella, are off to one side, so we have a clear view of the wedge-shaped building at the intersection behind them. So are they the focus, or is it the building? Caillebotte has a way of giving us something unexpected – maybe that’s what’s always drawn me to this painting. It’s conventional, but it’s not. (That, and the fact that I’ve known Paris Street, Rainy Day since I was a child playing the board game “Masterpiece.”)

Here’s another example:

Gustave Caillebotte, View from a Balcony, 1880, Oil on canvas, Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Because it’s called “View from a Balcony,” we try to look through the railing to see what’s below. A street. A horse and carriage. Is that a person crossing the street? That’s about all we can make out. Then we think, despite the title, maybe it’s actually about the railing (“View of a Balcony Railing”?). Maybe it’s about the pattern that the railing creates. (Caillebotte, like so many of his fellow Impressionists, was inspired by the flat patterns of Japanese prints.) For me, this painting is about focusing on and appreciating what’s in front of me. Am I curious about what’s going on down there in the street? Yes, of course. Would I like to be a part of it? Yes, probably. But it’s nice up here on the balcony. And that’s where I am. So I’ll take a deep breath, sit back, and try to live in the moment. (This painting would be a nice taking off point for a short story, wouldn’t it? What’s going on inside, behind the viewer?) Continue reading