Monday, February 11, 2008

Public Art and its Artists

posted by Elizabeth Fama

I harp a lot about, um, disappointing public art. So you can imagine how fun it was to find these photos in the University's Archival Photographs collection.

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There are no dates on these photos, but the clothing looks like it's from the early 1960s to me. Above you can see Gary Wojcik with what is labeled his "prize winning" fountain sculpture for the park at 55th Street and Kimbark Avenue (Nichols Park). You'll recall that Chicago Pop was merciless in a previous post, nicknaming it Medusa at Rest. The photo on the left above was taken at the "Garden Show," so I assume that's a non-functioning prototype of the winner.

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This is Jerome Skuba with his entry for the park on 54th and Blackstone Avenue (Spruce Park). I remember this sculpture from my childhood. So I walked by Spruce Park the other day to visit it (OK, I really wanted to snap an unflattering photograph of it), and lo and behold, it's gone. Now how do you suppose that happened in our Nothing-Must-Ever-Change neighborhood? It gives me hope that another little eyesore might disappear soon, too.

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And last, but not least, here is Yvonne R. Hobbs with what must have been a runner-up in the contest. The archives indicate she proposed it for Nichols Park, but I presume she lost out to the dynamic Medusa. Her creation would have been six feet tall; a nice, sharp, rusted steel climbing object for generations of children. But I have to admit: I want her glasses.

All photos: Archival Photofiles, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago. Archive number appears below each photograph in brackets.


Richard Gill said...

My main objection to so-called public art -- in this neighborhood, at least -- is that it is usually vandalized, and the "public artists" (let's be polite and call them that) don't repair the vandalism nor maintain their artworks. Witness the murals under the railroad viaducts. Non-maintained public art is a blight.

I also don't like "public art" that's laced with political-message content (again, the murals), but that's my own opinion.

Anyway, all the artists in Elizabeth's post appear to be glum, introspective, and horribly burdened. Oh, I forgot, that's the Hyde Park "look". Wojcik's item looks like a really bad haircut; Skuba's summons up a number of adjectives, among which are bilious, malignant, libidinal, extraterrestrial, and six-weeks-after-use-by-date. Hobbs's is (what else?) a dead pterodactyl. She looks like she just lost her favorite pet.

Raymond said...

When I've criticized art before, I usually get strongly reprimanded by those in the art community as "small-minded" and "uneducated" about art. I wonder what true art critics like Alan Artner at the Tribune would say about the public art in Hyde Park.

Regardless, it wouldn't change my opinion. Most (but not all) of the public art in Hyde Park makes me feel like I'm at the UIC campus circa 1980.

chicago pop said...

Did Jerome Skuba work for Hannah-Barbera? His blob looks like Dino from the Flintstones. Maybe this mock-up got him in the door in Saturday morning cartoons.

Don't know why it disappeared, unless an alien ship landed one night and abducted the sculpture, reclaiming one of its own.

chicago pop said...

Great photos that suggest so much: the sculptures pictured are representative of modernism become orthodoxy, as appropriated by one of the last pre-68 generations. It is truly "establishment," or the European modernism of pre-WWII become the stuff of midwestern American art classes and design competitions. These are different critters from the monstrosity on the 55th St. median, though all are equally unappealing.

But it does explain the glum looks of the artists noted by Richard Gill and the overall gloominess of the works -- these were young folks appropriating their parent's Cold War anxieties and the high modernist style that went with it.

They both became unfashionable just a few years later.

Elizabeth Fama said...

The issue that I'll have to discuss more thoroughly in the next public art intstallment is the difficulty we seem to have in taking public art down. If we don't consider public art to be something that is retired or rotates, we (I, at least) will not want it at all.

Right now the aldermen and Irene Sherr, together with the help of a lawyer specializing in representing artists and collectors, and the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, are all trying their best to take down the monstrosity on 55th Street. In order to speed the process, Irene is looking into whether it can be deemed a safety hazard.

If it takes such heroic calisthenics to remove something that has completely fallen apart, it makes me want nothing to go up, unless someone promises me it can come down.

chicago pop said...

Right now the aldermen and Irene Sherr, together with the help of a lawyer specializing in representing artists and collectors, and the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce, are all trying their best to take down the monstrosity on 55th Street.

Elizabeth, I think the details of this process would be an excellent post and I look forward to reading it almost as much as to seeing Orisha Nightmare replaced by smooth concrete.

You're right, that's a lot of trouble to go through to remove something that has apparently been abandoned by both its creator and its owner.

When the City lets someone use public space, and then doesn't maintain what gets put in that space, it just sends a bad signal all around.

Raymond said...

Gary Wojcik appears to be alive and well and creating art in Ithaca, NY, these days. There's a web site with some of his work on it (google him and you'll find it). Interesting, the style is similar, but I like his newer stuff better than the Nichols Park sculpture!

Elizabeth Fama said...

I found Ms. Hobbs, too. She's still working -- also in the state of New York. You can find her more easily if you use her middle name, Robare. I could not find Mr. Skuba.