Do you remember the enormous mural with orange letters on plywood that spelled out “You are beautiful” on State Street? It ran along Block 37, Randolph to Washington, from 2006 to 2009. The installation, along with new pieces displaying the same, now iconic, slogan has moved inside to the Green Exchange. Throughout the month of February, “As you are: A Decade of You Are Beautiful” will imbue the raw spaces of the West Diversey office building with its optimistic mantra in a retrospective collection of works by numerous artists, including Matthew Hoffman, Nick Adam and Chris Silva.
The movement began in 2002 when Matthew Hoffman shared 100 You Are Beautiful stickers among friends. Requests for more stickers started flowing in, and a decade later half a million stickers have traveled around the globe. The message went from stickers to murals, to public installations and exhibitions here and abroad. Read the rest of this entry »
Artist Ian J. Whitmore knows “nowhere” quite well. Growing up in Lincoln, Nebraska, where he also completed his undergraduate degree, and then moving to Bloomington, Indiana for an MFA in photography, the Midwesterner can quickly spot the public, commercial landscape of malls, industrial parks and corporate offices that feel eerily familiar yet completely void of meaning. In his solo exhibition, “Nowhere” at Johalla Projects, he explores the ubiquitous nature of those spaces emptied of meaning. His solo exhibition coincides with the unveiling of his photographs at the Damen Blue Line stop in Chicago’s Wicker Park area, which in and of itself is a “nowhere” space—a portal that people move through on a regular basis, yet forget even exists outside of the utilitarian function it serves. Read the rest of this entry »
Transforming six El cars into interactive art installations, the annual mobile pop-up exhibition “Art on Track” turned the scramble to find a spot on the train into an elaborate game of musical chairs, wherein rushing from car to car was both part of the fun and the project’s prime hazard. This year’s fare included an ambient summer-camp-themed installation starring a giant Lite-Brite sunset, a walk-in cabinet of curiosities complete with palm reader, and a live fashion shoot. More like perambulatory theater-meets-theme-party than site-specific contemporary art, the scenes in each car read like tableaux vivants, plopped into the train without rhyme or reason—not exactly a bad thing, since any imaginative modification to the Blue Line’s scummy, droll interior counts as an improvement. However, given the countless examples of riveting site-reflexive art that, by definition, respond to the specifics of a certain place, exploiting its inherent characteristics rather than taking them for granted, “Art on Track” had a lot of unrealized potential. In fact, some of the most interesting parts of the whole experience, so ripe for further investigation, like the uncanny feeling of traveling to no particular destination, were mere accessories, or even hindrances, to the actual work. Read the rest of this entry »
By Harrison Smith
More often than not, public performance art is a confusion. The term itself is a necessary muddle, a combination of “public art,” which seems to imply an art for the uninitiated, in contrast to that “private art” that gets displayed at galleries and museums, and “performance art,” that vague category of art that could be reasonably stretched to include everything from Andy Warhol’s “Exploding Plastic Inevitable” to the street performance of a man painted silver and disguised as a statue—at which point the better label might be “outsider public performance art” or, alternatively, “busking.” Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
Last autumn I asked Jessica Stockholder if she wanted to contribute, along with twenty-six other Chicago-based artists, to “Imaginary Monuments for Chicago,” an artists’ project of radical, experimental and non-disappointing designs for public sculptures, to be published in Newcity. I wondered if the new chair of the University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Arts might have an early viewpoint of her new home, but Stockholder politely declined. Now we can see Stockholder didn’t need to create an imaginary public art proposal, as she was soon to be working on a very real one. “Color Jam,” commissioned by the Chicago Loop Alliance, selectively covers the streets and buildings at State and Adams with enormous sheets of colored vinyl. The realization of “Color Jam” demonstrates an exact issue that the “Imaginary Monuments for Chicago” project interrogated: Artists dream bigger than the city can deliver.
The early sketch for “Color Jam” depicts a dynamic sculpture on the scale of Christo and Jeanne-Claude’s infamous wrapping works. Stockholder’s ambitious sketch shows a site-specific, hard-edged abstract painting that both obliterates and enhances the streets, sidewalks and buildings. On site, “Color Jam” is an entirely different type of spectacle, more parade than perceptual rupture. For what is being billed as the largest public artwork ever installed in Chicago, “Color Jam” is simply too small. One is not immersed in color, but dips a toe in it. The colors—blue, green and red—are ordinary. Too many elements—planters, windows, asphalt, signs—are left uncovered. Read the rest of this entry »
Alberto Aguilar: Proposal for “Working Class Uprise.”
