I recently checked out the Art Institute of Chicago’s latest exhibit–Impressionism, Fashion and Modernity–and was not disappointed. I’ve been to the Art Institute countless times but it was my first time that I queued in line. Like always, I used my student ID from undergrad to receive my gratis ticket with the title of my choice exhibit printed in bold. Ticket in hand, I met droves of people pondering where to go, asking questions of museum employees, and taking endless pictures–tourists!
Past the Grand Staircase and through the Alsdorf Galleries and into the Modern Wing, I came to the exhibit of my dreams–which arrived to Chicago last month following a showing at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art–and then frowned. “No photography.” I can never predict when photos at exhibits will be allowed. Though this exhibit is only for a limited time, so was the Picasso and Chicago exhibit, and pictures were allowed there. I captured a shot of the title wall before the exhibit entrance and walked into the art-filled rooms that followed.
I’ve been to Regenstein Hall so many times before, and on each occasion the rooms are redone with new colors and textures. Now, the walls have been painted in gray and maroon, and feature not only the usual descriptive texts accompanying the art but also quotes about style and fashion and the era (the mid-1860s to the mid-1880s). One remarkable quote addresses the transformative powers of clothing: “There are only two ways to be Parisienne: by birth or by dress.”
The exhibit features some of the greatest works of Impressionist painters; a number of paintings never before seen in America. Artists Claude Monet, Édouard Manet, Berthe Morisot, Georges Seurat, James Tissot and others have captured the “modern” fashion trends of the late 1800s on canvas. The works are accompanied by life-size period costumes that enriched the experience, including ball gowns, day dresses, men’s suits and dozens of accessories like gloves and shoes. Tissot’s painting “The Shop Girl” beckons, and upon turning the corner, the viewer is met with all the trappings of a hat and ribbon shop. The work reminds me of Coco Chanel and her first hat shop on the streets of Paris. I was mystified–I couldn’t get over the authenticity of the gowns, made from yards and yards of exquisite fabric.
While admiring Albert Bartholomé’s 1881 painting “In the Conservatory (Madame Bartholomé),” I could see the richness of her violet and white cotton gown with bows, dots and stripes in a 360-view. At one point during the exhibit, we entered a makeshift garden complete with garden sounds (think birds and tranquility), benches and a scenic scene painted on walls. And in the center of the faux grass grounds stood another lovely ball gown.
Upon reaching the end of the show, we entered a shop selling inspired hats and bonnets, and tons of goodies printed with the exhibit’s title and scenes and costumes from 19th century Paris. On our way out, we received exhibit-themed postcards and buttons.
While looking at the flyer and pamphlets, I noticed that the exhibit continues at Macy’s with an installation on the seventh floor. The installation features work by Designers in Residence from the Chicago Fashion Incubator, a year-long program created that offers six talents the supplies and space they need to launch careers in the industry. These designers, along with two alumni, created modern renditions of garments inspired by paintings from the exhibit. Fans of “Project Runway” may recognize one of the designers, Katelyn Pankoke, from last season and this season.