The Art Institute of Chicago

This weekend, Asha and I ventured out to the Chicago Art Institute to check out their latest exhibit called Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity. I carried her in a baby carrier which makes it much easier to travel on the CTA trains. This was Asha’s second trip to the institute, the first being when she was 2-weeks old to see the Picasso Exhibit.

 Just like I never noticed any pregnant women until I myself became pregnant, I never noticed any small babies in my previous visits to the Institute. But surprisingly there are many kids and babies around, accompanied by parents and grandparents who seem thrilled to spend some quality time with the little one without being surrounded by kid-stuff.
Asha loved looking at the big paintings and the bright colors. She was perfectly quiet the whole time because there was so much that caught her eye. She was looking this way and that –sometimes at the paintings and other times at the people walking about.  And just as I would have made comments to my adult friends had they been there, I talked to Asha, pointing out things I liked in the exhibit. She would coo at my comments as if concurring with my assessment. We spent about an hour and a half looking at the special exhibit as well some parts of the permanent exhibit (Photography and Miniatures) which I hadn’t seen before. Asha was a perfect companion.
About the exhibit itself – it included paintings, and original and recreated clothing from the impressionist decades of the late 19thcentury. Department stores, fashion designers, and fashion magazines were coming into vogue in Paris especially, but also in other parts of France and Europe. The impressionist artists such as Caillebotte, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Seurat were inspired by these new trends and decided to make beautiful women wearing gorgeous clothes subjects of their many paintings. It is truly amazing to see how fashion influenced the artists’ minds. 
It is also crazy how big and intricate dresses used to be. Bows, lace, ribbons, pleats, and not to mention the accessories that went with the dress. I couldn’t help but chuckle at the section for “walking dresses” which were still much too big, heavy, and cumbersome to move about in (I wonder what these women would have thought of yoga pants). Another thing I noticed is how petite the women were back then. Their waist, their feet, their height was all so compact. On the vanity side of things, I couldn’t help but wonder how they kept themselves from sweating in the dresses under all those layers. Packing for travel must also have been difficult since each dress looked like it would take up an entire suitcase of space.
There was also a small section for Gentlemen Fashion. Top hats and canes were all the rage. I wish they had something on little kids as well. A handful of paintings illustrated how babies and kids were dressed during that time, but I would have loved to see more.
Asha and I had a great time at the exhibit. It gave us a chance to appreciate the simple pleasures derived from a sleeveless dress and flip-flops, and of course central air.
The exhibit is showing through September 22, 2013 at the Chicago Art Institute. I highly recommend it.

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Chika Gujarathi is a freelance writer and a mother of three from Raleigh, NC. She writes for national and local publications about lifestyle, travel, books, and of course, motherhood! Her most current project involves illustrating and publishing a children’s Hindi book. When not adventuring with her family in the minivan, you can find her riding the streets of Raleigh on her beloved bike Linus.

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