This is the fifth post about a road trip to New Orleans that starts here.
Lynn and I spend hours in the Art Institute. We lingered with the impressionists, then she specifically wanted to see “American Gothic” by Grant Wood.
I found a sweet little website for children, or maybe just simple-minded people, that describes the painting: “After he made sketches of the house, Grant looked for just the right people to go with it. He thought his family dentist and his own sister, Nan, would be perfect for the farmer and his daughter. Grant entered American Gothic in a big show at the Art Institute of Chicago, and won the third place prize. People all over America loved the newspaper pictures they saw of it. Soon, Grant’s paintings started to become very popular. One reason for this was that many people felt Grant’s art was easier to understand than a lot of the new modern art being done.”
I could relate to that later, when we visited a modern art exhibit:
The second photo is actually an air vent, but really, how different is it from the “real art” on the left? Maybe I’m just a philistine. But then there was this, made entirely of snake skins:
We waited in line for lunch in the shi-shi café at the Institute. The young cook kept up a stream of talk while he worked. Or, that is, he stopped working every time he started talking. He wasn’t talking to us; it was like a stream of consciousness. After 25 minutes we finally reached a table with our stir fries and some fortifying red wine.
Two couples from St. Louis sat next to us at the picnic-style table and struck up a conversation. They were all eating giant sausages. Lynn peered at them dubiously.
“This one is a Chicago style brat,” the woman next to me explained. “And this one is a Polish sausage—there’s a big Polish population in Chicago.”
“And this is a wiener,” said her husband. Lynn turned to me and gave me her special blank expression that said so much.
After they had wolfed down their sausages, Lynn had her say. “None of those were proper sausages! A wee-ner,” she dragged out the name to emphasize its silliness. “What’s a wiener!?”
“I don’t know, but I’m sure whatever’s inside isn’t good.” I said. “My mom used to buy them by the dozens and keep them in the freezer. We would eat them like frozen treats. A couple years ago there was an outbreak of a mysterious neurological illness at a meat packing plant in Minnesota. They were using a new technique with high-pressure hoses to blast out every bit of brain matter from pigs’ skulls.” Lynn recoiled in horror, rightly so.
“I’m so glad I stopped eating pork years ago! I’ve never paid much attention to British sausages, or to American ones for that matter,” I said.
“British sausages are very different to what those people were eating. We would never eat anything like a wiener!” Lynn tried to describe how wonderful and superior British sausages were but it was lost on me.
These are the kinds of conversations you have when you travel with someone from another country. They’re amusing and confusing, and eventually I find myself Googling “British sausages” late at night.
Back to the impressionists. There was a special Vincent van Gogh exhibit called Three Bedrooms. Lynn pronounced his name “van Goff.” In America we say “van Go.”
There was an interpretive film. They had physically recreated the bedroom. There were other artists’ paintings of bedrooms or some such. And on and on. It really put the “anal” in artisanal.
Then, finally, the three paintings:
Now, I like Vincent van Gogh as much as the next person. Again, maybe I’m just an ignoramus. But I can hear the marketing department at the Institute brainstorming: “I know! Let’s find three almost-identical paintings by some name-brand artist, make up a story about them, and call it an exhibit! We can charge extra and sell lots of merchandise!”
The merch part was good, as I was able to buy my Vince a Vincent t-shirt. One souvenir crossed off the list.