Travel Diary: A Passage To Chicago

“Feed your head….”
~~~~Jefferson Airplane


I just got back from Chicago. I hadn’t been there since I went and saw an exhibition of Byzantine Art at the big art museum on Michigan Avenue a few years ago in the dead of winter.  It never got over -2 F the whole time I was there. I went to the Shedd Aquarium, too; and, I swear, the fish were wearing mittens.

This time, I went for Gaugin, a great French artist who lived for years in the South Pacific, painting amazing works that wowed Paris and the world, and still do.

I had to go. That was it. The major retrospective featured over 240 artworks. I read lots of little placards, and learned a lot about Paul. He was quite the innovator. One time, his art dealer in Paris was expecting one type of art when the ship came in from Tahiti. But Gaugin had started drawing and painting on Japanese paper, writing a note to his dealer that he felt a need to try something new.

Imagine if one of our beloved pop stars did that! Their record company would sue their skinny ass off! Look what happened to Kesha! All the courts would side with the record company, ignoring the fact that free speech is a fundamental right, superseding contract law — and that the 13th Amendment prohibits slavery!

Gaugin eventually grew weary of Tahiti as it was experiencing Westerndom creep.

He lived his last years on the Marquesas Islands in French Polynesia. They’re a lot closer to Peru than Tahiti is. 3,000 miles west of Lima. One episode of Gilligan’s Isle actually put the castaways on their outskirts per their coordinates.

Gaugin died there — but not before making some of the greatest art Westerndom has ever seen.

After I was done with that exhibit, I bought a few fridge magnets and proceeded to the Asian art galleries to see the modern art of M. F. Husain, an artist from India who died in 2011.

“Goddess Tara with Hand in Gesture of Reassurance (Abhayamudra)” Nepal, Kathmandu Valley, Patan, 15th Century

His paintings were interspersed amongst a plethora of ancient Asian art, one of which caught my eye as I have a friend named Tara. It was, well, is, a 15th Century statue from the Kathmandu Valley of Nepal named “The Goddess Tara.” 

That’s  even cooler than having the archangel in Revelations as your namesake. Or my cat, Radar, who has a character from “M. A. S. H.” as his namesake.

I skipped out on seeing any Picassos or Van Goghs or Kirchners this time, walking 1.2 miles up Michigan to the Museum of Contemporary Art to see the work of Takashi Murakami, a contemporary Japanese artist with a Warholesque factory of factotums, allowing him to churn out large, mind-blowing artworks that almost put my little digital images and works on paper to shame. Almost. But, I believe in myself and my art.

But Murakami is good. I like his stuff. I take heed of the great Ralph Waldo Emerson who said in his famous essay On Self-Reliance“Envy is ignorance.”

My day will come. I wish I was a baller right now; but, it is what it is.

After seeing Murakami, I walked some of the way back to Union Station til my foot said to me, “Hail a f@#king cab, you masochistic motherf@#ker!”

My head fed, I rolled down the tracks back to Detroit, transformed more from Gaugin than Murakami, but glad I’d exposed myself to his artistic genius, as well.

Murakami went well with the sukiyaki I had my first night in Chicago at Umai. I have a great respect for Japanese culture. They are an amazing people. They’re sort of a hybrid of Asian and Western in terms of their thinking and culture.

I think everyone should go to Chicago at least once every two years. It’ll fix your head — at least for a little while.


“Woman with Cat” (photo by Mike Wrathell)


Sukiyaki from Umai (photo by Mike Wrathell)


Vairumati, a Tahitian Goddess (photo by Mike Wrathell)


“Redheaded Tahitian” (photo by Mike Wrathell)


This Elephant is part of a larger work by Murakami. (photo by Mike Wrathell)


This is a section of a giant mural of mushrooms by Murakami. (photo by Mike Wrathell)


A metallic replica of Gaugin’s Oviri statue adorns his tomb in the Marquesas Islands.
(photo by Mike Wrathell)


M. F. Husain was a brilliant painter from India who died in 2011. His works brought together the vast diversity within Indian society.


Selfie with Daisies by Murakami (photo by Mike Wrathell)


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