When we talked about this gem, I pointed out a dilemma with public art: who decides when it has served its useful life?
At the risk of being publicly excoriated, I'm going to talk about murals. Murals that some of you may love.
But before we start I want to make sure you understand: I'm not a white wall fanatic. I'm not a gated-community board-member type who likes to tell people what color to paint the trim on their houses.
I LIKE art.
Some of my best friends are artists.
I think this puppy should go to mural heaven:The Chicago Public Art group recommends restoration of Under City Stone, although there is currently no funding for it. (The University of Chicago and the Southeast Chicago Commission have arranged funding to refurbish the murals under the 56th Street viaduct [Childhood is Without Prejudice, and Where We Come From...Where We are Going].) But even if there were thousands of dollars available I just can't see how restoration would work on this one, and whether we should spend money that way. After all, the above section is one of the only ones you can still see.
Most of it looks like this:
I suppose that professional restorers have found Rembrandts under paintings of dogs playing poker and have successfully, painstakingly brought the masterpiece to life.
But will you flay me for saying this isn't a Rembrandt? I mean, look at that guy's head in the middle of the segment below -- the guy who's tilting his face up, with the underbite (you may click the photo to enlarge). He looks like a cartoon next to everyone else. What's with THAT?
There are entire sections that are blocked out, to cover up tagging, so someone will have to find archived photos to try to reproduce what was there...
On the east end, the metra tracks leak onto the wall, so that the image AND whatever tagging was there are completely obliterated:
Here's what I think, taking as given that there are either public funds or private donations aplenty for public art (which there aren't):
5) We can document the different murals over time through extensive photos. Perhaps the Hyde Park Antiquarian Society would take on this job.
A Little Bit about the Mural:
In all the years Under City Stone has been up I've never read the poem above those poor downtrodden, mostly pregnant folks. To tell you the truth, as a kid I avoided looking at the mural at all, because it seemed to want desperately to disturb me, and I refused to comply. Besides, I always seem to be walking in the wrong direction or on the wrong side to actually read it, or I was in a car going west under the viaduct.
The artist is Caryl Yasko, who (through the ever trusty Google search) seems to be alive and well in Wisconsin.
The text is a poem by James Agee (1909 - 1955), with a fairly grim message about the alienation of commuting by subway -- a message I don't much agree with, after driving around L.A. in my car for a year (that's alienation).
Squealing under city stone
The millions on the millions run,
Every one a life alone,
Every one a soul undone:
There all the poisons of the heart
Branch and abound like whirling brooks
And there through every useless art
Like spoiled meats on a butcher's hooks
Pour forth upon their frightful kind
The faces of each ruined child:
The wrecked demeanors of the mind
That now is tamed, and once was wild.