Monday, March 16, 2015


Trip Advisor recently picked The Art Institute of Chicago as its best museum. I like museums that have a flavor of subversion to them.  The worst museum in the world might be Epcot Center.  It doesn’t claim museum status but it is supposed to represent Future World, sort of a perpetual exposition. There is nothing subversive about Epcot. Drained of content it is nothing more than a people containment facility, which may well represent their view of the future.
My current favorite is the Door County Historical Museum in Sturgeon Bay Wisconsin. It is jammed with the usual historical knickknacks. They have a discussion of fish boils. There is also a fascinating wildlife diorama constructed by a true obsessive. In the middle of the museum is a leftover jail cell with the key.  While I was there a girl locked her little brother in it. What little girl hasn’t wished to do that?  That is what a museum is for.
My favorite exhibit is the Mathematica Exhibit. It has moved around a bit.  Originally built by IBM, I saw it when it was at the Museum of Science and industry in Chicago.  You might pass through thinking it hopelessly arcane. The fun part is when you see a child suddenly become distracted and stare raptly at one of the displays.  I have no idea if the little darling is actually getting anything or just trying to get a rise out of their parents. Maybe they are just watching the little car going around the Mobius strip.  The parents get agitated. It disturbs them that their child might actually have an interest in the exhibit.  They try to distract the kid, draw them on, and practically drag them out.  That is what a museum is for.
The Adler Planetarium in Chicago has a Christmas show, Star of Wonder.  After they have gathered the rubes in and ensconced them in their seats, they roll the stars back to the way they were around the birth of Christ.  Then they patiently explain to them that the most likely explanation of the “Christmas Star” was a conjunction of planets in the Persian Zodiac.  I doubt that most of the patrons are going to consider why the Biblical authors glossed over a zodiac event as the precursor of Christianity. But still, that is what a museum is for.
George Lucas is going to build another museum on the Chicago museum campus, the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art.  It will house his Star Wars and Norman Rockwell collection. Museums are, of course, the expression of the egotism of their benefactors.  Any city that features the Rubloff Paper Weight collection at the Art Institute can’t turn its nose up.
The Lucas project has all the indications of a disaster. The more fascinating the museum’s building, the less interesting the exhibits.  The new Lucas building looks to be a humdinger.  There is Opposition of Friends of The Parks, and Better Government Association.  To his credit Lucas is proposing 3000 underground parking spaces.  Scary that they will be built in a waste dump dating from the Chicago fire.  Old waste dumps are not always safe waste dumps. An outside architect has been brought in all the way from China.  This is probably payback for all the work China has given our architects. But the only time our architects are that generous is when they are afraid the project is going to hurt their reputation and future sales. We have a history of fall guy architects being brought in for difficult clients with disastrous projects: Benjamin T. Wood from Boston for Soldier Field, Moriyama & Teshima from Toronto for 10 S LaSalle. If they are far enough away people will know that the fall guy had a big project in Chicago and not that it is loathed.
My greatest fear is that the museum will be popular.  I don’t want the museum campus to feel like Epcot.

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