Impressionism & Fashion at The Art Institute Chicago

Lollapalooza’s Grant Park neighbor happens to be none other than the world-renowned Art Institute of Chicago. Apart from a vast permanent collection, the museum features a broad range of exciting exhibitions as well.

Their most recent — Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity — opened yesterday and runs until September 22. A unique combo of artwork and actual clothing from that time period, the exhibit explores the influence that fashion had on the great Impressionist artists.

Watch this video with the exhibit’s curator, Gloria Groom, for a glimpse into the artistic connection between famous Impressionist works and the fashion they feature.

If you’d like to check out the exhibit after hours, then you won’t want to miss After Dark in the Modern Wing on Friday, June 28, for a special tour of the show plus live entertainment, food and drink.

We caught up with Gloria Groom to ask her a few candid questions about everything from how she developed the exhibit to her thoughts on modern fashion and the rise of ‘street style.’

Where did the idea for this exhibit come form, how long has it been in the works?

The idea came from asking questions about several paintings in our collection in which the attire seemed important. The more questions I had, the more fascinated I became with the idea of showing the physical reality of the fashions which the Impressionists painted. Fashion historians know the historical answer to “what are they wearing” but I was curious to know why and how artists had access to fashion and used trendy ensembles to express themselves as modern artists.

If you could ‘curate’ a small dinner party comprised entirely of Impressionist painters, who would you choose to be at the table and why?

First and foremost I’d choose Edouard Manet. He’s handsome, known for his wit, and was always impeccably dressed, a dandy really. He was also obsessed with fashion’s potential in his art— to signify a new trend or as a way to make weird and ambiguous a subject of his choice. I would then invite Berthe Morisot, a wonderful painter but also someone who greatly inspired Manet who painted her many times wearing her signature black and white. Art historians have long speculated that they had something going on (she eventually married Manet’s brother) and so having them at the same table might throw light on the “did they or didn’t they?” question.

What is your favorite piece in the exhibit?

My very favorite painting is Manet’s Young Lady in 1866 also known as Woman in a Pink Peignoir or Woman with a Parrot. All three of those titles are merely descriptive but the painting is not about anything – it’s a rebus of disparate subjects – pink satin peignoir, man’s monocle which she holds in her hand, oversized parrot on a perch with litter box, peeled orange, violets, all of which add up to perhaps a statement on the five senses as some scholars have pointed out but that seem to me to be a wink-wink statement of woman power – she has the trophy of the man’s monocle and is obviously someone who spends time indoors, draped in the most luscious pink (and very sexy) but non revealing Peignoir (or house dress).

Stepping outside of impressionism for a moment – in your opinion, which other visual arts document changing fashion trends particularly well?

Photography. I love Bill Cunningham’s columns with their thematic flyovers of a particular fashion must And I love The Sartorialist blog. Of course rock concerts set fashion.

If today’s highly produced fashion editorials could be compared to the official portraiture of the Impressionist era, then a somewhat loose parallel could be drawn between these Impressionist painters and modern day street style photographers. What do you think about the proliferation of ‘fast fashion’-based websites and the shift in how people observe these large-scale trends?

Street photographers like Bill Cunningham are wonderfully inventive. They fragment what is new – it’s less the ensemble than the piece or color or cut, and it’s less about posing than about the experience of wearing something that is fashionable – what I call fashionability which is exactly what the Impressionists were also trying to do.

I love the fact that one can have a “look” for less than $50 when shopping at H&M or Target or at Buffalo Exchange and other used clothing shops. One can mix it up and look fabulous at least for the moment. These are not lasting, but momentary, perhaps “one-date” trends, so one can change one’s look like one’s haircolor. For the younger generations, this seems such a fun way to play with identities at a time when one is still not locked in to any one life role.

The Art Institute and Lollapalooza have been neighbors for years, and we think the proximity is especially fitting, considering that both institutions celebrate the height of artistic expression. On that note, the museum has likely had its share of unexpected moments with Lolla musicians and fans as they explore the museum… any particularly memorable ones that you can tell us about?

I remember well about six years ago when Bono and U-2 members walked around the Impressionist galleries. This was after hours and I wasn’t exactly invited to show them around but managed to just be passing through trying to look as if I had something to do, when the director was guiding them saw me. It was too awkward for him to not let me join. Bono seemed absolutely interested in the Caillebotte painting Paris Street: Rainy Day.

What do you enjoy most about having Lolla right in your backyard?

The youthful energy, the buzz around the concerts that spills over into our world.

Gustave Caillebotte. Paris Street; Rainy Day, 1877.

The best part? Your Lolla wristband is good for $2 off admission to the exhibit!