I just so happened to be randomly surfing the Art Institute of Chicago’s website when I saw that the Chagall windows have finally returned just a few days ago! They were removed from public view for five years.
The Tute didn’t want “America Windows” (its official title) by Marc Chagall, on display during all the construction of the Modern Wing and they took the opp to properly inspect and clean the windows. View a full video covering that conservation process at the Tute’s Interpretative Resource.
Now the windows have a new location and I’m very curious. The previous location was wonderful. It was just east of the Alsdorf Galleries (the formerly long, narrow, and dark gallery that used to have all the crazy suits of armor and medieval weapons). The windows welcomed the natural sun light from McKinlock Court.
This location was brilliant because of its unique positioning in the museum. It was a great example in the dynamics of wayfinding. The Chagall windows were at the epicenter of a major traffic artery. Many a patron enters the Tute through the main entrance at Michigan Avenue, walking around the Grand Staircase, through Gallery 101 (with Asian galleries to the left and right), and then through the Alsdorf Galleries only to continue onward to other various locations including Sculpture Court, Griffin Court, and countless gallery spaces. This was always the preferred route of my family and it continues for myself.
As a result, the Chagall Windows were always celebrated and enjoyed no matter what my varied intention was upon my visit. It was always a standard, expected part of my museum experience. It can be argued that the Chagall windows were located at the very heart of the museum. This was the true brilliance of the former Chagall windows location. Surely thousands of other Chicagoans feel the same way. I am certain the Chagall windows would never have attained its iconic state without this location. What’s mantra for successful business? Location, location, location.
I fear the new location will completely lose this sense of place as it is possibly relegated to a sterile location. Note I say “possibly”. I have yet to visit the new location. It possibly could be tremendously transcendent. Surely art museums are aware of how to properly display art so it may be properly experienced. In many cases, art needs to be seen in a neutral space so its surroundings don’t improperly influence the work. However, “America Windows” flourished in its former space not just because of its high visibility, but also because its light poured in from a courtyard (McKinlock Court). This gave the rich blue Chagall windows a warm home-like feel in its natural location. Putting these windows in a sterile gallery space may make the light seem forced and unnatural. But the light from an actual courtyard seems more personal.
I’ll try to reserve too much judgment until I have the opportunity to view the new location. However, I still carry disdain for the Tute’s decision to replace the former Chagall windows location with a gift shop. It can easily be interpreted that my previous observation about this spot being a high-profile traffic hub was also observed by the museum. And the resulting decision was to tear a beloved cultural icon from its ideal home and replace it with chicy merchandise. I guess every museum’s gotta make a buck.
That said, I had some troubles finding the exact spot of the Chagall windows using the Tute’s online Pathfinder tool. “America Windows” appears in the “Exhibitions & Events” tab with a location of Gallery 144 at the “east end of the Arthur Rubloff building”. However, I could not find Gallery 144 or the “Arthur Rubloff building” anywhere on the map.