“Hello, old friend…”
I whisper the words to no one in particular. Smiling as I take a seat in front of Marc Chagall’s “America Windows.” Moments ago, the bench was occupied, but serendipitously it is free… as if waiting for me.
My friend Colleen invited me here – to the Art Institute of Chicago – to catch up over coffee and “peel off for our independent Artist Dates.” Number 2.2 (118) for me.
She knows me. The sacredness of my weekly solo sojourn.
We breeze through admissions and before entering the exhibit –“America After the Fall: Paintings in the 1930s”– (my choice), I kiss her on either cheek, holding fiercely to the traditions of my year in Spain. I wish her joy on her Artist Date and thank her for bringing me here.
Here. This place that used to feel like my home. But that I am acutely aware I am a visitor in.
I used to be a member.
I loved sitting in on mid-day member lectures … the youngest in attendance by several times around the sun. Taking advantage of early viewings, free coat check, and complimentary coffee and tea.
But most of all, I loved the freedom to just “pop in” at any time … never worrying about “getting my money’s worth.”
I would always end up here. In front of Chagall’s Windows.
Usually I’d stand up close, looking for new details I might have missed. But today I find myself sitting back. Taking it all in. The whole of it.
It is a metaphor for the day.
The AIC is busy and the exhibit feels congested. I’m somewhat surprised as it has been up for almost two months now. There are a lot of children. And a lot of loud Midwestern accents.
It does not feel like mine anymore.
I snap photographs.
“American Landscape” by Charles Sheeler. Grimy and distinctly Midwestern. Something I kind of romanticized while living abroad. Kind of.
The frame from Grant Wood’s “Young Corn” which reads, “To the Memory of Miss Linnie Schloeman Whose Interest in Young and Growing Things Made Her A Beloved Teacher In Woodrow Wilson School.”
The rolling hills that make up the naked, female form in Alexandre Hogue’s “Erosion No. 2 – Mother Earth Laid Bare.”
The cartoonish characters and cartoonishly thick pain in William H. Johnson’s “Street Life, Harlem.”
I wander out of the exhibit and take a photograph of the words on a door across the hall – “A Lot of Sorrow.”
Yes, there is. And I am.
Moving is hard … even when I choose it. The place that was mine has changed. I knew it would. It did before. There are new inhabitants. There always are.
And yet, if I look I can still find myself here.
In the words leaping from the panels introducing the exhibit. Eerily appropriate today.
“The title of America after the Fall refers in one sense to the (stock market) crash, but is also aptly describes the pervasive concern that the nation had fallen from grace.”
“Regardless of style, many painters hoped their art could help repair a democracy damaged by economic and political chaos. The diversity of approaches made the 1930s one of the most fertile decades of American painting.”
In Archibald Motley’s “Saturday Night,” which I saw for the first time a little more than a year ago. On another Artist Date, at the Chicago Cultural Center. The date before the date – the one with the man who would become my lover for the months leading up to my departure for Spain. I smile and my heart aches just a little.
On the bench in front of “America Windows,” where today I see nothing new at all. The sameness – both beautiful and comforting.
“Hello, Old friend.”