I love wandering the marble hallways of an expansive museum, the Chicago Institute of Art, one of the oldest and largest museums in the country would be one of them. I’ve been visiting this museum since I was in my early 20’s. Some of my favorite paintings are here; The Bedroom by Van Gogh, Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue by Gustave Caillebotte (Francis Bacon anyone?), At The Moulin Rouge by Lautrec. I could go on but… I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Matisse’s Bather’s By The River (see previous post). As I get older the sense of time seems to play tricks on my emotions. The sense of timelessness pervades so many of these works of art, am I getting older (yes) but the paintings do not. As I stare at the Bather’s By The River painting I begin to well up as I sense the many times since my 20’s that I have stood and stared at the piece, in shock, wonder, appreciation and amazement. A compression of time occurs, this is the same painting but me, oh how I’ve changed. But like the famous paintings I realize now how the collection here and in many of our other major museums around the U.S.A. are still largely European patriarchal in conception and design. There are a few great women artist and people of color here and there and no doubt there are many departments in a museum but for the most part the permanent painting collections are mostly white, iconic artists. I know, not a news flash, however, I never questioned these decisions when I was younger although the issues would be up for discussion many times over amongst my friends and peers but the immediacy to do something was not pressing. The conflict I have is that I love seeing these iconic pieces but I would also be curious to see other works by women artist from different epochs. For example; I know that Paris during the early decades of the 20th Century had many women artists and people of color creating works of art, where are they? Maybe I’m not looking hard enough or strolling too quickly past the didactics… and if there are no women or people of color to represent then why aren’t there, maybe some background to the oppression, class and racism of the day, could be it hasn’t changed that much…? What do you think, are you satisfied with seeing the standard greatest hits of white iconic culture or would you like to see more, more context, more contrast, more conflict, more story-telling about what is art?
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