12 June, 2012

The (dreaded) museums of Chicago

Contrary to Lottie's poor opinion, I think Chicago's museums are amazing.

First up was the Chicago History Museum. It's a huge building on the south western corner of Lincoln Park and the edge of Old Town. It's modern, themed, hands on, so actually pretty good for kids. It's possible that Lottie's current aversion was caused by two visits in three days but, after I waxed lyrical, Tom wanted to go. Particular highlights were the original 'L' carriage with wood panelling and brass fittings and an excellent exhibit on the city in crisis taking you through everything from anarchy, race riots, boat disasters, the fire and the summer of '68. I also particularly liked the exhibit on freedom which focused on different struggles - against slavery, for votes for women, workers' rights, and in a display that harked back to our journey a few weeks ago, a feature on the Pine Ridge Reservation and the occupation in 1973 by AIM, at Wounded Knee. It's fascinating the way that echoes of our trip keep appearing.

Our next museum was the Art Institute. It is huge. And has a really amazing collection - we are talking Louvre/National Gallery scale. We just about made it through the European art section up to about 1900 and including some wonderful Monets, the very famous Seurat - A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte - and a couple of Gauguins that I'm sure we saw in Seattle! And then we rushed off to see American Gothic (last seen on the side of a barn in Iowa when whizzing down 30) and Hopper's Nighthawks. We didn't have the stamina for the Lichtenstein retrospective, or pretty much any post-1900 art - Picasso, anyone? I am going back. I think I'm taking Millie. Lottie is point blank refusing to go so will have to be quiet at home with a working Tom. 

Sue! World's most complete T Rex
And then yesterday was time for the Field Museum. I don't know what got into us this weekend. We spent Saturday doing nothing more exciting than heading downtown to buy tickets for the Architecture Boat Tour for Sunday afternoon, and eating an ice cream. Then on Sunday, we left in the morning, ready to take on the Field Museum as well as doing the boat tour.

The Field Museum is the Natural History Museum with a good dollop of the British Museum. The Natural History section or more particularly the display on evolution was superb. Well explained, beautifully laid out, excellent interesting films of interviews with scientists explaining their work. incredible fossils, cute cartoons which cleverly explained the fundamental concepts of evolution and natural selection. Interestingly it was also an in your face account. The first thing you see on entering the gallery is an explanation of the term "theory" in scientific terminology which ends with the statement "All available evidence, which includes fossils, comparative anatomy, and DNA, supports the theory of evolution as the scientific explanation for the rich diversity of life on earth". Which wouldn't really need saying quite so baldly in London, but the USA is a country where apparently only 40% believe in evolution and where Republican candidates for the presidency can get away with equivocating or point blank denying it, and not get laughed off stage. 

And after that notice, you're taken on a chronological walk through evolution, building from the first life forms through each period, crossing the six major extinction events, passing through a superb hall of dinosaurs, towards mammals and finally humans. Many of the fossils were from creatures I've never seen before (the shark with the curly betoothed lower jaw was particularly striking). Most of the fossils were breathtaking - particularly the collection from Fossil Lake Wyoming.

Well that was evolution... Took us nearly 2 hours to work our way through that exhibit. Then Millie and I headed off to the Ancient Americas while Tom and Lottie went to see the 3D T Rex movie. The Ancient Americas display was also superb, covering many cultures that for my sin I'd never heard of and showing the most beautiful artifacts. 

We did not have enough time to do the museum justice - I'd go back if it wasn't for the small dissenter in our midst.

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