Starstruck by art

The Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago. Edward Kemeys, Lions

Edward Kemeys, Lions, Michigan Avenue Entrance. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Visiting the Art Institute of Chicago is bound to be a highlight for any art aficionado visiting this extraordinary city. This vast space is teeming with renowned artworks, as well as plenty of less famous gems. From the intriguing Thorne Miniature Rooms to marvels such as Georgia O’Keefe’s Sky Above Clouds IV (below), I found myself floating on an excess of wonder.

Sky Above Clouds IV by Georgia O'Keefe

Stairways and soaring corridors led us to the Contemporary Wing, housing an impressive assortment of notable works. Frankly, it was like attending a party attended by an eccentric assortment of heroes. Meeting creations by the likes of Andy Warhol, Jeff Koons, Roy Lichtenstein, Charles Ray, and Damien Hirst made me feel a little starstruck: wide eyed and at a loss for words! I also had a the pleasure of encountering some artists for the first time, including Katharina Frisch, whose ‘Woman With Dog’ brought to mind happy hours scouring coastal rock pools as a child.

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Woman With Dog by Katharina Fritsch

Downstairs I found myself drawn to the implied magic of the miniature rooms conceived by Mrs James Ward Thorne and created, under her guidance, by master craftsmen between 1932 and 1940.

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Cape Cod Living Room 1750-1850

Each represents a home from a particular time and location, with details down to the carpets and knick-knacks summoning up an impression of the lives that might have been lived there. It’s entrancing for any lover of art, architecture, history or humanity.

The Art Institute of Chicago. Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Alsdorf Galleries of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan, and Islamic Art. Courtesy of the Art Institute of Chicago

Elsewhere, the halls of Indian, Southeast Asian, Himalayan and Islamic art instilled us with a sense of tranquillity, while the Architecture and Design exhibits inspired is with its grace and practicality.

We were also fortunate to visit when the John Singer Sargent and Chicago’s Gilded Age exhibition was on, and to walk among excellent work not only by the artist himself, but by his contemporaries, including Claude Monet.

The scale of these galleries makes it unlikely you’ll be able to see every exhibit in a single visit. My advice is to select a few galleries and do them justice. To me the Art Institute of Chicago felt like a portal through time, space and sensibility, with each doorway offering admission to another absorbing world.

Find out more at www.artic.edu.

Discover Bilbao.
Discover Brescia.
Discover Budapest.
Discover Bath.
Discover Barcelona.
Discover Laugharne.
Discover Reyjavik.

Got an inspiring venue, event, challenge, competition or call for submissions you’d like to draw my attention to? Send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud(dot)com.

Take a trip with memory game Arabicity

Arabicity game by Daradam

This beautifully packaged memory game takes a familiar idea and carries it overseas. The first thing that struck me on opening the box was the sweet smell of plywood. Each smooth cornered square sports a miniature artwork, showing an architectural landmark from an Arab country, such as Jordan, Algeria or Lebanon, with the name written in one or two of three languages – English, French or Arabic.

I’ve always believed that reading and playing are two key ingredients for nourishing a child’s empathy and interest in the world. The third is undoubtedly travel. Arabicity is excellent example of how well this can work, encompassing all three elements as the squares offer glimpses of enticingly foreign settings, with each successfully matched pair providing an insight into a language entirely unlike English.

Arabicity game by Daradam1

The smooth, light playing pieces are a pleasure to handle, making this a refreshingly multi-sensory alternative to on-screen games. The illustrations by Noha Habaieb are exquisitely detailed too. Shady stepped streets, grand buildings and friendly locals abound, bringing a sense of distant cities into my chilly British living room.

Arabicity game by Daradam2

Arabicity is created by Daradam, a French-based publishing house that specialises in educational toys inspired by the cultural heritage of the Arab world. “Our concept is to awaken kids’ curiosity for this part of the world,” says founding director Hanna Lenda. “For instance, Arabcity takes players to the narrow streets of Sanaa’s old city, in front of the Samaraa mosque in Irak or to visit the Sursock palace in Beyrouth. Some of these architectural wonders are out of reach these days, and Daradam enables little ones to discover them in a fun way.”

I’m planning to take my younger two nephews on a whirl through Arabicity this Christmas, and I’m pretty sure their art-loving nan will relish the game just as much as they do.

Find out more at www.daradam.com, www.facebook.com/daradamkids and www.instagram.com/daradamkids/

Let’s talk about death, baby

Death the human experienceWhat are your thoughts about death? Do you think of it freely, with curiosity or turn from it with dread? The current exhibition at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery invites us to face our fears and explore the myths and realities surrounding our eventual expiration.

death: the human experience is an unexpectedly beautiful, contemplative exhibition, displaying archaic associations with death (from an exquisite death’s head hawk moth to a Victorian mourning dress. There are insights into burial practices across the world, including a piece on ‘sky burials’, examples of items left at gravesides and buried with the deceased, and a cheeringly rambunctious Ghanaian coffin shaped like a lion.

You can listen to funeral and mourning songs from a variety of cultures, admire memorials intended to honour the dead or display how well they were loved, and perhaps reconsider or identify your own attitudes to these rituals, and what’s important to you personally.

The subject matter is handled sensitively and thought-provokingly, with special separate sections where you can consider darker aspects such as infant mortality and cannibalism, with small doors to open on exhibits that may be especially distressing. For me the mortuary table from a former Bristol hospital was a more sobering sight – something about its clinical contours just seemed very cold. There are also videos of commentaries for and against assisted suicide, which tackles the important issue of quality of life.

Whatever your feelings on death when you enter, I think you’ll emerge able to speak about death more readily – this is an aspect of life we’ll all experience at some point, whether as the deceased or as a mourner, and being able to talk about it can only help.

As the Mark Twain quote emblazoned on one wall states: “I do not fear death. I had been dead for billions and billions of years before I was born, and had not suffered the slightest inconvenience from it.”

What a curiously comforting idea.

death: the human experience runs at Bristol Museum and Art Gallery until 13 March 2016. Visitors are invited to pay what they feel the exhibition is worth.

A celebration of ice in Korea

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival While we in Britain tend to lament ice and the uninvited thrills it adds to our daily commutes, over in Korea, Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival is busily revelling in the cold slippy stuff in all manner of ways.

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival

I’m not a fan of winter’s chill, but I’ve been writing a story about an ice sculptor, which has got be entranced by the idea of an entire festival in its honour. There’ll even be an Ice Sculpture Park as part of the spectacle – visit after dark to experience the beauty of glimmering lights against the frozen creations.

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival sculptures

Other highlights include ice fishing, ice football, sledding, and a snow fun park, all of which promise to be breathtaking.

Hwacheon Sancheoneo Ice Festival snowmen

The festival runs (or should that be skates?) until Sunday 26 January 2014.

Utterly inspiring. Just make sure you wrap up warm!

For more information go to the official festival homepage.