Saturday, April 30, 2011

Days 5-6, Chicago

Day 5: Chicago

It's hard to put your finger on it. You have to have a dullness of mind and spirit to play here. I went through pyschoanalysis and that helped me deal with my Cubness. Jim Brosnan

Pics: First two stops at artist studios, views from the Zell penthouse, a Duchamp box, an early Butterfield horse, and Green Zebra

Hey, what the hell happened here? THB got up early and rode the elliptical while debating whether or not the Queen’s outfit looked presentable for the live presentation of a hip young couple’s wedding (yeah, not bad, yellow with matching hat looked pretty good) and listening to the Violent Femmes sing about relationships). Then off to Fox and Obel for more warm sourdough bread (a shade below Tartine’s finest, which is say that it is a pretty damn good loaf), another raisin scone and a bran muffin, $7.

The morning was two studio visits:
• An artist that works on the top/fifth floor of a converted feather warehouse (processing plant for feathers?) and does large narrative pieces that border on paranoia/alternative views of political acts and “books” of the same nature. She had a very droll delivery in discussing her work and its content (think Sarah Silverman, a pretty accurate viewpoint of her and her of her work).
• A black artist that is attempting to resurrect a blighted neighborhood 10 blocks south of the University of Chicago. For this second visit, we arrived a half hour late as our driver had managed to put the wrong address in his GPS and our local guide didn’t catch that we turned west off the freeway instead of east. This took us through some of the poorer parts of the south side of Chicago (which means really poor, poor like portions of New Orleans after Katrina), where a high proportion of the houses seemed boarded. This guy is trying to seed his neighborhood with affordable housing, bring in some artists, get locally run businesses established that cater to artists and their buddies. He does a range of work, including “shoe shine” stands, signs, etc. We don’t see much of his work, this visit was really about understanding his large life-project.

Lunch is at Le Sardine, across the street from Oprah’s studio. We ate here many years ago, and enjoyed it. Today, we are ordering off of a smaller menu, and THB has asparagus soup and a nicoise (just okay) and DB has salad and the salmon, which she likes more, chocolate mousse and apple tart, ice teas, included.

In the afternoon, we have two visits to private collections:
• The first is to the 62nd floor penthouse of Sam and Helen Zell (yes, that Sam Zell, that owned the Cubs, Chicago Tribune and LA Times). They collect primarily surrealists, including a number of Magrittes, Dali, Kahlo, Gorky and others (like Picasso, DeKooning….) in a spectacular setting: high above Chicago, with awesome views on a clear day (hey, this was a clear day!). They have one of the few Duchamp boxes, which THB spends some time studying, and several pieces by a contemporary painter named Mark Tansey which THB likes a lot.
• The second is to Sandy and Jack Guthmann’s, they live in a wildly converted synagogue. TRUE!! And, on top of that, they have enclosed the backyard, so what they have is a house that looks down into another living space. Worth a detour just to see the layout (which THB is not doing a very good job of describing). They collect primarily large scale photography, and THB is very much entranced by many of the works. THB and DB do not collect photographs; if we did, THB would hope the collection looked a lot like this one!

Dinner is at Green Zebra, we are eating just the two of us (our two potential co-diners have decided to sleep in, at 7pm). Dinner is as good as we remembered, we’ve been here several times over the years. Vegetarian, and we have: a riesling poached pear salad, fettucine with grilled king trumpets (what is a king trumpet?), black bean dumplings, chickpea tajine (DB is definitely NOT allergic to chickpeas, at least not anymore), and slow-roasted shitake mushrooms with crispy potato and savoy cabbage, and a terrific chocolate bar with crème fraiche ice cream. With two drinks and two glasses of wine, $140 (and another $20 for cabs), and as good as we remembered!

Day 6: Chicago

Chicago - a pompous Milwaukee. Leonard Levinson

Pics: From the Roger Brown collection (including a piece by Jim Nutt), the group at the Art Institute, shots of Millenium Park

Another early visit to the fitness center, then DB is up and ready to go and we head off to Fox and Obel for the daily dose of bread: sourdough and morning bun (sugar and cinnamon coating) and two café au laits: $10.

The tour stops at a museum dedicated to a local artist, Roger Brown, a contemporary of Jim Nutt, who gave his house and all the contents to MCA. He was a hoarder of kitsch and much of it is crowded into the two story building. A bit too much butt-brush factor for THB (too much stuff, not enough room).

