Poetics of Scale | Theater Critic's Choice | Chicago Reader

Poetics of Scale 

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The first time I saw one of Carl Andre's huge arrangements of rocks laid across a gallery floor it seemed to be shouting at me in a foreign language, but the small work of his that's on display in a parlor-sized gallery at the Art Institute elicits a quiet conversation. The museum's stated purpose for putting together 15 or so little pieces from its permanent collection of 20th-century art--that they're difficult to appreciate next to their larger, more famous kin--seems arbitrary. But hung in a dim, deep blue room, these works are like wonderful curiosities someone picked up during their travels. Andre's 1967 Word Poem is a foot-long painted cardboard baton pasted over with a lattice of cutout words. Random strings of nouns such as "lust liquid air anchorage" seem personal, their meaning fleeting. They become a loose, sensual verse rather than a didactic comment on society by the artist. Other works, like Man Ray's pipe, complete with blown-glass bubble, are more of a giggle than a challenge. And we can play mentally with the puzzle of miniature glass chalices lined up in front of a delicate astronomical chart in one of Joseph Cornell's boxes. The labels for the works are on the walls outside the gallery, captions matched to detail photos--a gimmick that gets annoying as you bob in and out trying to identify what you're looking at. But it's easy to just enjoy the works without the guidance of a placard revealing the identity of the master. Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan and Adams, through August 24. Hours are 10:30 to 4:30 Monday; 10:30 to 8 Tuesday; 10:30 to 4:30 Wednesday through Friday; and 10 to 5 Saturday and Sunday; 312-443-3600.

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