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'Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary': Art Institute of Chicago unthinks exhibition marketing
René Magritte (Belgian, 1898–1967). The Menaced Assassin (L'Assassin menacé), 1927. Oil on canvas; 150.4 × 195.2 cm (59 1/4 × 76 7/8 in.). Museum of Modern Art, New York. Kay Sage Tanguy Fund. © Charly Herscovici – ADAGP – ARS, 2014.

CHICAGO, IL.- Curious about the giant feet at Oak Street Beach? Wondering what that figure of a woman is doing on the rooftop along Michigan Avenue? Beginning to use "unthink" in your daily conversation?

If Chicago is feeling a little surreal this summer, it's not just because of the quirky weather. The city has fallen under the spell of Magritte: The Mystery of the Ordinary, 1926-1938 on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through October 13, 2014.

Drawing inspiration from the Surrealist artist's iconic paintings and his desire to "challenge the real world" with his art, the museum has taken creative maketing to a new level. Beginning in early June, billboards and train stations throughout the city began to invite passersby to "unthink" everyday words and ideas. In June's Chicago Pride Parade, a tour bus wrapped with the image of Magritte's "The Lovers" - a couple kissing through the shrouds over their heads - and the words "Unthink Love" elicited cheers from the crowds gathered along the parade route.

But "unthinking" was just the beginning of the marketing effort. Downtown shop windows began filling with surreal tableaus populated by some of Magritte's favorite subjects: black bowler hats, open umbrellas, blue skies with white clouds, and word play. kicked off a contest to design the best Surrealist T-shirt. A dark figure, dressed in black and blue, began showing up at public events toting a mysterious eye balloon. Soon, residents and employees of highrises around Grant Park were buzzing about the massive poster of a deconstructed nude on the Art Institute roof.

On the evening of Thursday, July 24, the line to enter the museum stretched for nearly a block as visitors showed up with "surreal" objects that they traded for free admission to the Magritte exhibition. Almost 500 items were presented on Surreal Pricing night, including - to highlight just a few - a Magritte-esque wooden box painted sky blue with puffy white clouds, surreally decorated men's shoes, a manikin hand bearing the words "admit one" and a man's wallet containing $23 (the price of out-of-state general admission) in cash.

Then, on Friday, July 25, something even stranger happened. Two massive feet, right out of Magritte's painting The Red Model, appeared on the sands of Oak Street Beach alongside a sign urging viewers to "Unthink Long Walks." More than seven feet tall and weighing 800 pounds each, the lifelike sculptural feet morph into unlaced boots - Magritte's way of calling attention to the fact that we often cover our own flesh with dead animal flesh.

The "Unthink Magritte" campaign was developed in collaboration with Leo Burnett Chicago, which donated its services for the project. The Chicago Park District has been a key partner, enabling the placement of the Magritte feet in public locations throughout the city.

What will come next? Stay tuned. The exhibition is open through October 13.

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