2017 Chicago Cultural Center Exhibit/ The Pride and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art

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The Pride and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art

Temporary Exhibition: February 25 to July 30, 2017.

Location:Landmark Chicago Gallery, Ist Floor, Chicago Cultural Center.

Curated by Cultural Historian of Chicago: Tim Samuelson.

Part of Celebration of 2017 as as The Year of Public Art.

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Gallery Talk by Tim Samuelson / Pride and Perils of Chicago's Public Art.

Gallery Talk by Tim Samuelson / Pride and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art.

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The Pride and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art

Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events [DCASE] have designated 2017 the “Year of Public Art.”  To celebrate, a series of events have been organized throughout the year, which includes exhibitions, performances, and tours to various public art sites. The Chicago Cultural Center is currently hosting five separate exhibitions on the theme of the the Year of Public Art. On of them is the exhibition  “Pride and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art” on the Ist Floor – Landmark Chicago Gallery – of Cultural Center.

The exhibition “Pride and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art” gives a historical perspective on public art in Chicago, illuminating major stories from the oldest known piece [Waubansee Stone], to the most recent trend of Big Wall murals in Wabash Arts Corridor in South Loop. It takes a broader look at the scope of public art, to include architectural sculptures, frescoes and murals, apart from traditional sculptures and fountains. The exhibition highlights the most remarkable stories of public art in Chicago, that contributes to making the city one of the most sought after cultural destinations in the country.

The exhibition is curated by Tim Samuelson, the Cultural Historian of the City of Chicago. Apart from being a historian, he is a preservationist, a curator, and an authority on everything related to art and architecture of Chicago and beyond. To add, he is one of the best story-tellers, who effortlessly captures the attention of the audience as he narrates the context of a particular piece of art, which helps a better understanding and appreciation of it. Most admirable is his wealth of knowledge of not only significant historical events, but also obscure trivia, that he readily shares with the audience, making his talks all the more interesting.

On February 24, 2017, on the Opening Day of the exhibition, I attended the Gallery Talk by none other than the curator Tim Samuelson. Needless to say it was awesome. What I was really interested in is the selection-process, or the reasoning behind the choice 10-12 art-pieces, whose stories make up for the exhibition. To narrow down the selection to just a few, from a vast collection of about a thousand pieces of public art in Chicago is a tough call! What make these pieces remarkable – was my central focus, as I explored the exhibition. Here some extraordinary stories of Chicago’s public art featured in the exhibition..

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Oldest documented example of public art - the Waubansee Stone.

Oldest documented example of public art – the Waubansee Stone. Now belongs to the Chicago Historical Society, and is not in public view.

 

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The exhibition begins with the oldest documented example of public art in the city – the Waubansee Stone – a granite boulder, carved with an enigmatic face. It belongs to the Pre Chicago Fire era, and was found at the site of Fort Dearborn, at the intersection of Wacker Drive and Michigan Avenue. But whose portrait is it, remains a question? There are various interpretations ranging from portrait of Pottawattmic Chief Waubansee, to mooring stone of Viking ship, to the most whimsical being space alien. The Waubansee Stone now belongs to the Chicago Historical Society, and is not in public view anymore.

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Architectural Sculpture

Architectural Sculpture / Portrait heads by German artist Frederick Almenreader at Garrick Theater building

 

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It is often said that in Chicago, if you want to see true art, you don’t always have to visit an art gallery, you just have to LOOK UP! The exhibition shines light on architectural sculptures in Chicago. The work of two artists, who worked with terra cotta are included: Frederick Almenreader and Fritz Albert.

Frederick Almenreader came to Chicago from Germany in the 1960s, at a time opportunities to create artistic sculptures were rare. In 1891, he got a project to make 15 terra cotta portrait heads of German cultural icons to adorn the Schiller Building [later the Garrick Theater], an early skyscraper designed by designed by Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler. The project showcased his skill, and also gave him an opportunity to honor the cultural heritage of his native homeland.

Interestingly the inclusion of portrait heads at Garrick Theater, not only expands the scope of public art to include architectural sculptures, but also highlights another very important aspect of public art – preservation! In 1960, the Garrick Theater was razed to ground and replaced by parking garage. The demolition instigated large public outcry and is said to be instrumental in initiating the first wide spread preservation efforts in the city! Most of the heads are now saved and can be found in various buildings. Most prominent are the four heads built into the entrance of the Second City comedy club at 1616 N. Wells Street. However, the identity of most of the heads remain elusive.

