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ALL’S NOT WHAT IT SEEMS IN THE WINDY CITY

Studio

Today, 'The Windy City' seems a more appropriate name for London town than it does Chicago, whose weather was benign in comparison last week when the studio took a business trip there. A pitch, then store visits – in particular, Walgreens, which are on every street corner in this their home city - and then the most unexpected of pleasures: half a day to sample the delights of Chicago.

So off to the Art Institute of Chicago which like many of the US city art galleries does a great job in covering under one roof the entire history of art. At the beginning of the 20th-century, the International Exhibition of Modern Art, otherwise known as the Armory Show held at the Institute, put Chicago at the very centre of the contemporary art world and introduced the United States to modern artists, including Marcel Duchamp, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso. 

The institute has two truly iconic paintings both of which have copied, parodied and paid homage to in American popular culture. The first is Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks' – a visualisation of a NYC downtown diner late at night – a scene eerily lit by its stark neon interior, and the second is 'American Gothic’ depicting a pitchfork-holding farmer standing beside his spinster daughter in front of their ‘carpenter's gothic' home.

Painted by Grant Wood in 1930, it evokes that point in time when the values of 19th-century America come hard up against the modern world. Their expressions seem to capture both disapproval and defiance in the face of a changing world they’ll ultimately be powerless to resist.

But this painting isn’t what it seems at all, In fact, its subjects are the artist’s sister and his dentist, not the steadfast American pioneers they appear to be. The artist intended it to be a positive statement about rural American values, an image of reassurance in times of turmoil, but instead ended up portraying 20th-Century American culture as ersatz and superficial. Something for brands to ponder in the 21st when we talk about purpose and authenticity….