"Told and Retold" at the Art Institute | Exhibit review
It's no secret that children's books contain some of the world's finest art. The illustrations and paintings might not hang next to Seurat, Degas or O'Keefe, but this summer they're darn close, thanks to a nifty new exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago: "Told and Retold."
Located in the Art Institute of Chicago's always-free Family Room, the mini exhibit contains enchanting work for recent picture books done by an eclectic mix of eight artists. The connective tissue here is not a publisher, but an artists' agency: Studio Goodwin Sturges. Run by Judy Sue Goodwin Sturges of Rhode Island, the agency dedicates its efforts to producing stunning children's books. There's a wide range on display here—in form as well as content—from a coterie of artists hailing from across the U.S. and Europe.
Sally Mavor employs an exacting craft, hand-sewing and embroidering everything with beautiful, homey results. The pages of her book, Pocketful of Posies: A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes, marry words with photographs of her textile technique. We exhibit-goers, however, get the delight of beholding her fully 3-D creations, which make Humpty Dumpty look much more precariously perched on that wall. Artist Holly Berry uses fabric too, but not nearly exclusively: She glues small swatches (from her great-aunt's treasure trove of fabrics) so seamlessly into her detailed watercolor/pastel/colored pencil pages, it takes a second appraisal to notice them.
Meanwhile, Sebastia Serra uses a variety of techniques, from sketching in pencil and ink to creating clay models, to produce his pages, which he digitally colors. In the example from A Pirate's Night Before Christmas, he plays thrillingly with perspective, using a cinematic bird's-eye view to show us a young pirate in the crow's nest (with a one-eyed dog!), far above the ship's deck that recedes in the distance. On the other hand, Bob Kolar now uses his computer almost exclusively, from sketching to finished product. But you can't complain with the whimsical results: Alpha-Oops: H is for Halloween is a comical alphabet book that belongs on every early reader's shelf.
All these details about process come courtesy of the artists' statements on the wall, which also include a small photograph of each creator in their home studio. Those glimpses, along with some sketches of the finished pieces, will interest the grown-ups. The kids will enjoy simply gazing at the much larger pieces of framed art—or paging through the books on display on a table in the center of the small gallery.
Free to view, "Told and Retold" runs at the Art Institute through October 28. The gallery is located in the Family Room of the Ryan Education Center; accessed through the Modern Wing entrance, it's located just to the east, prior to the ticketed entrance.