Indian mystic Swami Vivekananda famously introduced Hinduism to Chicago at the Columbian Exposition in 1893. His words, colored to the hues of the threat levels used by the Department of Homeland Security, focused on acceptance of other religions.
Art patrons to receive deeper exposure to South Asian culture in Jaipur royal family exhibit
To see the Art Institute of Chicago's upper-level exhibitions, you must walk up a classic marble staircase, which, since September, has been infused with a vibrant, contemporary twist. Unless, of course, you take the elevator.
The staircase has become a temporary exhibit by Jitish Kallat, displaying the words Indian spiritual leader Swami Vivekananda spoke at the 1893 World's Columbian Exhibition in Chicago. The words, from a speech he gave about religious acceptance, are rendered in the various colors of the terrorism alert system used by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security after September 11.
But the swami's words will not be the only Indian presence at the Art Institute. In 2013 a major South Asian art exhibition is planned. Officials said it will feature samples of art commissioned over centuries by the Jaipur royal family.
"The exhibition, one of the biggest that the international community will ever see, will comprise miniatures, artifacts, sculptures, textiles and relics of the Jaipur royalty created by artists who were commissioned for the purpose," said James Cuno, president of the Art Institute of Chicago, last week from New Delhi.
An art historian said she was excited about the Art Institute's plans.
"It's like taking the Medici family and highlighting them as connoisseurs, as patrons, as collectors," said Vidya Dehejia, Barbara Stoler Miller Professor of Indian and South Asian Art at Columbia University in New York.
This is the first time the Art Institute will display a collection of royal Indian art and artifacts of this immensity from Jaipur. Other museums in other cities have beaten the museum to the punch, hosting Indian art collections of similar style and size before, she said.
But regardless of where the royal art is exhibited, the interest in Indian art as a whole is becoming more popular, she said, because the population of Indians in Chicago and throughout the United States continues to rise.
"It was only in 1962 that immigration was opened up from that area while China and Japan have been opened up forever before that," she said, referencing her research into the South Asian diaspora.
"Indian artists are generally unknown and their work is less accessible to the general public."
In addition, major scholarly institutions such as the University of Chicago lack specialists in the field of South Asian Art, but: "There are more today than there were 10 year ago," Dehejia said.
As a former visiting professor of South Asian art at the University of Chicago, Dehejia said it's a shame that there isn't a full-time specialist there. "It's a pity," she said.
With regard to the Jaipur royal art exhibition, scheduled to open in 2013, Dehejia said on behalf of herself and fellow South Asian art historians: "We're all looking forward to it."
An Art Institute official said the exhibit should accomplish several goals.
"We sincerely hope that the Jaipur exhibition furthers this holistic approach by presenting the public with a comprehensive panorama of artistic patronage in Jaipur alongside numerous public and family programs, lectures, and events," said Ayla M. Amon, research assistant in the Art Institute of Chicago's department of Asian Art.