Thursday, May 28, 2009

Letter From Chicago

MEL BOCHNER's Blah, Blah, Blah, 2009 painting on velvet at Rhona Hoffman Gallery.
by Charlie Scheips

Dear David —

Bunky Cushing picked me up Monday at O’Hare and whisked me off to the Ritz-Carlton and then on to a swank dinner at RL with Mamie Walton, Zarada Gowenlock, Megan McKinney, and Linda Heister. RL is one of Chicago’s top restaurants and neighbors the Ralph Lauren store on Michigan & Chicago that Bunky operates both his charitable and merchandizing magic from.

The next morning around a hundred of Chicago’s most social gathered for a breakfast benefiting the city’s Jane Addams Senior Caucus and to hear me speak about my American Fashion book. Chicago society bandleader Stanley Paul attended as well as writers such as the Chicago Sun-Time’s Bill Zwecker, Michigan Avenue magazine’s editor in chief Susanna Negovan and freelance reporter Sheila Swann who all came to cover the event.
Mamie Walton and Bunky Cushing on our way to dinner at RL. Bandleader Stanley Paul and Mamie Walton on the way to Earlybird & Bookworm breakfast at RL for my American Fashion talk and booksigning.
Charlie Scheips addresses the breakfast group.
Robin Berger and Rebecca Besser. Kyle DeSantis and Mitchell Hatcher.
Gerri Shute and Sherry Holson. Liz Sharp and Carlette McMullan.
Cynthia Olson and Megan McKinney. Heather Wright, Hazel Barr, and Lisa Gutierrez.
Toni Canada and Lynn McMaha. Peggy Martay and Laurie David.
Terri Ryan and Graham Kostic. Lori Daniels and Sherren Leigh.
John Anshel and Maria Smithburg. Stanley Paul and Shirley Michels.
Angela Lugo and Anthony Dale. Dori Wilson and Liz Stiffel.
Zarada Gowenlock and Mamie Walton. Peg Lombardo.
Bethany Lape and Margy Heinrichs. RL servers Patrick, Dan, Peter, and Chris.
Afterwards, I walked down a block toward Lake Michigan to the Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) running into one of the great art patron’s of the city, Marilyn Alsdorf, along the way.

MCA curator Lynne Warren on the terrace of the museum.
Took in the Olafur Eliasson’s Take Your Time exhibition that was organized by MCA director Madeleine Grynsztejn and then had lunch at the Museum’s Puck restaurant on the terrace with MCA Director of Administration Helen Dunbeck and curator Lynne Warren who is currently mounting an upcoming exhibition on Alexander Calder’s influence on today’s contemporary artists.

The MCA has one of the most important collections of Calder thanks in no small part to many donations by collector Ruth Horwich. While sitting on the terrace also got a chance to chat with MCA chief curator Elizabeth Smith, as well as curators Domenic Molon, and Peter Taub.

After lunch Helen and I headed down by cab to take in the Art Institute’s brand new Renzo Piano-designed Modern Wing that is the new immense and sparkling jewel in the already heavily laden crown of Chicago architecture. The Art Institute (AIC) is now the second largest museum in the country save for our own Metropolitan Museum. The international art world was here in force last week for the opening and this week the new wing is open to the public for free although while we were there it never seemed too crowded thanks to its immensity.
Olafur Eliaffon's installation at the MCA.
Piano has created a fantastic bridge the leads from the top of the new wing’s rooftop restaurant designed by my friend Dirk Denison and featuring the ceramic sculptures of another friend Andrew Lord.

This long but gradually raked bridge leads slowly down to the adjacent and lush Millennium Park and offers magnificent views of Frank Gehry’s outdoor band shell.
Chicago's famed Water Tower that survived the Great Fire. Two Chicago landmarks representing a century of Chicago architecture.
The Museum of Contemporary Art.
The bridge to Millennium Park.
Entrance to Renzo Piano's new Modern Wing at the Art Institute. Ellsworth Kelly in Garden of the Modern Wing.
Frank Gehry's bandshell.
The collection of the Art Institute has always been amazing but now it has a venue where it can really show off its stuff including the great Hockney painting of the late Los Angeles art patrons Fred and Marcia Weisman entitled American Collectors of 1968. The Weisman’s unwisely didn’t buy the painting when they could have — now to Chicago’s benefit.

