Elevated spaces

I pull into one of the few empty parking spots in the lot at the mall and walk with brisk anticipation through the front door of what used to be a Sears department store. The former home of Kenmore appliances and Craftsman tools now welcomes this:

and this:

and this and this and this:

I would’ve loved to have been in that heady room when this brainchild of an exhibition was born, swaddled as it must have been in the sure cloth of unbridled imagination and expansive possibility. 

Bringing 21st century digital technology to this moment of now-palpable hunger for beauty both ancient and enduring wherever it might be found, Michelangelo’s larger-than-life Sistine Chapel frescos have been brought down to eye level in an exhibit scheduled to travel the world, for a moment landing in Oakbrook, Illinois. Some viewers will no doubt find themselves captivated by biblical themes so passionately portrayed. For me, standing in such intimate proximity to these majestic, sometimes haunting figures with their billowing, colorful robes, animated gestures and evocative expressions, to witness this artist’s discerning command of storytelling and darkness and overarching light and to encounter all of this while standing in the same close proximity that Michelangelo himself stood as he created these works, is daunting to describe. I’d studied fine art in Rome as an undergrad and saw many of the most famous works by Michelangelo, da Vinci, Rembrandt and others in what might be considered their proper places, their true homes. This experience was an altogether different kind of immersion. The sheer feat of 5000 sq feet of painting, the painstaking, neck-aching 4-1/2 years to completion, the imaginative reach that propelled this genius’ magnum opus, and in turn the exhibition itself, with the works themselves all so improbably near, felt awesome in every sense of the word. Like being able to reach up into the sky and pull down Orion or Saturn for a closer look.

I caught Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel: The Exhibition on the final day of its Chicago run last month. It’s moved on to L.A., leaving the former Sears store empty once again.

Empty spaces are invitational, aren’t they? Too, works of art on almost any level have the power to elevate a space. It happened here—a place that once carried Craftsman now ascended to house the work of a Master Craftsman. Michelangelo took note of all of those empty, divided spaces in that 60-foot ceiling and allowed himself to imagine how they might be filled. Imagination itself is a space, with a ceiling that can always be raised.

The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim to low and achieving our mark. ~Michelangelo