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Last One In

Gene Suuppi wandered into the Monet show at 7:46 PM Tuesday, August 14. Nobody asked him for a ticket; he didn't know he needed one.


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Gene Suuppi walked into the Art Institute about 7:35 PM a week ago last Tuesday. First he visited arms and armor from the George F. Harding Collection.

"After I went by all the armor and guns and pistols--I've never seen pistols that long before--I saw a sign saying 'Monet.' I figured I better hurry up and walk in there. I knew the name from the news and from humanities class and from PBS."

At 7:46 PM, with 14 minutes to go, he was the very last of nearly 450,000 people from all over the world to view "Monet in the 90s: The Series Paintings," the second best attended show in the lifetime of the Art Institute. (More people attended the Vatican collections exhibit in 1983.)

Suuppi, who is 38, had gotten to Chicago that morning from his home in Lapeer, Michigan--in the thumb of the state, about a six-hour drive from Chicago, population 10,000. He spent the day in an EPA training course; Suuppi, an environmental quality analyst for the Michigan Department of Natural Resources in Saginaw, inspects industrial sites for PCBs and other contaminants.

No one asked Suuppi for a ticket to the show, sold out weeks in advance, and he didn't know he needed one. He just walked in, and no one asked any questions.

He quickly headed to Monet's paintings of oat fields, then to the paintings of grain stacks, then to the paintings of Rouen Cathedral. By 7:50, he was in front of the variously shaded paintings of the Waterloo and Charing Cross bridges.

"Now this one looks better from farther away, don't you think?" he asked about Morning on the Seine Near Giverny (Mist). "I camped in a place like that once in South Dakota."

At 7:56, in front of Island of the Petit Ailly (Varengeville), Suuppi realized that Monet often painted the same scene at different times of day and in different hues. "I remember that now from humanities class," he said.

Afterward, Suuppi said he thought a lot of the paintings were pretty. "I'll always remember the hay mounds and the cliffs and the painting that looked better from far away. There were lots of paintings of the same thing."

He was surprised to learn that Monet, too, was interested in the environment. "I saw some of the rivers in the paintings and I thought of some industrial rivers I know from home," said Suuppi. "But I guess he was painting before the Industrial Revolution."

Suuppi had never been to an art museum before. Wednesday, he said, he planned to eat lunch at the Berghoff and spend the evening at a White Sox game. "The Monet exhibit was interesting, but the whole city is interesting. I've never actually been to Chicago. Once I just drove around it on the bypass."

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