AIC contemporary art curator James Rondeau has elegantly installed two floors of the Museum’s modern and contemporary collection and there is a special exhibition of recent work by Cy Twombly on the Modern Wing’s ground floor level. Galleries devoted to film and video, architecture and design are also featured. Throughout the museum there are wonderful views of Lake Michigan or Millennium Park.
David Hockney's American Collectors of 1968 at the Modern Wing of the Art Institute.
MCA's Helen Dunbeck on AIC's bridge from the Modern Wing to Millenium Park. Grand Lobby of the AIC's Modern Wing.
After walking through the park and up Michigan Avenue, I went up 26 floors in the John Hancock building to the Richard Gray gallery where Paul Gray gave me a tour of their current Marc Swanson exhibition as they readied themselves for the annual pilgrimage to Art/Basel art fair next month.

I then took a walk west into the Loop to see my long time friend Mary Jane Jacob, who is now a professor and Executive Director of Exhibitions and Exhibitions Studies for Chicago’s famed School of the Art Institute.

Marc Swanson's Untitled (Trophy Room Head #1), 2008 at Richard Gray Gallery.
The SAIC as it is known here predates the actual museum as it was founded in 1866 — the museum opened in 1879. Jacob showed me the SAIC’s brand new Sullivan Galleries that are housed in the enormous spaces of what was until only recently Louis Sullivan’s masterpiece Carson Pirie Scott & Co. department store. The "campus" of SAIC has spread to several buildings in the area (revitalizing the neighborhood with life and energy) with the Sullivan building boasting over 32,000 square feet of exhibition space for student exhibitions as well as curated shows not to mention several floors of classrooms and studios.

I also got a tour of the school’s Fashion Resource Center with its director, Professor Gillion Carrara.  They focus only on contemporary fashion for study and inspiration for the students.

Later, we met Mary Jane’s husband, Russell Lewis, who is the Executive Vice President and Chief Historian for the Chicago History Museum, for dinner around the corner at the landmark Palmer House’s glamorously refurbished Lockwood Restaurant in the hotel’s enormous neo-classical lobby. I’ve known Mary Jane and Rusty since the early 1980s when I lived here and they shocked me when I learned their son Clayton whom I’ve known since birth is now a sophomore at NYU. 
Architectural detail of Louis Sullivan's masterpiece; Students at work at the School of the Art Institute's Sullivan Building.
Professor Gillion Carrara (center) in the SAIC's Fashion Resource Center.
On Wednesday morning I headed over to the Arts Club of Chicago for a lunchtime lecture given by Illinois Institute of Technology’s Peter Osler who gave a fascinating talk he originally delivered while in residence at the American Academy in Rome entitled Time’s Way, Time’s Wear, and the Poetics of Shears; Landscape Maintenance as a Performative Act. In layman’s terms it was basically about the human effects on the literal shaping of gardens over time — pruning — and the tools from primitive to powered that man uses to accomplish it.

Got to chat with Janice McCormick and Dirk Denison while I lunched and listened with the Club’s wonderful longtime director Kathy Cottong. Lunch was topped off by the current exhibition on view there of British artist Richard Deacon entitled Dead Leg. The Arts Club always does a fine job with their exhibitions and as a New Yorker I regret that we don’t have in New York a similar spot where art and the contemporary art world meet. Chicago’s Arts Club is the model!
The Art's Club's Calder in its Mies van der Rohe staircase. Architect Dirk Denison with Arts Club Director Kathy Cottong after Peter Osler's luncheon lecture.
Richard Deacon's Dead Leg at the Arts Club.
Later in the afternoon I headed west to the West Loop/Pilsen area to see my great friend and Chicago’s legendary contemporary art dealer Rhona Hoffman whose Mel Bochner Blah, Blah, Blah exhibition more than dispels boredom.

The paintings range from $30,000 to over $100,000 (with several already sold) but Bochner’s has also done some great works on paper in the Blah series that sell for only $1500.
Rhona Hoffman Gallery on Peoria Street in Pilsen area. Charlie Scheips and Rhona Hoffman in Mel Bochner's Blah, Blah, Blah show at the gallery.
Afterwards, we headed uptown to the great art patrons and civic leaders Lewis and Susan Manilow’s apartment for a reception for Human Rights Watch (HRW) that included a talk by HRW Arms expert Marc Garlasco. The former Pentagon insider spoke about the truly scary world of cluster bombs and drone missiles. The organization will celebrate its 30th anniversary next year and will be honoring Susan Manilow for her commitment to the organization on November 9th in Chicago.