 

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Reebie Storage Warehouse

Reebie Storage Warehouse / sculptural ornamentation by Fritz Albert

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The inclusion of Reebie Storage Warehouse building in the exhibition on Public Art, caught me by surprise!  But then, it is the sculptural ornamentation of this building that has contributed to its listing in the National Register of Historic Places in 1979, and designation of a Chicago Landmark status in 1999. The building is one of the country’s finest examples of the Academic Egyptian Revival style, with highly accurate use of ancient Egyptian imagery and hieroglyphics. It was built by a storage and moving company founded by John and William Reebie, who are represented by the twin statues of Pharaoh Ramses II. The terra cotta ornament was crafted by sculptor Fritz Albert, who was trained in Berlin, and came to Chicago to work in 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition.

In the 1920s there was a wave of Egyptomania across the world. The discovery of King Tutankhamen’s tomb in 1922, set a trend of the Egyptian Revival style. However, it is important to note that the Reebie building design was commissioned before King Tut’s tomb’s discovery in 1922. Construction of Reebie building began a year earlier in 1921. The Egyptian Revival style of Reebie building is pre-Tutankhamen phenomenon.

However, even though it important to include architectural sculptures within the scope of Public Art, its core is still three-dimensional stand alone sculptures. These maybe carved, welded, molded or cast, or a combination thereof. The exhibition has compelling stories of a few Chicago sculptures including:  “Indian Alarm” by John J. Boyle, ” Lincoln Memorial”  by Augustus Saint-Gaudens, “Fountain of Time”  by Lorado Taft,  “Victory Monument” by Leonard Crunelle, and “Untitled” by Pablo Picasso. Each of these has a remarkable story about art itself, and the artist involved.

 

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Indian Alarm - by John J. Boyle

Indian Alarm – by John J. Boyle

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Public art is a reflection of our society, our culture, and our collective memory. Art is a response to socio-cultural environment at a particular period of time. But sometimes art can be ahead of its time, and shape public opinion. Case in point is bronze sculpture “The Alarm” by John J. Boyle. It was commissioned by Martin Ryerson, a wealthy lumber baron, who traded fur with Native American of the Ottawa Nation. In the 1880s Ryerson chose public art as a way to make a powerful statement of respect for Native American people and culture during an era when atrocities and injustice were rampant. He even sent the sculptor Boyle to live among the relocated Native Americans to prepare for creating the monumental sculpture of a native family. He gave instructions to show the strength and defiance in the figures. The sculpture was dedicated in 1884. It shows a family in alert readiness against all threats – animal, natural, human. The inscription on the base reads: “To the Ottawa Nation of Indians, my early friends.” The Alarm is located besides Chicago’s lakefront bike path, south of Belmont Avenue.

 

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Lincoln Memorial

Lincoln Memorial – by sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens, and architect Stanford White.

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Lincoln Memorial  is widely considered to be the most significant nineteenth-century sculpture of Lincoln.    This monument  influenced a generation of sculptors due to its innovative combination of a natural-looking Lincoln — depicted deep in thought as he is about to begin a speech — with a Classical-style architectural setting. It is the work of two nationally-important American designers: sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens,  and architect Stanford White.

 

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The Fountain of Time - by Lorado Taft

The Fountain of Time – by Lorado Taft

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Any discussion on Chicago’s public art has to include Lorado Taft! Chicago based sculptor Lorado Taft devoted his life advocating and advancing the cause of Public Art. His Midway Studio in Hyde Park – which now is designated as a Chicago Landmark – became a place for the creation of many well known public art, including this monumental “Fountain of Time”.  This happens to be one of my favorite pieces of public art of all times. Its huge.  Making of large scale sculptures require many helping hand. Taft assembled a team of assistants, who later had distinctive careers of their own.  This piece was constructed  between 1913 and 1920.  It is inspired by Henry Austin Dobson’s poem, “Paradox of Time.” “Time goes, you say? Ah no, Alas, time stays, we go.”  The sculpture features people in various stages of life, passing as a procession. Whereas time standing still in a hooded robe observes. A phenomenal piece of public art. One of the best, anywhere in the world, right here in Chicago!

