In the late 90’s I worked at the Art Institute of Chicago for a few months. I was hired to work a variety of visitor services roles but was never actually trained for them: the AIC just dropped me off in the coat check and the other staff showed me what to do. Everything we checked cost a dollar, and once the customers encountered the mean old lady who guarded the entrance and screamed at them with a German accent “MUST CHECK BAG! MUST CHECK UMBRELLA!” they were primed to be extra cranky when we told them it would be a dollar for their bag, a dollar for their coat, a dollar for their umbrella…If you’ve ever visited the AIC on a rainy Saturday during an impressionist exhibit, you might have an idea of the mobs of tourists I’m talking about.
Despite this, the job was kind of fun. There was a security guard assigned to keep our cash drawers full of change and he was universally known as Dave the Change Guy. Now, given that making change was Dave the Change Guy’s only job, you’d think he’d be fairly competent, but no—Dave constantly messed up our change orders. You’d hand him $50 and say “I need $50 in fives” and he’d come back with 50 five dollar bills. A lot of the staff were artists and one day we all drew a picture of Dave the Change Guy handing us random bunches of bills.
My favorite time of day at AIC was in the morning. Before the museum opened, we were told to walk the galleries, picking up discarded brochures and moving signs back into place. After a few days I realized no one did this: mostly they’d stay in the break room, gossiping, snacking, and flipping through magazines. These mornings were a magical time in my life. I’d pick a new artwork every morning, and just be there with it. Can you imagine it, a half hour absolutely alone with a Velasquez? A Titian? A Durer etching? The AIC is full of treasures, and for a few months every morning, they were all mine.
I looked at all kinds of art during those mornings at AIC but most often I was drawn to the European medieval rooms. You know me as someone who loves religious art, and that’s nothing new. I loved those medieval works best of all, and at the same time I found them hilarious. So funny, in fact, that I started giving my own covert tours, called Squishy Jesus.
My Squishy Jesus tours were centered on the baby Jesus, in all his medieval weirdness (and often squishiness: like his neck in the painting above.)
I made my own Squishy Jesus Taxonomy for these tours including; Male Pattern Baldness,
Early Childhood Obesity,
and Convenient Tit (where Mary’s breast emerges conveniently from her collarbone to suckle the infant Christ).
I liked to narrate the voices of the ox and ass in nativity scenes:
Ox: look how looooonnnng baby Jesus is!
Ass: and he’s got biceps!
The adult Christ was not exempt from my tour. Here he is representing Subliminal Penis Belly.
I did not neglect the saints, either.
Behold the Lamb of God and the articulated bangs of St John the Baptist. (Instead of his regular Pebbles and Bamm-Bamm outfit, St John should be wearing an “I’m with stupid” t-shirt, don’t you think?)
Hi, my name is Agatha and I’ll be your server today. Can I start you guys out with my boobs?
Oh come on, we had severed head for dinner last night too—can’t we ever just order a pizza?
I didn’t get fired for giving rogue tours—I quit because my other job made me full time. Before I worked at the Art Institute, my family would say to me “You’re funny but nobody knows it.” It was the Squishy Jesus that allowed me to let my inner dialogue go public. And now that it has escaped, there’s no stuffing it back inside.
Just like a skydiving obese putto, I’m free.