Monday, November 22, 2004

on the town

Saturday morning, we were almost late to catching the chartered bus at the Church's north lot. It was our annual choir-parish day trip to Chicago. The tickets support our England trip, and it gives people a free Saturday in downtown Chicago.

We did our usual 30 minutes in Crate 'n Barrel, and while a few friends went in to Neiman Marcus, I did a quick run-around at the Water Tower Borders. Then it was off to the Museum of Contemporary Art -- I can check that off my list of museums I've wanted to visit. With a couple of notable exceptions -- a special exhibition of video portrait of prisoners and prison guards, and the pencil mural on the entrance wall -- I heard my inner philistine and thought once again that installation art is often gimmicky, takes up a lot of space, and not that impressionable. I did enjoy the gift shop, purchasing a Moleskine journal, something I've been wanting to do for months.

We ate lunch at Frontera Grill -- maybe my favorite all-time Mexican restaurant -- and then even fewer of us went to the Field Museum to see the Jackie Kennedy costume exhibit that was organized a couple of years ago by the Met and the Kennedy Presidential Library.

To be honest, my interest in costume exhibits has been slow in coming. It was a Christian Dior exhibit at the Met a few years ago that hooked me in -- lots of women's dresses and day suits that he designed in the years right after WWII -- The New Look? -- stark, minimal and incredible works of art.

The Kennedy exhibit is part pop culture -- I am old enough to remember some of those occasions when she wore the dresses, particularly a couple of them, when she was in Paris with DeGaulle and in Vienna with Khrushev. She was a dividing line between the 50s and the later 60s, wearing boxy, semi-a-lined clothes, with exaggerated buttons and pockets. Looking at the collection, I was reminded of what women used to wear when I was child, the gloves and hats and all that work to be presentable.

The exhibit also reminded me of the cultural manipulation or thought that she put into building her appearance, something that worked at least for the time. She hid French designs, the clothes she truly loved. (There is a letter from a garment workers union official demanding that she wear all-American underwear, support clothes and clothes written right after the 1960 election. I bet that made her cranky). While the focus is on the clothes, there are also some of the mock-ups and samples from Jansen, the French company of Stephen Bouldin, her Paris interior designer who made quite successful re-designs of the White House state rooms. At the time, Henry Francis DuPont and Sister Parrish, a New York designer, were the public face of the re-designs. Again, the French problem.

Would a series of Betty Ford's dresses have been as interesting? I suppose not. The Kennedy years have been compressed and re-imaged by the assasination -- not much reference to that horrid event, thankfully...the pink Chanel, by the way, is locked up at the National Archives in DC.

And then we caught the bus and left in the night while Chicagoans had a Christmas parade.

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