Loyola Night Returns to the Art Institute After Pandemic Hiatus

Heather Higgins | The Phoenix

Art history students at Loyola were selected by their professors to give talks in the hallowed halls of the Art Institute of Chicago on Loyola Night on Nov. 10. This is the first time the event has been held at the museum since 2019, after a hiatus due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Each art history student chosen for the event picked an artwork in the collection to speak about to onlookers. Preparation or the exhibit included extensive research for each student to recite as spectators walked past.

The talks were spread through several of the museum’s galleries, from modern art to the renaissance wing. 

Olivia Wolf, an assistant professor of art history at Loyola, helped select some of the students participating in the event. She said the event is important because it allows students to showcase their research and fine-tune their performance skills.

“There’s that kind of gratification of working with a public audience,” Wolf said. “Showcasing that work in a way that directly connects them to the community that I think is really beautiful.”

Heather Higgins | The Phoenix Roberto Matta’s “The Earth is a Man” was the chosen piece of sophomore Claire Christiansen.

In the modern art wing, Claire Christiansen, a sophomore at Loyola, selected “The Earth is a Man” by Chilean artist Roberto Matta. The painting is an explosion of rich color and abstract forms that create a fantastical and unsettling landscape.

Christiansen, a 21-year-old art history major, said she wanted to select a Latin American artist for her talk and explained how the artworks’ emotional quality and intricacy drew her to it.

Liv Majetich, a sophomore also presenting in the modern wing, spoke about an emotional piece by Félix González-Torres. The simple piece consists of brightly colored candies piled against a wall. As Majetich spoke about the artwork, he encouraged passersby to take a piece of candy.

Heather Higgins | The Phoenix Passersby could take a candy, which symbolizes the deterioration of Laycock’s body in his battle with AIDS.

The work is untitled but is known as a “Portrait of Ross in L.A.” Ross Laycock was Torres’ partner who passed away after being diagnosed with AIDS. The piece weighs about 175 pounds, the average weight of an adult man, according to Majetich.

As people walk by and take away pieces of candy, the pile grows smaller, which symbolizes the deterioration of Laycock’s body in his battle with AIDS, Majetich explained in his talk.

“I’m very passionate about queer art,” Majetich said. “I noticed that a lot of people when they come into the museum, they’re hesitant to take the candy, but I wanted to let people know that is what the piece is for.”

The halls of the various galleries were buzzing as both students and general patrons meandered through the seemingly endless halls of the institute. Several students came to support their friends presenting in the gallery, including Danny Murphy, a sophomore majoring in economics.

“I learned a lot and I always like looking at a painting more when I know what’s going on in it and the context for when it was created,” Murphy, 20, said. “So to have someone standing there and telling you when the painting was made and, ‘this is why it’s famous now,’ is really cool.”

Murphy came to the Art Institute to support Sky Montgomery, who was presenting a painting named “Portrait after a Costume Ball” by the famed artist Edgar Degas, originally commissioned by the wealthy Madame Dietz Monnin.

Heather Higgins | The Phoenix Sky Montgomery chose Edgar Degas’ “Portrait after a Costume Ball” because it challenged the rigidity of European art at the time.

As Montgomery explained to groups passing through the gallery, Monnin rejected the commissioned painting as she felt it made her look unflattering. In the image, she is depicted in a slumped position, buried under a massive pastel dress with a long fur scarf wrapped around her neck. Her pale skin and puffy eyelids give her a resemblance to a bloated corpse.

Montgomery said she chose the piece because it captured modern life in a way that was unique to the impressionist movement and challenged the rigid European standards of art.

“Artists like Degas and Monet decided to break out of that box, whether it meant financial ruin for them in the future, and they really stuck to their guns,” Montgomery said. “I think it’s just a beautiful way to interpret life and the way that people interact with the world.”

All Loyola students are granted free admission to the Art Institute with their student identification.

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