January 24, 2016
BY JUDY CARMACK BROSS
Vincent Van Gogh’s grand niece and nephew will arrive from the Netherlands for the Old Master’s Society of the Art Institute’s Gala on February 20, celebrating the opening of “Van Gogh’s Bedrooms.” An exact replica of the bedroom, ephemera collected by the artist (such as bird’s nests), his paintbrushes, paints, and what many consider the most famous paintings of a private chamber in the world await visitors, thanks to the scholarship and international diplomacy of Gloria Groom.
“Although she has curated some extraordinary shows for the Art Institute as well as many other prestigious museums around the world, the Van Gogh show is Gloria’s first exhibit as the new Chair of the Department of European Painting and Sculpture, and it reflects her amazing abilities,” Laura de Frise, Old Masters Society President, said. “The Old Masters Society currently has a membership of 400 and is open to all to join. We will also sponsor a three-lecture series by top academics on the paintings.”
Jim Bay, who co-chairs the gala with Linda Buonanno, lauds Gloria for her “amazing scholarship and investigation of a subject.” On this, he said, “I have learned from Gloria that Van Gogh was a towering intellect – he spoke five languages and could write in three. He was just so misunderstood. He never found his place. In his 37 years he lived in 37 different places. It was in these bedrooms that he thought he had found his niche.”
For Gloria Groom, the show, featuring three views of the same room, offers visitors “an opportunity to dive into the world of Van Gogh, seeing that the only place he felt comfortable was his own yellow home in Arles.”
“The first painting from 1888, now at the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, reflects anticipation and happiness. He is awaiting a visit from Paul Gauguin and his own brother Theo, a Parisian art dealer. The painting is an invitation. Notoriously shy, he hung paintings of friends in his bedroom, showing that he was not all alone at that time. The second and third views were painted in his cell at a mental hospital in Saint-Remy, following his seizures. He knows in these paintings that he can never have this happiness. He is very saddened at this time, and longs for what he cannot have,” Gloria revealed.
Last September, Gloria was awarded the Legion d’Honneur by the President of the French Republic – the highest decoration bestowed by the French government – for her leadership in the field of nineteenth century European art. Gloria has curated large exhibits such as “Impressionism, Fashion, and Modernity,” at the Art Institute, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Musée d’Orsay, which received world acclaim for offering a whole new approach to painting.
To Gloria, the Van Gogh show was the opportunity to use new microscopic techniques to see the differences in the three paintings, “teasing out the answers in the lab.” She explained, “Van Gogh left the first painting in Arles when he first went into the hospital. When he returned he found that there had been water damage. He wrote to his brother, Theo, who said that to restore it would ruin it, and encouraged him to paint another one. The second one that he did in his cell in Saint-Remy is ours and the third is from the Musée d’Orsay.”
“Bedrooms” will not only offer an opportunity for guests to learn more about one of the world’s most famous and misunderstood artists, but also to celebrate them. Jim Bay won’t reveal all the details for the “evening of elegant surprises” planned for February 20, but promises he and co-chair Linda Buonnano, sponsorship chair David Horn, and Old Masters President Laura de Frise, will make the opening event, to be held in Griffin Court, “the gala for the year.”
“My beautiful wife, Laurie, has also helped significantly with the evening as Vice President of Programs for the Old Masters Society. And the underwriting of the event has been amazing,” he said. “It is also a tribute to my mother, Julie Bay, a graduate of the School of the Art Institute and an artist who did so much layout and decoration for our company, Bays English Muffins. She was delighted when I once gave her Don McLean’s recording of ‘Starry, Starry Night’ about Vincent. She loved his paintings.”
The Old Masters Society was begun in 1977 by a group of 17 of Chicago’s most attractive young community leaders. Headed by Weezie Smith Bross, these individuals wanted to add to the Art Institute’s existing support groups, focusing on the museum’s central collection, European paintings. Now in her third year as Old Masters President, Laura de Frise is a consultant with Ronald Varney Fine Art Agents, a firm working to simplify for clients the complicated process of buying and selling at auction.
“I have always worked in the art world and this is my way of giving back to my city in a charitable effort,” Laura said. “Although we present a variety of programs throughout the year, as well as social events, the Van Gogh exhibit marks our first gala in three years, with the last being our Picasso opening. We are so grateful to Gloria for making this evening so intriguing for our guests.”
In doing research for the catalogue she authored, Gloria read from the 900 letters written by Van Gogh, now also available online. “He wrote about the empty bedroom. He becomes like a character in a book when you have the ability to let the artist tell his own story,” she said.
Born in Tulsa, Gloria first interest was in the Spanish language, and she studied the art and literature of Mexico and Spain. “But when I went to the Sorbonne to study nineteenth century novels, I never looked back, and French became a passion,” she said. “I had an opportunity to work at the Musee Picasso in Paris, which was marvelous.” She continues to enjoy mastering all romance languages and now takes Italian lessons.
One of five children, she says that she has always been around lots of people so her effervescence just comes naturally. In France, she is an art world ambassador, at home, a welcoming friend to all she meets. “One of the pleasures of my job is that I can leave my office and take out-of-town visitors around the galleries,” she said. She holds the title of David and Mary Winton Green Curator as well as Department Chair.
In addition to her dazzling smile and a hairstyle evocative of Belle Époque elegance, Gloria has the best fashion sense in town. “I am fortunate to work in a museum where there is not a strict dress code, so my fashion is set by my mood for the day,” she said. “When I go on vacation to a new spot I ask where the consignment shops and resale stores are and then put things together. I am never wearing something from this season. I still have pieces from high school in my closet, which I cherish because of a texture or look.”
Currently, Gloria is working on a joint show with the Musee d’Orsay on Gauguin’s sculpture titled “Gauguin: Artist as Alchemist,” to open in Chicago on June 26, 2017 and at the d’Orsay later that fall. “We know Gauguin’s paintings, but he did in incredible three-dimensional work in ceramics and wood,” she said. “Paris likes to time its shows for fashion week and we like to open shows in the summer for all our tourists as well as members and local visitors.”
To those who know Gloria, that fabulous smile is never brighter than when she talks about her husband, Joe Berton, and their sons Alexander, who just graduated from Butler University, and Philip, now a freshman at Dartmouth. Rushing from a gallery to a football game to watch her athletic sons is something she does with great joy.
Do Alexander and Philip have an interest in art? “I never know to what extent they are interested, but I know that they are definitely visually literate. You can’t look at art without having it lodged in your brain. It is another language they know. Joe makes toy soldiers and I have been a curator, so they have seen this all their lives,” she said.
Anyone who has met Gloria would say that, in her, they have a very good teacher. “Gloria is inspirational, so enjoyable, and knows so many people whom she brings together for the Art Institute,” Laura de Frise said. We plan to be among those people when the doors open for “Bedrooms” next month.
Van Gogh’s Bedrooms will run from February 16 through May 10, 2016 at the Art Institute of Chicago’s Regenstein Hall. Member previews will take place February 12-13. The Art Institute is located at 111 S. Michigan Avenue.
The Opening Night Gala: Van Gogh’s Bedrooms will be held on February 20, 2016 from 6:30 to 10:00 pm. For detailed event information and tickets, contact Stephanie Strother at (312) 443-3615 or firstname.lastname@example.org.