Lunch at Gage, across the street from the Chicago Institute of Art. Chicken sandwich (done buffalo chicken sandwich style) and fries for THB, DB goes for the scallops (and she was a lot happier than THB was, again), ice tea, included.

Then we have a guided tour of the new wing of the Institute, Renzo Piano the architect. The new wing now holds all their modern and contemporary art, and is well displayed. Great views of Millenium Park from the top floors of the new wing.

Then back to the room for a bit of rest before dinner. There are three of us tonight, we join up with one of the singles, Katie, and eat at Piccolo Sogno: artichoke and arugula and parmesan salads, branzino (whole fish), tortellini with artichokes and fava beans, and pappardelle with lamb meatballs, and a mini molten chocolate cake with hazelnut ice cream, two drinks and a bottle of Italian Sauvignon Blanc, $190. The pastas were very good, as was the dessert. If you want a great branzino and terrific pastas, head to Riva Cucina in Berkeley.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Day 3: Minneapolis to Chicago, Day 4: Chicago

Day 3: Minneapolis to Chicago

I was born in Philadelphia and currently live in Minneapolis. I write for both children and adults. Kate DiCamillo

Pics: Aloft fitness center, Kiff’s studio building and work area

No fitness center today, we breakfast in the room on day-old Rustica pastry; not as good as fresh, still damn good. Ease on out to the airport, another full flight on Southwest, arrive in Chicago in time to meet up with Kiff Slemmons, a jewelry artist well represented in DB’s collection and a very nice person. She lives in the West End and takes us to lunch around the corner from her apartment (in a converted former printing business building) to a Mexican café. Hey, this is the alternative to the Frontera Grill: we have great tamales, chicken enchiladas verde, a very authentic soup, and free samples of chocolate cake with coconut icing, total $40 for three. They also sell bakery items, make good looking tortas (sandwiches) and are extremely friendly.

Kiff has been working for years with women in Oaxaca building up a jewelry business based on pieces made with paper elements. She knows here Mexican cooking…and, the same people own and run a taqueria down the street: La Lagartija. If you going to be doing the art gallery tour thing in this part of town, here are your restaurant choices!

After lunch, we visit Kiff’s studio (apart from her in-loft work area) in an old building on Michigan Avenue across the street and below the Art Institute, and DB manages to pick up a few more pieces.

Walk back to the Palomar Hotel where we’ll be staying for the next four nights, It’s meet and greet time with the other members of the Oakland Museum art tour, a few of whom we’ve been on other OMCA tours with before.

Oh, the weather! Oh, the weather! Cool in Minneapolis (they had snow flurries during the game their tonight), and in Chicago cold and drizzly. Ahhhhhhhh, spring is here….

Day 4: Chicago

The last time the Chicago Cubs won a World Series was in 1908. The last time they were in one was 1945. Hey, any team can have a bad century - Tom Trebelhorn

Pics: Around Chicago’s skyline from the planetarium, Soldier Field (from the moving bus), sculpture nearby (south of Millenium Park), art near and in Museum of Contemporary Art

THB gets up early and walks 7 blocks east to the Fox and Obel grocery market to snack the freshly baked sourdough, a mini-baguette that looks more like an overgrown sandwich roll, and a crumbly raisin scone. The sourdough was worth a 70 block walk (though not east, that would’ve put THB under quite a bit of Lake Michigan water). Two coffees from downstairs at the Palomar, $6.50 (yes, three different sized items for only $6.50…who says prices are inflating?).

Then THB also goes to the fitness center…can this be true? For about 30 minutes of riding the elliptical it is true.

First part of the tour today is taking an architectural tour of the lakefront, with a local guide on the microphone. Great views from out by the planetarium (and the recently deconstructed small airport that Daley had destroyed as one of his last acts as mayor). Then a stop to view an installation by Magdalena Aakanowicz, of 93 half-shell figures missing heads and hands (shades of season two of The Wire…skip season two, go straight to season three).

Next, we get visit the Museum of Contemporary Art where one of the main curators leads us through a show of work (mostly from the late 80s to current days) by Jim Nutt, an artist that started in the 60s, was part of a wacky (funk?) group based in the bay area for a few years way back then, and has been Chicago-based for the last 35 years or so. In his early work, Nutt painted acrylic on the back of plexiglass, so the images are the reverse of what he actually painted. Almost all the works in the show are portraits of women. THB would say that it has tinges of surrealism and cubism, and the long arc of the work is fascinating. After our tour, Jim Nutt arrives and he and the main curator of the Oakland Museum (who is along on the tour), and an old friend of Jim’s, have a conversation about the good old days when Jim was teaching at Sacramento State.

