My Day at the Art Institute of Chicago

It may be hard to believe since I’ve lived in Chicago for almost 17 years, but this was my first trip to the Art Institute of Chicago. I’ve been meaning to go for years but our family somehow missed it on our many museum trips when I was a kid. After that, I was out-of-state for college and somehow never got around to it when I came back to Chicago for medical school. I know plenty of people go through life never caring much to set foot in an art museum but that was never me. I’m a big art lover, though I lack any significant artistic skill. So how did it take me this long?? I have no idea.

I finally decided I had to find time to visit AIC when I saw the publicity for the Van Gogh’s Bedrooms exhibit. Van Gogh is definitely among my favorite artists and I had to see the exhibit. But I wanted to see the exhibit with friends so it continued to get put off. It became clear that I might not find a good time for everyone and the exhibit was quickly coming to a close (on May 10th, so hurry if you wanted to see it!). So I decided I didn’t care: one way or another, I was going to see the exhibit!

Going alone ended up being an ideal situation. You can spend as much or how little time as you want at each piece without feeling pressured by someone else. Everything turns out for the best!

Van Gogh’s Bedrooms turned out to be a great exhibit. The focus of the exhibit is on 3 versions Van Gogh painted of his bedroom in his yellow house. This is the first time all three paintings have been displayed together, which gives us the unique opportunity to consider their differences and similarities. The exhibit also traces the events of his life and the many stunning works of art he created in that time.

There’s an episode of Doctor Who titled Vincent and the Doctor, which I first saw years ago and it touched me deeply. Since then, I’ve watched it more times than I can count and been reduced to tears almost every single one of those times. It’s a tragically beautiful tribute to his life and work. Even if you’ve never watched Doctor Who, you should still watch this episode, at least. The reason I mention it here is because it was all I could think of as I made my through the exhibit. I’m sure these thoughts affected how I viewed, not just the bedrooms but, all the paintings in the exhibit.

My favorite bedroom was his second version because it feels to me the most truthful of the three. The original bedroom is too clean, the lines are too straight, some of the details are missing, as though he rushed through it. In my mind, his joy in finally having his own space was translated into a very exhilarated presentation of his bedroom. But by the time he painted his second, Van Gogh had left his home for the mental asylum. In this version, the floor of the bedroom is more worn and water damaged, the lines more blurred, the painting at the head of the bed more dreary. The shine and gloss is gone from this painting, perhaps reflecting his bleak situation. As for the third, Van Gogh made this version as a gift for his mother and sister. It seems the most clean, orderly, and optimistic portrayal of his bedroom. Fitting, because it was meant to be a gift, but perhaps not the most truthful.

Is this the correct interpretation of the paintings? I don’t know. But then again, there is no one way particular way to interpret a work of art. Ah, the beauty of art.

The photo above is the only one I took on this trip to the museum. I really wanted to be present while I was there and not distracted trying to take pictures on my phone. The whole point of going to a museum is to get up close and personal with the art, appreciate it from all the angles. I can always search for my favorite pieces online later if I need to refresh my memory. So that’s why I’m not posting pictures of his bedrooms. But the exhibit is closing, so if you don’t have a chance to go, here’s a link to the AIC website where you can find the works. Please share with me your interpretation of the paintings! Or tell me about your favorite Van Gogh!


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