My husband wants his cousin and her son (visiting from Houston) to see the exhibit. We go on a Saturday morning. There is a line out the front entrance (Michigan Ave- the lions) of about 75 people. We go to my stealth entrance, the Modern Wing on the north side. There is no line out the door, but there is a significant line to buy admission and to get through the entrance. We beeline to the Members Only desk. A short wait of two people, then I flash my member card and get the additional tickets. We fly past the plebe line and go immediately through the Members line. They have a neat system whereby when they scan my member card, a picture of my face shows up on their screen and they can tell it is me. No need to fish out my driver’s license.
We march through the modern section and as we near the end of the hall, I notice a sign that says, “90 Minute wait to see the Bedroom exhibit”. Not that anyone is currently standing that far out, but the scary fact of the matter is that they have thought ahead to place the sign there! As we come to the entrance of the Greek section, there is another sign that says, “60 minutes to the Bedroom exhibit:. No people here either, but as we start to climb the stairs to the American wing I spot the “30 minute” wait sign and here there is a line. Since there is a separate Members Only line, we skirt the plebe line and walk right into the exhibit- no waiting.
Turns out, it doesn’t make much difference because the exhibit hall is packed. I have never seen anything this crammed in the art world, not even the Rembrandt exhibit I saw at the National Gallery.There are people everywhere. The corridor of Van Gogh’s time line is sure to induce claustrophobia. In fact, I find the whole thing claustrophobic, so I decide to don the role of tour guide. I will explain the exhibit since I read through everything last week, and so I proceed to purposefully guide cousin and teenage son through the rooms at an explanatory but decidedly brisk clip. Well, as brisk as one can be without shoving someone to the ground. The crowds don’t thin out very much, and forget it when there are original Van Gogh paintings on display. I encourage the cousin and kid to push in close as they can to the wall to see the originals, but I myself stand back and gawk at the crowds. I don’t let my charges sit for the movies. The last hall of “insane and admitted to the psych hospital- still painting” is the only breathable room, but it is the last stop before the gift shop.
My spouse has gone ahead to buy souvenirs for cousin and second cousin, but the shop is packed. Despite his head start, he still has to wait. We agree to meet in the Islamic Art section quartered in the basement. No crowds there, we have the place to ourselves.
As we look at illuminated manuscripts and meticulous calligraphy I am reminded that Vincent van Gogh tried to be a preacher for a while, even working with the street poor children in London. This career turned out to be a dead end one, painting being the last profession he took on. Van Gogh wanted to use painting to communicate his sense of the divine, and I am hard pressed to think of any religious institution nowadays that would have as big a following as this packed museum exhibit. Would anyone wait for 30 minutes to hear someone preach at them? 60 minutes? 90 minutes?
After viewing the entire section of the Art Institute’s collection of Islamic art, spouse returns to us with hard-waited souvenirs. He turns to me and says, “The best part of that Van Gogh exhibit was flashing the membership card and cutting through all those people in line.”