The Art Institute of Chicago is opening its Modern Wing to showcase the visual splendors of the 20th and 21st Centuries. Without getting into a debate about when "modern art" began or ended, let's wing it with these 10 facts about art since 1900:
1. There were plenty of people in early 20th Century Paris who thought they were doing Amedeo Modigliani a favor. They accepted the charming but poverty-stricken artist's work in exchange for food. But they didn't realize what they had. A restaurateur stored Modigliani's paintings in his basement, where rats chewed them up. The operator of a potato stall used Modigliani's drawings to wrap her fried chips. In 2006, more than eight decades after Modigliani's death, one of his works sold for $30 million.
Georgia O'Keeffe's flower paintings have fascinated many people, but fuss annoyed the artist. She once told art critic Emily Genauer: "I hate flowers--I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move."
3. When the Picasso sculpture was installed in Chicago's Daley Plaza in 1967, then-Ald. John Hoellen (47th) called on the city to "deport" the artwork to France and replace it with a statue of Cubs slugger Ernie Banks. (Pop quiz: What's the title of the sculpture? Answer: It doesn't have one.)
4. Robert Rauschenberg produced a 1953 work titled "Erased de Kooning Drawing" by using rubber erasers to rub out a drawing that artist Willem de Kooning had given him for that purpose.
5. Chicago painter Ivan Albright was so meticulous that during a typical five-hour workday, he would paint about a half of a square inch.
6. You've heard of op art and pop art--but "plop art"? It's a term for public art that bears no relation to its environment, as if it was plopped down in its location without any thought.
7. Andy Warhol's paintings of Campbell's soup cans were the ultimate pop art. But not everyone was impressed. When Warhol's first soup-can exhibit opened in New York City in 1962, a competing gallery put actual Campbell's cans in its windows with a sign reading, "Buy them cheaper here--sixty cents for three cans."
8. Edward Hopper's wife, Jo, once bit his hand to the bone.
9. Max Ernst's embrace of surrealism seems more understandable when you understand that his father, an amateur weekend painter, had a problem with plain old reality. The senior Ernst, painting a picture of his garden but struggling with how to depict a tree in the scene, solved the problem by grabbing an ax and chopping down the tree.
10. Chris Burden, a California performance artist in the '70s, stuffed himself into a school locker for five days, nailed himself to the roof of a Volkswagen Beetle in a mock crucifixion, arranged for an assistant to shoot him in the arm and fired a gunshot at a plane passing overhead. If he did any of those things today, he'd get his own reality TV show.
Sources: "Anecdotes of Modern Art" by Donald Hall and Pat Corrington Wykes; "The Life and Death of Andy Warhol" by Victor Bockris; "Pop Art" by Tilman Osterwold; "Retailing," edited by Anne M. Findlay and Leigh Sparks; "Lives of Great 20th Century Artists" by Edward Lucie-Smith; "Shock of the New" by Robert Hughes; Art in America magazine; Grove Art Online; artforum.com; artinfo.com; and Tribune archives and news services.