 

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Victory Monument  - by Leonard Crunelle

Victory Monument – by Leonard Crunelle

 

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Victory Monument was erected to honor the achievements of the Eighth Regiment of the Illinois National Guard, an African-American unit that served in France during World War I as part of the 370th U.S. Infantry. It first state-sponsored memorial to African-American veterans of World War I. The monument is the site of an annual Memorial Day ceremony. The Monument is a collaborative design of sculptor Crunelle and architect John Nyden. The bronze sculpture was made by Leonard Crunelle. The original granite and bronze monument was erected in 1927. It was dedicated on Armistice Day [November 11th] in 1928. However, the soldier on top was added in 1936 and dedicated to all the Black soldiers who died in the war.

Leonard Crunelle was born in France in a coal-mining town that was destroyed in World War I. His family emigrated to the US in 1882. Here he became student of noted Chicago sculptor Lorado Taft, and helped him in the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago. After the Fair, Leonard took whatever daytime jobs he could get and attended the Art Institute night classes. Soon he flourished as an independent  artist. His other important work is the Sculptural Fountains – Crane Girl, Fisher Boy, Dove Girl and Turtle Boy – in Grant Park.. click here..

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Works Progreess Administration

Works Progress Administration

 

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Artists were among the professional groups hard hit by the Great Depression of the 1930s. The Federal Government’s Works Progress Administration [WPA] set up a special division to allow artists to create artworks for public buildings. The Depression era programs set the foundation for the current art policies at the municipality, state and federal level.

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Untitled -  by Pablo Picasso

Untitled – by Pablo Picasso

 

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The first modern monumental sculpture to be placed in the Loop is this Untitled sculpture by Pablo Picasso. It was unveiled in the Civic Center Plaza on August 15, 1967. The artist, Pablo Picasso left it untitled, but Chicagoans named it after the artist, calling it the “Picasso”.

This sculpture was initially greeted with lots of controversies. At the time of its installation in 1967, the abstract design, the non-traditional materials and huge scale were all subject of scorn and ridicule. Art scholars have suggested that the statue is either a portrait of Picasso’s wife at the time or his Afghan dog from different angles. Some even interpret it as a horse, a baboon or a Viking Ship. On the floor of City Council, Alderman John J. Hoellen proposed that Picasso Picasso should be replaced by a giant statue of Chicago Cubs player Ernie Banks. While opinions of the sculpture’s subject matter vary, it is acknowledged as a monumental achievement in Cubism.

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Wabash Arts Corridor

Wabash Arts Corridor

 

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Perhaps the latest trend in Chicago’s Public Art is the Big Wall murals in the Wabash Arts Corridor [WAC]. It began in 2013, when Columbia College launched the project. The idea was to immerse students in the creative spirit by using urban spaces and reclaimable resources to revitalize and transform the South Loop business district into one of the city’s major cultural assets. The Wabash Arts Corridor encompasses cultural institutions, schools and art spaces. It is now a Living Urban Canvas.

Each public art story included in the exhibition is very compelling.
Together they present an overarching glimpse of public art in Chicago, its broad scope and remarkable stories.

Personally for me, it holds a special place as the first time, my photo has been included in an exhibition, the image of Indian Alarm – by John J. Boyle [Image below].

Also I have written about another exhibition at Cultural Center..
Eugene Eda’s Doors for Malcolm X College / Chicago’s Hidden Cultural Gem Now Open to Public at People’s Palace… click here..

 

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Indian Alarm - by John J. Boyle

Indian Alarm – by John J. Boyle

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RELATED LINKS

Exhibitions at Chicago Cultural Center.. click here..
Temporary Exhibitions.. click here..
Home: Public Art in Chicago.. click here..

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Fragments from Garrick Theater.. click here..
Reebie Storage Warehouse.. click here..
Indian Alarm – by John J. Boyle.. click here..
Lincoln Memorial.. click here..
Fountain of Time – by Lorado Taft.. click here..
Victory Monument – by Leonard Crunelle.. click here..
Untitled – by Pablo Picasso.. click here..
Wabash Arts Corridor.. click here..

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1 Comment to “2017 Chicago Cultural Center Exhibit/ The Pride and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art”

  1. Why on earth is the Waubansee Stone not on public view any more? There is national interest in it, and could at this point in time be a primary tourist attraction for the Chicago History Museum. Its questionable origin only increases the public’s interest.

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