The first time I saw one of Carl Andre’s huge arrangements of rocks laid across a gallery floor it seemed to be shouting at me in a foreign language, but the small work of his that’s on display in a parlor-sized gallery at the Art Institute elicits a quiet conversation. The museum’s stated purpose for putting together 15 or so little pieces from its permanent collection of 20th-century art–that they’re difficult to appreciate next to their larger, more famous kin–seems arbitrary. But hung in a dim, deep blue room, these works are like wonderful curiosities someone picked up during their travels. Andre’s 1967 Word Poem is a foot-long painted cardboard baton pasted over with a lattice of cutout words. Random strings of nouns such as “lust liquid air anchorage” seem personal, their meaning fleeting. They become a loose, sensual verse rather than a didactic comment on society by the artist. Other works, like Man Ray’s pipe, complete with blown-glass bubble, are more of a giggle than a challenge. And we can play mentally with the puzzle of miniature glass chalices lined up in front of a delicate astronomical chart in one of Joseph Cornell’s boxes. The labels for the works are on the walls outside the gallery, captions matched to detail photos–a gimmick that gets annoying as you bob in and out trying to identify what you’re looking at. But it’s easy to just enjoy the works without the guidance of a placard revealing the identity of the master. Art Institute of Chicago, Michigan and Adams, through August 24. Hours are 10:30 to 4:30 Monday; 10:30 to 8 Tuesday; 10:30 to 4:30 Wednesday through Friday; and 10 to 5 Saturday and Sunday; 312-443-3600.