For more information about this important organization’s non-partisan humanitarian work across the world go to
Human Rights Watch's Marc Garlasco with Susan Manilow.
During cocktails in the Manilow’s kitchen we chatted with Eric Lefkofsky who serves on both the MCA and Art Institute’s board of directors. Rhona and I slipped out after the talk as guests assembled for dinner downstairs in the Manilow’s art laden apartment.

We went to La Sardine for a tête-à-tête as we compared our travel schedules for the upcoming Venice Biennale and Art/Basel openings. Spencer Finch, who Rhona shows, will be featured in both the Arsenale and the Italian Pavilion this year at the Biennale while Jacob Hashimoto, another of Rhona’s stable, will have work featured in the Palazzo Fortuny.
Antiquities and books at Susan and Lewis Manilow's apartment.
Inner court entrance to the Manilow's. Artifact of another era--a carriage step across from the Pump Room on Goethe Street.
Sadly I learned the news of our friend Myra Gotoff's death. Myra served for years on the Women’s Board of the summered in Truro, Massachusetts on Cape Cod where I last saw her with husband Sam and family gustily drinking margaritas and downing platters of local oysters two years ago when Rhona was visiting the Cape. Rhona had a reception at her gallery in Myra’s memory last week. She will be sadly missed.

I then met my long time friends Leslie Blackman and Katherine Hale for a delicious lunch at Kiki’s Bistro.
Katherine Hale and Leslie Blackman at Kiki's Bistro. Chicago History Museum Curator of Costumes Timothy Long with Vice-President and Chief Historian Russell Lewis.
The Chicago History Museum.
After lunch we got a tour of two fantastic fashion exhibitions at the Chicago History Museum by its curator of costumes Timothy Long. The first, Chicago Chic (on view until July 26), features couture dresses from leading Chicago ladies from Mrs. Cyrus Hall McCormick’s 1861 gown by Worth & Bobergh to a fabulous Valentina gown from 1934 of Elizabeth “Pussy” Paepke (whom I knew) to art collector Muriel Kallis Newman’s (whom I also knew) Balenciaga “afternoon” dress from 1948 onto Deeda Blair’s 1966 evening dress by Givenchy all the way to Issey Miyake’s evening gown from 2008 from Mrs. Robert J. Sawehyn. Almost 150 years of gowns — all from the permanent collection of the Museum!

On the main floor we got a sneak preview of the show Timothy Long just opened on the penultimate Chicagoan Bertha Honoré Palmer aka Mrs. Potter Palmer who was not only the queen of Chicago society during the last quarter of the 19th century but a pioneer art collector, civic leader, and women’s rights advocate. The exhibition features clothing, jewelry, paintings and ephemera all about this truly extraordinary woman and is on view until January 24, 2010.
From Chicago Chic (on view until July 26), which features couture dresses from leading Chicago ladies.
Left: Anders Zorn's 1893 portrait of the penultimate Chicagoan Bertha Honoré Palmer aka Mrs. Potter Palmer which she commissioned to commemorate her role as president of the Board of Lady Managers for Chicago's World's Columbian Exposition and lent for the CHM show by the Art Institute of Chicago.

Above and below: A sneak preview of the show Timothy Long just opened on Mrs. Potter Palmer, who was not only the queen of Chicago society during the last quarter of the 19th century, but a pioneer art collector, civic leader, and women’s rights advocate. The exhibition features clothing, jewelry, paintings and ephemera all about this truly extraordinary woman and is on view until January 24, 2010. Images courtesy of Chicago History Museum.
Afterwards we headed up to the northern suburb of Lake Bluff where my friends Katherine and Timothy Hale hosted a dinner in my honor at their David Adler designed house that once was the Orangerie for a larger estate.

Arriving back in New York Friday afternoon was welcome but tinged with nostalgia for Chicago which I called home for over three years in the 1980s and still remains for me the great American city without parallel for its architectural and artistic heritage, tradition of charitable giving and urban exuberance and vitality.


Katherine and Timothy Hale's David Adler designed house in Lake Bluff which was once the Orangerie for a larger estate.
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