Making art with light, and washing it down with ice cream (until Oct. 4)

February 29, 2008

Knowing how crazy my boys are about light fixtures and light switches, I took them to the Dan Flavin: Constructed Light exhibit at the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts. This was both a good and bad idea. Good because M. was really engaged … bad because S. was too, and at 20 months he was simply too young to be trusted around the fragile displays. In particular, the 1984 work “untitled (to my dear bitch, Airily)” captivated them both. It’s a long row of fluorescent bulbs that ascends from the floor — you start to sense the problem already, right? — and continues out beyond the staircase that takes viewers to the lower level. It’s the kind of modern work I really love because it’s approachable; at the far end of the piece, when the light is soaring above and away from you, it does kind of feel like the artist had the last word with his ex (in whose place you happen to be standing).

Anyway, don’t repeat my mistake — go only with kids who’re old enough to stay far away from the light fixtures (including a nightmarishly easy-to-break one on the floor in the balcony). If your kids are already interested in shadows and light, it’s a great exhibit, and the staff mentioned that they’re getting many more children than usual. Although the display is not extensive, we stayed 45 minutes (which felt like an eternity to me — and to the security guys, I’m sure) and M. only agreed to leave because it was closing time. The staff really treated him like a valued visitor, even escorting him into an area that’s normally inaccessible to the public.

The Pulitzer building itself is one of those places that little kids absolutely love — but it doesn’t love them back. It echoes their joyful shouts; it’s full of glass windowpanes their little hands will smudge; and don’t even think about taking them into the courtyard and its massive sculpture, which can be damaged by touching.

This is the only exhibit I’ve been to where the dark basement hallways make perfect display spaces, but the sunlight really didn’t detract from anything except the artwork on the balcony. But there are special evening viewing hours for this exhibit (Thursdays from 6 to 9 p.m.) for those who’d like to see it in the dark, in addition to the normal daylight Wednesday and Saturday hours.

And while you’re in that part of town, check out the new ice cream shop, The Fountain on Locust. It’s a ways east of Grand in a beautiful rehab of an auto showroom, complete with huge art-deco wall murals that the owner, Joy Grdnic Christensen, painted herself. Lots for kids to look at while they chow down on the many flavors of Wisconsin ice cream — including M.’s new favorite, orange sherbet, as well as zanzibar chocolate, black cherry, coconut almond joy, Irish coffee and others. But the best menu item, as far as I’m concerned, is the Maxwell: hot raspberries over champagne sorbet with a whipped cream garnish. During the six years my husband and I lived in Germany, hot raspberries over vanilla ice cream became one of our all-time favorite treats, and I have to say this version, with the delicately pink sorbet, was excellent. There’s a decided European twist to the food menu, too, like the signature Polish dill pickle soup.

Because this is an ice cream shop, after all, it’d be easy to write off the menu’s claim of offering healthy food as insincere — but the soups, salads and sandwiches really do seem well thought out, especially the vegetarian offerings. One more note on the food: The chocolates that fill a small display case in the lovely wood counter are made in-house. However, because my sundae was huge, I can’t vouch for the kitchen’s execution of anything but the ice cream treats.

The staff, including the owner herself, was very gracious and friendly. Best of all, treats and drinks for one adult and two kids were about $10 — and we didn’t even try the world’s smallest hot fudge sundae, at $1.49. So many reasons to go back!

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