Modern or Contemporary? Cream of Tomato Soup

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In the art world, Modern and Contemporary are not interchangeable terms. Modern Art refers to a period beginning in the 1880s and ending in the 1960s when Cezanne, Manet, Van Gogh, and others revolutionized the art world by breaking away from conventional, realistic art created solely for the church or for wealthy patrons and began exploring their own subjective and surreal experiences. Styles that reflect the Modern Art movement include Impressionism, Cubism, and Fauvism.

Contemporary Art refers to art produced after the 1960s by living artists whose work reflects current political and cultural topics and has social impact. At Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, there are no Cezannes, Manets or Van Goghs. Instead the galleries are filled with Contemporary Art familiars—Jeff Koons, Andy Warhol, Alexander Calder and unfamiliars (at least to me)—Roger Brown, Yinka Shonibare, Magdelana Abakanowicz, Gabriel Kuri, and Roger Brown.


Jeff Koons, Lifeboat

Andy Warhol, Vote McGovern


Alexander Calder

Jeff Koons and Andy Warhol in the Red Room

Roger Brown, Ablaze and Ajar

Contemporary art often has hidden surprises that are easy to miss. If you stand close to Roger Brown’s Autobiography in the Shape of Alabama (Mammy’s Door) and look down into the mirror on the floor, you’ll see the underneath of the painting and the inscription, “Thanks for Barbara Allen.” 

Yinka Shonibare, Alien Obsessives, Mum, Dad, and the Kids

Gabriel Kuri, Wheelbarrows with Popcorn and Glass

Takashi Murakami, Jellyfish Eyes and Wink Sculpture (pink)


Sam Durant’s Partially Buried 1960s/1970s Dystopia Revealed includes another hidden surprise. When you bend down and listen closely to the two piles of dirt, you’ll hear Mick Jagger at Altamont coming from the left mound and Wavy Gravy at Woodstock coming from the right mound.

The museum’s gift shop was full of cool stuff and, as in all other museum restaurants I’ve visited, MCA’s restaurant set-up was confusing. Do I seat myself? Do I order at the counter? Where are the napkins? I’m never quite sure what to do—I always drift and hesitate. Maybe clear signage is just too mundane.


I’ll bet they always know what to do.

BTW, the weather has been spring-like in Chicago—in the upper 60s. Then yesterday, the temperature dropped 35 degrees to a high of 31.

Cream of tomato soup

  • 2 tablespoons butter 
  • 1 medium onion, julienned or sliced 
  • 1 large fennel bulb (optional) you can also use 1⁄2- 1 teaspoons fennel seeds 
  • 2 teaspoons salt 
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon white pepper 
  • 1⁄2 cup Pernod (optional) 
  • 4-6 ripe Romas, seeded & chopped or 1 can diced-in-juice tomatoes (best quality possible) 
  • 2 cups chicken stock 
  • 1⁄2 cup heavy cream 
  • 1⁄2 cup half & half
  • Dash of Tabasco 

Trim fennel, discarding stem. Thinly slice stalks.Melt butter over moderate heat in large stockpot or Dutch oven. Add onions and cook with salt and pepper until soft, about 10 minutes. Add fennel, reduce heat to low, cook additional ten minutes. 

Add Pernod and reduce liquid by half. Add tomatoes and chicken stock. Reduce to simmer and cook, covered about 20 minutes.  

Puree in a blender until smooth. Return to pot and add cream and half and half. Bring to a boil, simmer 5 minutes, and remove from heat. Add Tabasco. 

Fennel bulb and Pernod are optional. I usually don’t have either so almost always make the soup without. Good quality canned tomatoes are preferred, but I often use regular old grocery store Hunt’s. The imported Italian are the best but cost plenty more—San Marzano or Muir Glen are both good brands. 

Heavy cream and half and half make for a silky delicious soup, but you can substitute less caloric milk for part of the dairy or leave it out and use only stock. Thin to your preference. 

Restaurants make many variations on this method for soup of the day, substituting any other vegetable: broccoli, mushroom, spinach, asparagus, potato/leek, squash, beet, carrot, etc.  

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