If the key to marketing is finding your niche, the Loyola University Museum of Art has nailed it. But marketing is also about letting people know about you, and LUMA can improve on that score.
I never hear people talk about going there.
Since my to-do-in-Chicago list includes visiting little-known museums, I went to LUMA with a friend on a recent free-admission Tuesday. It is walking distance for us downtowners and, just a few blocks off the Red Line Chicago Avenue stop, easily accessible for everyone else. At 820 North Michigan Avenue, it is just west of the Water Tower.
The museum’s niche is exploring the spiritual in art. Its permanent collection focuses on medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art, the majority of which had religious themes. LUMA’s temporary exhibits explore the spiritual in art from all cultures, faiths, and eras.
The museum takes a broad view of the spiritual, judging from the temporary exhibits on view until June 3.
One exhibit displays wooden whirligigs — objects that twirl or revolve — handcarved by California psychoanalyst Peter Gelker. His self-described folk art explores psychological themes, portraying neuroses and nightmares Gelker likely hears about from his patients. Human figures are menaced by the devil, spiders, sharks, snakes, employers, death, and monsters. The themes are serious yet the fanciful construction makes us smile. Since the whirligigs are meant to be wind driven or hand turned, museum visitors unfortunately don’t get the full effect.
An exhibit of wayang — Indonesian puppets — was an interesting peek inside a culture I know next to nothing about. Puppet shows are enjoyed by Indonesian children and adults and go on for as long as eight hours, but people aren’t expected to stay the whole time. Wayang don’t fit over fingers but are flat or doll-like figures operated by attached rods. A video showing the puppets in use is a welcome accompaniment for those of us who can’t quite picture how they work.
Misericordia, the Northside home to more than 600 people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, is the subject of two other temporary exhibits, one artwork by the residents and the other photographs of Misericordia residents from a recent book by Steve Schapiro.
After seeing the temporary exhibits on the second floor, visitors are asked to return to the entrance desk to get elevator access to the third-floor permanent collection. Much of the art there was collected by the late Martin D’Arcy, a British Jesuit theologian. It is considered one of the finest collections in the Midwest of medieval, Renaissance, and Baroque art dating from the 12th century on. The paintings, sculptures, furniture, ivories, enamels, and works in gold and silver were once owned by prelates, princes, and private citizens.
As one would expect, the paintings portray religious scenes. I found more intriguing the chests, furniture, and other three-dimensional pieces that the Loyola website says are the heart of the collection. The curiosities I particularly liked included a painted “birth tray” in which treats were brought to a new mother; elaborate treasure chests with hidden compartments; and a mechanical clock with an elephant whose eyes rotate at the top of the hour.
It was ironic that at a museum I’ve never heard anyone mention, I turned a corner and saw an acquaintance. That doesn’t change my sense that LUMA is little known and should do more promotion. I plan to go back to spend more time with the elephant clock and other curiosities.