I have been to the Art Institute of Chicago many times, and every time it has invariably been enriching, whether admiring the Silk Road Exhibit, or enjoying the works of Salvador Dali or Julien Levy or whatever. With my cultural bias I always spend some time in the Asian room standing at various Hindu sculptures. Origin-wise, the Nataraja from Tamil Nadu seems natural, the Karttikáya on a peacock from Madanapalle in Andhrapradesh is somewhat surprising, but interesting; while the Dasávatara from Bangladesh and the Head of a Bodhisattva from Pakistan strike me as anachronistic and dystopic, if not downright offensive. But then Haga Sophia is in Turkey and there is an Empangeni Baptist Church in Zululand. History has played countless dirty tricks, mingling and mangling cultures and locations.
But the memorable experience this time (December 23, 2001) was the hours I spent in The Thorne Rooms. Here I discovered for the first time the fruits of the project of a certain Mrs. Narcissa Niblack Thorne: Sixty eight miniature rooms, decorated and furnished with incredible taste and charm, reflecting classical living styles of the upper class at various periods in different countries: England, France, Germany and the United States mainly, with one Chinese and one Japanese room in the collection.
The chairs and sofas, the stacked bookshelves and writing tables, the carpets on the floor and the paintings on the wall, the grandfather clocks and lamps and chandeliers, all made the mini rooms exquisite, feasts for the eyes. As one peered into the rooms, in many instances one could see through doors into adjoining rooms; and staircases, winding or straight, leading to an upper floor. Also, the windows with the tiny open curtains gave glimpses of a green yard or a flowery garden with fences, and sometimes one could see buildings across the street.
I told my daughter that these human-made things were more beautiful than even the lakes and rivers, valleys and mountains, planets and stars that Nature had constructed. But my daughter reminded me that life forms crafted by Nature, whether spider or sparrow, fox or fish, were infinitely more complex and of comparable beauty, and indeed that the human body and mind which made miniature rooms surpassed in creativity and potency anything we can think of. The human body and mind are creations of Nature or God.
I agreed. And I am happy that some humans utilize their talents to create things of beauty which are joys for ever, even while some others wreak havoc and hate on fellow creatures. I am grateful that the Art Institute of Chicago has made these three dimensional visual delights within reach of thousands of people
December 26, 2011