Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Retire and Rotate, part II: there's hope for rotation.

posted by Elizabeth Fama

As you may have noticed, the embankments and viaducts along Lake Park Avenue are being refurbished lately. The embankment walls are new (although I noticed they are only a veneer of stone over [gasp] concrete), and there's going to be fresh landscaping. The viaducts themselves are being shored up, with something called a steel frame "bent" system, and there will be more and better lighting. Progress is sweet.

TIF Council rendering of 55th Street viaduct from Lake Park Ave.

Ah, but what about the art, you ask? Is that being refubished as well? Or are we doomed to viewing outdated, peeling, vandalized murals for all eternity? Good question -- I'm proud of you. And as it turns out, we're taking a baby step towards "retiring and rotating" our public art.

Caryl Yasko's 1972 mural Under City Stone (north wall of 55th Street underpass) is unfortunately slated for restoration, once the Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG) finds a donor. But across the way, on the south wall, Albert Zeno's Alewives and Mercury Fish is blessedly being retired. In its place, and on both walls of the 53rd Street viaduct, there will be 8-foot by 12-foot digitally-printed color art panels by four artists: Terry Evans, John Himmelfarb, Calvin Jones, and Margaret Burroughs. The University of Chicago is paying for the panels. The art was chosen by a team from the CPAG, the Hyde Park Art Center, and the South Side Community Art Center.

Aspiration, by John Himmelfarb.

On the Beach, by Margaret Burroughs.

OK, so these particular pieces wouldn't have been my curatorial choices, you all know that by now. But I'm really happy that we're inching our way towards the "Retire and Rotate" principle in public art, since the panels can eventually be removed and replaced when they get worn, vandalized, or when we're simply tired of them.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for keeping us all up on this Beth! It *is* encouraging that they're doing this new installation in panels--although, are we sure it's really being done that way to make it possible to get rid of them at some point? Also, is there no court of appeals to get rid of the other horrible mural? Probably not.

I just don't understand why Hyde Park can't get anything nice in its underpasses. If you've exited Lake Shore Drive at Bryn Mawr in the last...I don't know, at least year, maybe longer...they have a gorgeous sparkly tile mosaic. I am feeling underpass envy.

Zig & Lou said...

I like the idea of a public public art court of appeals. It would make for great public access TV.

Zig & Lou said...

As a HPH viaduct art bonus update see the article on page 1 today.

Anonymous said...

Another smashing edition of Letters to the Editor in the Herald this week. I always skip right to this section to see my favorite characters duke it out.

Nice to see that Treasure Island is definitely opening. Anyone going to the grand opening Saturday?

Elizabeth Fama said...

Cate, in answer to a question you asked me personally, the 53rd and 51st Street underpasses are part of the next "phase" of refurbishment, and the murals (or, we can hope, removable panels) plus their financing are as yet not negotiated.

jimmyjack said...

I'd like to weigh in briefly on the discussion of murals and other public art projects underway in the underpasses of Hyde Park and Kenwood/Oakland. I think the complexity of the area is well served by a layering of historic murals and contemporary art practices.

1) Hyde Park was an early site of some extraordinary murals. They are powerful, even disturbing to some; wonderful examples of the ability of artists to encourage us to notice, think, and act in the world. The murals underline the experience of walking under the underpass, position viewers and passersby in the urban world, and reveal long understood truths about the human spirit at work in the global environment. Some, especially on 55th, are in serious need of buffing up. This summer will see them restored, updated, and looking good! The original artist, Caryl Yasko, will lead the work on Under City Stone. If you have photos or memories of the original 1972 painting, CPAG would love to have them for the archives. Two beautiful and deeply meaningful murals on 56th Street will be restored as well.

2) The tentatively titled Art Panels were curated with the Hyde Park Art Center and the South Side Community Art Center. They will bring studio practices of south sides artists to a semi-permanent public exhibition. Not everyone has to love every piece...that's a good thing, too. This is, after all, Hyde Park.

3) We're producing a series of mosaic panels for the pedestrian underpass of LSD at 57th Street. Those mosaics, done with area youths, will explore images of nature combined with the portraits of eccentric HPer's-- "natural" Hyde Park.

