Purses amaze me. Not because they come in such a variety of materials and styles, or that, like hemlines, they too bow to the vicissitudes of fashion. No, purses fascinate me because their owners find it entirely unremarkable to spend hundreds, even thousands of dollars to house a few bucks worth of lipstick, keys and maybe a cell phone.
Such is the power of art and aesthetics. Functionality alone is not enough to serve as an end: the human spirit needs beauty.
The brand new Modern Wing of the Art Institute opens tomorrow, ending a whirr of construction down in Grant Park that we’ve watched these past four years. In typical Chicago fashion, the budget mushroomed steadily upward by nearly fifty million dollars, nineteen of which went into a nifty pedestrian bridgeway that’s longer than two football fields and boasts its own snow melting system.
Critics describe these new airy, light-washed galleries of limestone, steel and glass in nearly religious terms, talking of the ‘sacred spaces’ and ‘hushed power’ that will surround the museum’s collection of postwar and contemporary art.
Some may question whether paintings or artwork merit such lavish housing. In a brutal economy, can a museum afford such a capital investment, particularly when it demands that the public pay entrance fees increased from twelve to eighteen dollars? Does the Millenium Park investment in public art–the Gehry band shell, Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate sculpture, the Pritzker Pavilion, the Crown Fountain and the rest–merit its price tag that’s already passed eight hundred million dollars?
Your answer probably depends on how you feel about purses, but to me, it’s pretty glorious. And maybe even a bit sacred. As inspiration always is.
By Dennis Ryan, CCO, Element 79