I spent last week in the Windy City (no kidding, I tried walking into 35 mile-per-hour gusts of wind one day), and the highlight of my time there was the day I spent at the Art Institute of Chicago. This cultural treasure is famous as the home of Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, Grant Wood’s American Gothic, and other famous works of art. However, I found myself more taken with some of the odder things I found there. Here’s my list of the strangest things I saw at the Art Institute.

Jean-Joseph Carriès’ Le Grenouillard (The Frog-Man): The sculptor was a short-lived Frenchman who worked in the grotesque mode. One fellow museumgoer compared this to Gollum, but I think this piece looks more like something out of a Miyazaki film.

Ivan Albright’s The Picture of Dorian Gray: Commissioned for the hugely enjoyable 1944 movie adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s novel. The film was largely in black and white, but when it finally showed us the picture (with all Dorian’s sins reflected on it), it was in garish color. The institute has a large collection of Albrights, and their meticulously detailed depictions of decay and decadence will be catnip to any Goth teens out there. Shockingly, the museum’s gift shop doesn’t have too many Albright reproductions for sale.


Peter Blume’s The Rock: What are these people doing? What is that rock in the middle? Is it a source of raw material or is it just some heavy object that’s about to crash and destroy stuff? Make your own interpretation.

Meissen Porcelain Manufactory’s Monkey Band: A collection of miniature figurines from the mid-18th century depicting a group of monkeys dressed in period costumes and playing musical instruments, with a conductor leading them. This bit of foolery reminded me of the opening sequence of Dinner for Schmucks.

Ferdinand Hodler’s Day (Truth): The Art Institute cheekily places this at the end of the Impressionists’ gallery, so it comes as a shock after all the pretty Monets. The truth is sometimes uncomfortable, and this woman’s hypnotic stare will make you feel that way.

Arnold Böcklin’s In the Sea: Seriously, what the hell? This painting appears to depict a concert by mermaids and one merman in the middle of the ocean. The merman is apparently a self-portrait of Böcklin, with his initials carved on the creature’s lyre. The museum’s audio guide says “Here we have a picture of consummate strangeness.” Um, yeah.