4) At 47th Street, a TBD public art project will beautify this underpass by the end of summer. Watch for unfolding details shortly.

A shoutout to Cate Plys for noticing the CPAG project under LSD at Bryn Mawr. It was produced last summer, is beautiful, will be doubled this summer across the street, and could be replicated (as a process) in HP. Take a trip north. It is worth it.

Finally, CPAG is soliciting funding to support the restorations and the mosaics. Your donation is tax deductible, will be credited (unless you crave anonymity), and will be valued as the refurbishing of these many underpasses are completed...THIS SUMMER!

Interested in helping us raise money? Just say so!

Jon Pounds
Chicago Public Art Group

chicago pop said...

First of all, you want my money?

Um, no.

I happen to think that not all empty space needs to be decorated. I also happen to think that if it is, it better be damn good. That means no schoolchildren with broken pot shards gluing them to a wall, and people with some basic competency. Otherwise, leave it blank, or give me real graffiti. This cartoonish stuff is just a joke.

We managed to get amazing public art in the 30's, stuff that will stand the test of time, instead of cave art that was done when nobody was watching.

I've seen Diego Rivera's work. Caryl Yasko is no Diego Rivera.

chicago pop said...

4) At 47th Street, a TBD public art project will beautify this underpass by the end of summer. Watch for unfolding details shortly.

You obviously have control of my public space.

Please don't give me a headache.

Elizabeth Fama said...

(Oh, gosh, what a quandary for a cynical blogger.)

Jon, you're clearly working hard on this project, and you're passionate about what you do. I appreciate that you wrote in to give us the added information.

However...I sincerely dislike Under City Stone, I feel that CPAG decided it was "important" without considering its artistic merits, and I thoroughly disagree that "disturbing the viewer" is a good outcome for viaduct art.

jimmyjack said...

“Disturbing to some"....my phrasing to eat, if it needs to be eaten. Let me chew on that idea a bit.

Public art can express many things. Civic or national pride. Historic moments. Delightful human wonder. And much more. Artists are itchy, exploring the very ideas that bring us comfort-- and discomfort.

From a Jungian point of view, if something external is disturbing or unsettling, it is the Shadow; that thing represents something unresolved within oneself. Nothing judgmental in the idea, but a useful observation about how public art works on our collective psyche.

I will propose that we do not want only public art that does not disturb anyone. That is just too safe. If one accepts that proposition, then the questions become, "When or what are we willing to express that is unsettling?"

I easily propose simple rules that public art should not express racism, sexism, or homophobia; those being categories for which we have broad cultural congruence. That said, there are many ideas that we are still wrestling with. The oppressive ubiquity of war as a force that constrains life (Under City Stone) is, I believe, salient. The lasting effects of environmental degradation on low income communities and the extraordinary spirit of women in raising the world (Alewives and Mercury Fish) is still unresolved. The anonymity of urban life (Agora by Magdalena Abakanowicz in Grant Park) is an opposite view to urban life to the specificity of Yasko's painting, and a useful comparison--neither of them being wrong.

I think it is important not to compare public art only to the work of Los Tres Grandes (Orozco, Siqueiros and Rivera), or to the great WPA work that was produced at about the same time. Public art is a dialogue that continues until the particular idea is resolved. We no longer need or make statues of men on horseback; other ideas are now in play. But, we do not choose to destroy all the statues of men on horseback, even when they honor such questionable characters as Balbo. Would I support the destruction of the monument to Balbo? Now that is an intense theoretical question?

With affection for the thoughtfulness of others.


Elizabeth Fama said...


The text for Yasko's mural is James Agee's poem "Rapid Transit" (c. 1937). It's not about war at all, as far as I can tell. Are you saying Yasko interpreted it to be about war?

An English professor named Donald Ross at the University of Minnesota says of the poem:

"The alienation of commuting by subway is symbolic of a general change and adaptation to urban life, and introduces a new kind of disorder into an apparently regular society."

Some of the text of "Rapid Transit" can be found at the end of one of my old blog entries. As I mentioned there, commuting by rapid transit is much, much less alienating than commuting by car (which James Agee couldn't have known in 1937), so I don't even agree with the message of the poem.