Lorado Taft

Aquatic Ceremony
Whenever I visit the area with any time to myself, I enjoy visiting the Art Institute of Chicago. Not only does the museum host a collection of artwork expansive enough to include Renaissance masters as well as cutting-edge Modernists, but it also has what may be the best museum shop I've ever encountered. It'd be well worth the visit even if it didn't also have a wonderful waterfeature - the Fountain of the Great Lakes - on its west side. I'm a sucker for fountains that make me think not only about how they work but also what they mean, and in this case the interpretation of the way the Great Lakes flow and interrelate leads to a few moments of interested reflection. It's not exactly literal, nor is it very complicated: It's just a charming an allegorical representation of five vast, interconnected lakes that contain more than a fifth of the world's fresh water. I find it amusing that the fountain was controversial in its day. Some were upset because the imagery wasn't quite literal enough. Sure, if you're visualizing a map of the lakes it's a bit difficult to read the relationships of the five figures as a clear representation of the system, but that seems trivial. And then there were objections because there's a certain amount of metallic breast on display; that, too, seems trivial in such a classical set of forms. (You have to wonder if, back in 1913, those same prudes ran around putting their version of sticky-notes all over any Rubens painting the museum might have been fortunate enough to acquire or borrow.) Personally, my only complaint is that the fountain isn't where it was originally placed: In 1963, it was moved from a venue of much greater prominence to its current spot adjacent to what was then a new wing that had been added to the museum complex. The positioning isn't terrible, but I don't like the reflecting pool/fountain that now shoots jets of water up into the space: The big sculpture works better on its own! As defects go, however, that's an easy one to ignore. So when you visit the Art Institute and its great museum shop, take a few extra steps and visit a wonderful fountain that tells a nice little story about the region and its heritage.