By Jason Foumberg
On the heels of Marilyn Monroe’s burlesque appearance on Michigan Avenue, a citywide debate ignited over the value of our public art. Should public works send a meaningful message to the entire city and tourists alike, or should they be (merely) entertaining? Should public art challenge our taste levels—and whose taste levels, theirs or ours? That the Marilyn colossus opened up this discussion, once again, proved that our public art is an important slice of our city’s culture. And yet, many artists and art lovers felt defeated, even excluded, from the Marilyn worship. If public art is for all, why is it selected by a secret few?
In response to this increasingly polarizing situation, I asked Chicago-based artists to create an ideal public artwork.
These twenty-six responses are unpolluted by the committees, private interests and politicians that usher public sculptures to their often-neutered realization. Most of the artists featured here do not typically make traditional or monumental public artworks, so the submissions take the format of conceptual designs, sketches, and drawings posed as questions and critiques. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
Three unique library collections and archives sparked my interest this week. Such collections grow slowly and quietly over the years. Here, two are at least seventy years old and one is a fledgling five. The collections described below are maintained by individuals who clearly gain pleasure from their hoarding, and welcome the public to do the same.
The Imaginary Museum
In a well-known photograph from 1950, the French writer Andre Malraux stands before a small sea of images spread before him on his office carpet. His “imaginary museum” remixed the history of art as a virtual collage, one that could be re-ordered at will. “An art book is a museum without walls,” said Malraux, and this statement is writ large, like a rule, on the entry wall of the eighth floor of the Harold Washington Library, in the visual and performing arts division. A visitor to the library’s Picture Collection, located on this floor, could easily recreate Malraux’s style of temporary exhibition. The Picture Collection contains an estimated million-and-a-half images clipped and filed by category. There are over 10,000 subject headings organized alphabetically, for searching or browsing, and the images can be checked out like a book, taken home and pored over. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
Tony Tasset’s new sculpture, a thirty-foot eyeball installed in a downtown public plaza, is a masterwork in the surrealist tradition, a method of art-making now almost a century old. It is still effective. The giant eyeball disrupts—temporarily and safely—the usual workaday street life in this busy corner of the city. We could use more surprising interruptions like this colossal eyeball inserted into our well-worn footpaths. Read the rest of this entry »
By Jason Foumberg
On my daily walk I’ve noticed at least three varieties of kale growing in the city’s traffic islands and sidewalk planters, including the crinkle-textured dinosaur kale, which I know to be tasty when sautéed with lemon juice or cooked in an Italian soup. Chicago’s Department of Transportation tends these medians and planters, rotating the shrubs seasonally to upkeep our “city in a garden” motto. Kale can heartily withstand the colder climate, and so it is used decoratively this late autumn. I may have thought little more about the urban kale except I recently read Barbara Demick’s story in the November 2 issue of the New Yorker about a North Korean woman who survived the famine there in the early 1990s by foraging for weeds in her city’s streets and alleys. Communist leader Kim Jong-il could no longer distribute food to his citizens, so many had to get creative with their meals, such as Mrs. Song, who ate barely edible grass and dandelions every day. Read the rest of this entry »
By Bert Stabler
Upon entering the opening reception for the collective InCUBATE’s new exhibition/event at ThreeWalls, “In Search of the Mundane,” the eponymous search proved neither long nor arduous. The first room in the gallery featured a table with chairs, a coffeemaker with mugs and a handwritten description of the evening’s main event, a trivia contest. Along the sides of the main gallery were two rows of chairs, and, at the end, a table for the trivia contest judges. Facing the judges’ table, on the near wall, hung a giant crossword puzzle that InCUBATE members had ordered rush delivery from Sky Mall magazine when they realized they needed to hang something there. The contest started fairly promptly, and I joined up with two strangers in order to display our lackluster knowledge of Cold War history, details in Moby Dick, British portraiture, sci-fi movies and romantic comedies. Oh, and the gallery’s smaller project room featured darts and a dartboard. To be sure, while they might not know the point of staging these events in a art gallery, this seemed to be an art show that average everyday Americans could hardly claim not to “get.”
And that word “everyday” is entirely the point. InCUBATE began in 2007 as a project of four graduate students at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago: Ben Schaafsma, Abigail Satinsky, Roman Petruniak and Bryce Dwyer; their name is an acronym standing for Institute for Community Understanding Between Art and The Everyday. (Schaafsma passed away suddenly in 2008, but InCUBATE has continued, recently adding Matthew Joynt as a new fourth member.) Their mundane searching is informed by pragmatist philosophy. They draw inspiration from thinkers who combined theory with practice, such as Chicago’s own Jane Addams and John Dewey, as well as the eclectic Jesuit scholar Michel de Certeau and Allan Kaprow, the artist and writer best known for the so-called “Happenings” with which he was associated in the 1950s. InCUBATE’s place in contemporary art is among the ranks of “relational” artists, for whom the goal is not to generate artifacts or performances, but to facilitate interactive situations. Read the rest of this entry »