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.

Writing prompt – canoe

Canoe by Hattie BuckwellThis beautiful picture is part of artist Hattie Buckwell‘s tantalising Explore The World print. Send your imagination on a journey and conjure up an adventure – it could be across oceans or over mountains, or simply through an Ikea on a hectic weekend!

What challenges could your intrepid travellers encounter? What might they discover about themselves and each other?

Read my interview with Hattie Buckwell.

If you write or create something prompted by this, please send an email to judydarley(at)iCloud.com to let me know. With your permission, I’ll publish it on SkyLightRain.com.

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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/

Book review – Walking Away by Simon Armitage

Walking Home by Simon Armitage“There’s a sameness to this kind of walking, with the corner of my right eye always full of the blueness of the water and my left always full of the greenness of the land.”

So writes Simon Armitage shortly into the follow-up to his troubadour travelogue Walking Home, in which he hiked the Pennine Way. In Walking Away, Simon is again travelling without a penny to ease his way, instead relying on his poems to secure bed and board, plus the funds for the occasional ice cream, by reading his work to enthralled and occasionally bemused gatherings between Minehead and The Scilly Isles.

It’s a pleasingly audacious idea – a challenge to himself to discover whether or not poetry has a relevance in the present day. Almost every evening he gives a reading, in part to see who will attend, and after each event a large sock is left out which attendees are invited to drop donations into, not all of which turn out to be monetary.

Armitage is a hugely likeable fellow, with a keen eye for the gentle absurdities of the world, making each step of the way a delight. He notices things many of us might overlook, so that his commentary is peppered with oddities such as “wilfully quirky signposting”, lanes “so upholstered with spongy luminous green moss it has the appearance of a sea bed or coral reef” and, as the tide rolls in, moored boats in the bay “stirring and righting themselves like horses after sleep.”

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Madeira – Island of Romance

View from Monte Palace Tropical Gardens, MadeiraA longer version of this feature was originally published by Portugal Magazine in 2007.

Much loved by British holidaymakers, Madeira is an island of exotic flowers, friendly locals, and more than its fair share of luxury hotels. An evocative, mountainous landscape is a constant reminder of the Madeira’s volcanic origins, while the Atlantic Ocean is visible from every terrace and balcony. Reputedly first discovered by an eloping couple shipwrecked on its shores, the island whispers legends from its valleys to its peaks, making it the ideal location for a romantic holiday.

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