Tuesday, August 15, 2017
Snowman in August
Art is the thing you go to see, that you seek out.
Last Thursday, that meant catching the Gauguin show at the Art Institute. My wife hadn't seen it and though I had already, I accompanied her to see it again—Art is the thing you can see twice, another definition—I also had an agenda.
I wanted to see the snowman.
I first heard of it a few days earlier. I was at a camp for kids with cancer at the Palmer House. The kids had just been to the Art Institute and seen the snowman. I've been to the Art Institute many, many times. I didn't remember a snowman. But obviously there was one now, and I wanted to see it.
Why? Well, it was a snowman. At the Art Institute. In August. That is a certified, seal promise of whimsy, and the 2016 work of Swiss artists—natch!—Peter Fischli and David Weiss did not disappoint. A smiling, friendly snowman, in the classic three balled form, lacking the traditional carrot nose and charcoal eyes but radiating good will nevertheless.
He was outside, on the Bluhm Family Terrace—an apt touch—in his own little refrigerated aluminum vitrine. My son Kent pointed to the cord, visibly snaking away and plugged into a socket, and wondered if the point of the installation wasn't for someone to yank the cord out. I was intrigued, but not so much that I was going to be the person to give it a try.
In his new book, Adam Gopnik refers to "violating the sanctuary of art" with "the displaced ordinary object." It began with Duchamp's bike wheel, moved through Campbell's Soup cans and now what should be melting in the sun now preserved for ... well, a while.
In the elevator on the way down, Kent wondered if it was art at all, and I said I thought it was. "Art, in my view, has to be one of three things," I told him. "It has to be clever in concept, masterful in execution or impactful in result."
The snowman certainly hits the first mark, touches on the second—a well-made little glass freezer—and got us both to the deck to see it. It isn't "Nighthawks" but it certainly is an asset. I'm not sure if it's permanent, but I hope so.