Afterwards, we get a chance to tour the museum where we catch another Oppenheim puppet (with a “liberty” bell that bangs the stationary puppet loudly every few minutes), Serra, Flavin wall sconces, and work that the Museum has selected from its collection that was influenced by Nutt. Much better than we’ve seen here in the past.

Lunch at Puck’s, the Museum’s café. Green salads with dressing on the side, a very mediocre pizza (how can that be at a Wolfgang restaurant?), chicken with purple mashed potatoes (pretty good), and so-so mini cookies (included).

Now it’s raining lightly, back to the bus for a short ride to the Merchandise Mart and the first of three visits to the Art Fair, a large group of galleries presenting a mix of contemporary and upcoming artists (with a few throwbacks like Mapplethorpe and Motherwell). This thing is huge, so the first visit is almost like the appetizer course, with nobody else in the restaurant.

After our return to the hotel and rest-up, we’re back to have “dinner” at the Art Fair, meaning this is more like being at a restaurant with lots of patrons, every table full, and nobody waiting. Dinner is a cheese plate with a two year supply of cheese, a hummus platter, a couple of extra rolls, wine and ice tea, total of $35 for three of us share above. Three hours of more art this evening and back to the hotel, in a slight drizzle.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Day 1 and 2: Minneapolis

Day 1 and 2: Minneapolis

Touch if u will my stomach
Feel how it trembles inside
You've got the butterflies all tied up
Don't make me chase u
Even doves have pride

…This is what it sounds like when doves cry

THB would just like to go on record that he and his mother do not scream at each other (for those of you who know the chorus).

Pics: Hung Liu work in Oakland Airport, the Aloft hotel (as DB sez: this is a hipster’s Holiday Inn Express), Rustica Bakery, art from the Minneapolis Institute of Art (Maya), trash cans catching the drips at Maya, and the Walker Center

Straightforward Southwest flights to Minneapolis from Oakland. Nominated for best airport art: Hung Liu, terminal 3; terrific flying cranes in glass. We meet up with another ex-Levi’s friend, Carol, for dinner at Haut Dish (pronounced Hot Dish…or is it chickendisk?). This is updated mid-west cuisine: steak salad (without the steak, iceberg wedge with creamy topping), char-cut (country style and smooth pates), ants on a log (peanut butter on celery wrapped in rice paper), mac and cheese (giant panicotti with crab), and lamb x 5 (done five very good ways!); dessert of banana sorbet and banana fritter. With local brewskies, gimlet and wine, $150 for three.

THB and DB are up early to use the fitness center, and then a real treat: visiting one of the top 10 bakeries (some list THB manages to find and hold on to…it’s somewhere around here). And, THB feels that the listing is correct: chocolate pistachio Danish, breakfast cake, ginger-lemon chocolate scone, dark rustic bread, two café au laits, $20. Then a to-go back for tomorrow, another$5.

From there, we slide over to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, where we take in about 10% of the museum, looking at ceramics, modern art, and a couple of great shows of photography and drawings. Off to the Northern Clay Center for a show of Michael Simon’s work, very good. We meet up with Carol again, have lunch at the French Meadow Bakery, Cobb and nicoise salads, one drink, $33.

Visit the Walker, a great art museum, a terrific collection and again several excellent “theme” shows. That takes up most of the afternoon, and we find out the Twins game is postponed that night. A quick switch of plans, we decide to take in a play, Next Fall, playing at the Jungle Theater, with dinner at a Japanese Sake brew pub across the street. A nice doubleheader, the play is a bit schmaltzy and entertaining, revolving around a gay man in a coma and his partner’s interaction with the parents (don’t know their kid is gay), their old/current boss (candle shop) and ex-lover. Does belief trump sin?

Dinner is taro chips, skewers of chicken, pork and meatballs, bun with pickles, chicken and pork, beef and kimchee in lettuce leaf, sake and sake mojito, $90 for three.

After the play lets out, we notice that a) it is no longer raining and b) the temp is dropping to slightly above freezing. Ahhhhhhhhhh, can’t you just smell that baseball is in the air…it’s Springtime!!!!