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Chicago Day Trip to view Matisse Exhibit

Yesterday I hopped on the Amtrak with a good buddy to go to Chicago.  What a great way to travel—chatting and enjoying the scenery as we made our way along the western Michigan coast line to the Windy City for the day.

Our mission: tour new Matisse exhibit at the Chicago Institute of Arts.

The exhibit, called Radical Invention, is a look at the period of Matisse’s life from 1913 to 1917 when his style and art went through a  period of change.  The exhibit traces that change, showing pieces that typically aren’t part of big blockbuster shows.

If you are looking for an overview of the major stuff in his life, you aren’t going to get it.  The most recognizable piece is the Bathers By The River. So, instead of being like a Matisse coffee table book, this exhibit provides a close up and intimate view of a very specific and narrow period in the artist’s career.

What we found interesting were the pieces that clearly were “work out” studies—some not even signed.  During this period, influenced by WW I and Cubism, Matisse worked on new ways of painting.  He called this, “the methods of modern construction.”    Sometimes the paintings were paired with sculptures or with prints and small drawings, showing his progression of thought and talent.

I couldn’t help but wonder what the artist would think if he saw some of these on display. It’s a little like a concert pianist learning that his practice exercises were recorded and have become hot sellers.

My friend, Peggy, a retired art teacher and artist, gently explained to me that what we were looking at was Matisse’s efforts to determine,  “What does it mean to be a modern artist?”

I was struck with a quote made by Matisse in 1919 that was on one of  the walls.  He said, “When you have achieved what you want in a certain area, when you have expanded the possibilities that lie in one direction, you must when the time comes, change course, search for something new.”    I think that sums up this show—the search for the new.

After touring the exhibit and enjoying a lovely lunch in the new dining room on the top of the Modern Wing, we meandered through Millennium Park looking for a new building I had read about.  It wasn’t hard to find.

The building is named Aqua because of the sensuous, undulating lines created by its wafer thin balconies. The 82- story skyscraper is a striking contrast to the jumble of big white boxes surrounding it.

It houses condos and apartments and has space for a hotel.  A wonderful park sits at the base, hidden a bit from street traffic.

Some have called the building brilliant.  Others gimmicky. Whether you think this massive sculpture is a Wow or it makes you feel seasick, it is clearly another effort in the long Chicago tradition of innovative architecture to be ogled and discussed by design critics.

Located just north of Millennium Park, it is easy to combine a look at this building with a stroll through the park.   Somehow, Aqua feels right at home near the Bean, the water towers with their huge faces dominating the street, the Frank Gehry designed pavilion and the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute. This area  is truly a DesignDestination.

Post Author
Susan J. Smith
Susan's career includes writing for newspapers, lots of community work and a wonderful family life. Now she is enjoying traveling, photography and writing for DesignDestinations and Grand Rapids Magazine. She welcomes you on her journey and appreciates your comments.


  1. posted by
    Chicago Day Trip to view Matisse Exhibit « DesignDestinations | Artist News
    Apr 30, 2010 Reply

    […] Read this article: Chicago Day Trip to view Matisse Exhibit « DesignDestinations […]

  2. posted by
    ann stevenson
    Apr 30, 2010 Reply

    The design makes me think of “something emerging”—would love to see the interior
    spaces & views.

  3. posted by
    Apr 30, 2010 Reply

    Me too! We went into the lobby for the condos and apartments. Totally bland and boring.

  4. posted by
    Peggy DePersia
    May 1, 2010 Reply

    You’ve really captured the unique character of this exhibit and struggle inherent in the creative process; it isn’t always pretty yet satisfying nonetheless….a kind of birthing; some labors are more challenging, difficult and/or longer than others.

  5. posted by
    R> Lyle Boatman, ASID
    May 2, 2010 Reply

    Aqua is one of my favorite new buildings. The out-side the box (literally) approach is quite fascinating to me; especially given the location. I do hope the architect discovered a way to provide a thermal break between the cantilevered slab of concrete that forms the balcony/sunshade and the concrete floors of the apartments. Otherwise there will be mold under the carpeting as a result of the cold slab (and you know it will be COLD in the Chicago Winter) condensing the more humid air inside the apartments. That said, I do think it looks amazing.

  6. posted by
    sallie B
    May 2, 2010 Reply

    I love the Aqua Building also. My youngest son asked his wife to marry him right under the Bean at Millineum Park. Then they lived at the Heritage around the corner for Three years. What a wonderful spot to enjoy early married life by the Art Institute,Park and Lake. Memories for all of us.

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