Sunday, January 20, 2008

When Public Art Goes Bad


posted by Elizabeth Fama

Some of our readers may be entrenched enough in Hyde Park to remember the Virginio Ferrari sculpture that was in front of Woodward Court (now the home of the Graduate School of Business's Harper Center). It looked something like this when it was in one piece:

summer, 2004

I searched up and down on the Internet, and I could not find a photo of it in situ in its glory days. Even Virginio Ferrari has decided not to put it in his online portfolio. I did track down the actual sculpture, however, and it's living a modest but comfortable life in a little mechanical graveyard behind the steam plant on 60th and Blackstone. It looks like this:

January, 2008

You see, this sculpture happily served its useful life. It adorned the front of an ugly, squat dorm without upstaging it; over the years it supported thousands of college students reading a book between classes or flirting a bit; it even let a little girl climb on it nearly daily in the late 1970s on her way to the Laboratory Schools (as if she wasn't late enough). When it's useful life was over -- voila! -- the private owner (i.e. the University) simply retired it.

The sculpture below is publicly owned, so apparently, in spite of our pleas, it can't be removed.

And the mural below is not only publicly owned, but heaven help us, local and national organizations are fighting to refurbish it...whether we like it or not.

The Getty Foundation says, "The qualities that make these murals so distinctive -- their outdoor locations and the materials used to create them -- can hasten their disintegration and decay." Well, duh. That's why we should consider them transient art, and either give someone else a shot at the wall (in my opinion, a classically trained artist), or re-think the visual design of our underpasses entirely.


chicago pop said...

Interesting that M. Ferrari chose to excise his HVAC fantasia from his portfolio. Proof that we all need editing; it's just that for some of us, editing requires a junkyard and not a wastepaper basket.

Peter Rossi said...

the real sad story is that I'm forced to conclude that given the current policies, we should be against public art since if we get it we are stuck with it.

Again, where are our aldermen when we need them?

Elizabeth Fama said...

Peter, in the case of the murals, the aldermen are actually involved. The Chicago Public Art Group recommended (for example) restoring "Under City Stone" among others, and I think they're talking with the artist and looking for funds. The SECC and the University of Chicago have already put up funds to restore the 56th Street underpass mural (south). Preckwinkle is accepting proposals from artists and groups for the 47th Street underpass (which was painted white against the original street artist's wishes).

I'm just not convinced "Under City Stone" is worth restoring, but public art groups say it's a significant work (for being painted by one of the public mural pioneers).

Famac said...

Well, last time I checked Ace Hardway still sells black paint and rollers. So go ahead and restore it...

That steel sculpture was fun to play on when we were kids. At least it had that going for it.

Of course I thought a big cement wheel with a poll sticking out of it was art across the street from our house. I think it actually was a makeshift volly ball net brace.

Benoit said...

I thought that stuff outside my office window was construction material for the new cooling plant going in there. It's an old sculpture? Fascinating.