Spencer Finch. Lunar, 2011. (credit: the artist and ESAM/Larry Smallwood. © Spencer Finch)

by Amy Cavanaugh

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The strange object that sits on top of the Art Institute of Chicago looks like it comes from another world. It resembles an insect, with a ball in the middle, two solar panels sticking out from the sides like wings, and three legs anchoring it to the ground. The object is an installation by artist Spencer Finch called “Lunar” and it’s completely surreal set against the Chicago skyline.

Finch often works with color and light in his work, and for this piece he made a solar-powered lunar lander module that captures energy from sunlight during the day to make the ball on top glow at night. The amount of light is the same that a full moon emitted over Chicago in July 2011. Though “Lunar” isn’t lit up during the day, it’s still fascinating to look at. Other visitors to the sculpture seemed blown away by it, since the guard on duty needed to field questions like “Awesome view! Are you responsible for this?” and “Have you see any alien activity?”

“Like just about everyone, I wanted to make a picture of the moon or, more specifically, of moonlight,” Finch said in a statement. “I have always loved nocturnes and the impossible attempts to paint near-darkness in near-darkness. I figured there were probably enough literal pictures of the moon, so I began thinking about the form of moonlight and how it is actually reflected sunlight. This led me to explore the use of solar power to generate the light of the moon. The structure of the lunar module and the buckyball followed in short order—I thought it would be fun to imagine that a lunar module returning from the moon with moonlight on board landed on top of the Art Institute.”

The work is located on the Bluhm Family Terrace, which you can access for free from Millennium Park. “Lunar” is on view until April 8.

For more information, visit artic.edu.

Amy Cavanaugh, CBS Chicago