After a five-year sabbatical, with labor and love from dozens of curators and conservators, the famed windows have returned to their home at the Art Institute of Chicago.
On Thursday night, Mayor Daley and his wife Maggie joined the granddaughter of Marc Chagall along with Art Institute directors and trustees, for a celebration of the artist, the people who brought his work to life, and those who continue their legacy today.
The cleaner, clearer “America Windows” express, in Mayor Daley’s words, the “true spirit of Marc Chagall.”
Originally installed in 1977 in commemoration of the American Bicentennial, “America Windows” express a distinctively American landscape of fine art and freedom, strewn with Chicago specifics. Chagall had previously designed a mosaic for First National Bank Plaza in 1974, at which time the Institute revealed that its expansion would include a wing dedicated to the French-born artist. With financial support from the City of Chicago and the Auxiliary Board of the Art Institute, Chagall volunteered to design the windows for the new wing. After Mayor Richard J. Daley’s death in 1976, he dedicated the work as much to 200 years of United States as to the late mayor.
When ground broke at the Art Institute’s Modern Wing in 2005, the vibrations from construction proved too close for comfort to the delicate windows. They were pulled from the museum walls and placed in the hands of experts for a total body cleansing. Although the Modern Wing opened in 2009, the conservation process took an extra year.
“They are spectacular,” said Michael Goodkin, and he sure should think so. He was a founding co-chair of the original Auxiliary Board, the very one that commissioned Chagall to create this 30×8-foot site-specific piece in 1974.
Goodkin insists the one to thank is Ed B. Smith, the other half of the founding co-chair, who worked closely with the French stained glass artist Charles Marq—Chagall’s collaborator—throughout the design, creation and installation process.
The 2010 unveiling of “America Windows,” brought back to their original luster, brings Chicago’s rise during the late Mayor Daley’s tenure—and perpetuated during his son’s incumbency—as a vibrant city with vibrant arts back to its own roots.
“It’s art brought to life for all people,” said Maggie Daley, Mayor Daley’s wife, who was also on the original Auxiliary Board.
The reinstalled windows shine a freshened blue light on models and maquettes that were essential to pinning Chicago on the artistic map, including works from Jean Dubuffet, Joan Miro and Pablo Picasso. Alexander Calder’s model for “Flamingo,” on loan from the Fine Arts Program at the U.S. General Services Administration, completes the revived space.
Though celebrating Chagall himself and the pride in housing his art in Chicago, the attendees were also celebrating the Daleys’ commitment to the public arts and, most especially, the founding Board members who pushed and pulled more than thirty-five years ago.
“We’re thrilled to see the Auxiliary Board so active,” Smith said. “They are the future of the museum, and it is in wonderful hands.” (Kristine Sherred)