Sunday, September 13, 2009

Gold Coast Adventures

This is the Charnley-Persky House, at 1365 N. Astor in the Gold Coast. Can I just say that the air in that part of town feels like money? I've decided I want to live there. AND, I want to learn how to put on the air of entitlement that emanated from a woman who walked her dog past us while we were waiting.

Heather and I decided to tour the Charnley-Persky house this past Wednesday for a number of reasons. 1) She wanted to see it. 2) Once I knew it existed, I wanted to see it too. 3) It's right around the corner and a bit from the International Museum of Surgical Science, which I wanted to visit to see their anatomical illustration exhibit. 4) It's free on Wednesdays.

That's right, on Wednesdays at noon, the first fifteen people get a free tour of the house by a Society of Architectural Historians-trained docent. Be sure to get there early, because they really do ONLY let fifteen people in. And make sure you keep your place in line. You don't want to get pushed out by a couple of entitled rude people like some of our fellow waiters-in-line did. We both got there around 11:30--after agreeing to arrive no later than 11am--and were third and fifth in line. (I was a teeny bit later than Heather.) Depending on the time of year, you shouldn't have to get there much earlier than that.

There's lots more information on the website, so I'll just tell you that the Charnley-Persky House is architecturally important because it signaled the rise of modern architecture from the frou-frou so enjoyed by the Victorians. There are much better pictures than the ones I took here. I suspect this photographer was neither rushed nor trying to shoot around fourteen other people in the house's cramped interior. And it is cramped. Especially since the light well, while beautiful and innovative, takes up a large chunk of the useable space in the house's interior. Right in the middle of all three floors.

The house is also significant because Frank Lloyd Wright worked as a draftsman on it, and Louis Sullivan was the designer. It's one of the only remaining buildings that was a result of their collaboration.

You can definitely see the beginnings of the Prairie School in the kind of detailing and the lines of the building both inside and out. It was an interesting tour, though Heather and I both agreed that at 45 minutes it was about fifteen minutes too long, and that we were glad we took the free tour. (There are also longer tours that include a visit to the Albert F Madlener Residence at various times on Saturdays--check the website--$10 for adults, $5 for students and seniors.)

These beauties are on Schiller, just around the corner from the Charnley-Persky House, and I insisted on snapping a picture. Because they are lovely and I wouldn't mind squatting in one. I suspect they're a bit beyond my price range, however. But aren't they GORGEOUS? And all individual.

Then it was on to the International Museum of Surgical Science*. I HAD to get a picture of the sculpture outside. The sick person looks like he has no bones, and the surgeon's face suggests he will heal the sick man, though he's a bit grumpy about the imposition.

I was a bit annoyed to discover that the museum had a $10 entrance fee, as that seemed a bit excessive. HOWEVER. That fee covers all four floors of the museum and it took us two hours to go through it. The education (and entertainment) we derived from the visit was definitely worth $5 an hour.

There is so much interesting and horrifying stuff in the museum that I can't really begin to describe or catalogue it for you. It's very usefully arranged by either category or country. There was the apothocary diorama on the first floor (AWESOME). The Hall of Immortals on the second floor. (Great big statues of important figures in medicine, including the guy who figured out that maybe maternal mortality rates were connected to students dissecting dead bodies and then going straight into the delivery rooms where they would put their hands in laboring women without washing. Important people like that.) Rooms displaying certain countries' contributions to medicine and things like the nursing room, the x-ray room and the pain management rooms on the third and fourth floors. (Note to the curators: You might want to provide translations of the placards in all of the rooms, not just the rooms about South/Central America and Spain.)

There was way too much to take in, but some of the high(low?)lights include: an assortment of amputation instruments including a breast amputation fork (I don't want to know); an iron lung; a collection of gall, kidney, bladder and uterine stones that were actually kind of cool looking, as in they might make nice jewelry cool looking; numerous large, creepy busts and statues (and some large, occasionally distressing murals); a discussion of how keeping surgical instruments in pretty silk and velvet cases led to sepsis and yet people didn't figure that out for the longest time; and ancient Roman speculums for vaginal examinations (um, NO THANK YOU). As Heather said, it was an "awesome combination of fascinating and horrible."

We finally got to the anatomical illustration exhibit I wanted to see, all the way up on the fourth floor, and I was, frankly, underwhelmed. It was mostly computer-driven, and I'd been hoping for hand-drawn illustrations, which I love and find soothing. Plus, I'd pretty much filled up with information and images by the time we got through the entire rest of the museum, and to pique my interest at that point would have required something extraordinary.

Which we found in the very next room.

Pareidolia by Vesna Jovanovic

This was art. Amazing, incredible, anatomical art including a self-portrait (Timekeeper, 2007) involving body scans, gears, wings and tentacles that is breathtaking in its beauty, meaning and self-revelation. That exhibit may have been worth $10 all by itself, even though there were only twelve images. At less than $1 per image, that's cheap for the delight you'll find there. (And if you go on Tuesdays, admission to the museum is free.)

One other interesting tidbit about the museum. It is an almost exact replica of Le Petit Trianon at Versailles, because the original owner adored Marie Antionette and her father had the house built for her as a wedding present. It's not an exact replica because it's a story taller, but otherwise it's supposed to be pretty close. Which is astonishing because I thought Le Petit Trianon would have been more cottage-like, if you get my meaning. I mean, wasn't that where Marie Antionette went to play shepherdess? And this building isn't remotely like a cottage, not in size, scale or shape. Though, as Heather pointed out, it would indeed look like a cottage when compared with, say, Versailles.

Anyway, if you get off on medical stuff, and take a kind of perverse joy in the slightly gross (like we do), this is a museum you should visit. There's a lot of really great information here. We both learned a ton, though I'd like to unlearn some of it now, please.

Here's the important information: The International Museum of Surgical Science is at 1524 N. Lake Shore Drive. Admission $10 for adults, $6 for students and seniors, free on Tuesdays. Check the website for hours because they appear to be seasonal.

*(I'm only following the printed material when I write it this way. The museum is specifically designated International Museum of Surgical Science on every single piece of paper I saw. And also on the website.)

1 comment:

  1. It was a seriously crazy place and way WAY more fun then I ever dreamed it would be. If you want a kooky unusual kind of museum or are intrigued by this sort of thing it is great and I think worth the $10 but only because that is comparing it to the other admission prices to museums here in Chicago.