Sunday, May 11, 2008

Celebrate! Orisha Wall is Coming Down.

posted by Elizabeth Fama

Thank goodness -- no, thank Irene Sherr -- the dilapidated sculpture on the 55th Street median just west of Harper Avenue is finally going to be removed.

Orisha Wall by Muneer Bahauddeen, 1986
Soon to be demolished.

There's no date set for its removal yet, but it's official. The City of Chicago Department of Transportation has sent a letter to the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce requiring its removal.

How did this happen? I'm glad you asked.

1) Irene Sherr's interest was piqued because the bloggers at Hyde Park Progress were foaming at the mouth about this sculpture, and about the fact that, since it straddles the line of the 4th and the 5th ward, neither alderman seemed willing or able to tear it down.

2) Because she's a woman of action, Irene contacted a lawyer specializing in art and artists, and dug around for documentation on the sculptures.

3) Here's what she found:

a) The City of Chicago received funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 1986 for "Community Development Block Grant activities."

b) The Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce requested money for public art, and specifically for two sculptures -- the one that's coming down, and another created by Matt Freedman, that sits in Harper Court:

People Watching by Matthew Freedman, 1986.
(Interesting aside: Matt was paid less than half of what Muneer was paid. In fact, Matt was paid less than the amount it will take to remove Muneer's sculpture.)

c) As part of the 1986 grant agreement, the Hyde Park Chamber of Commerce was to keep at minimum $2,300 in escrow for the maintenance of the sculptures, or for their removal if the City requested it for any reason in the future.

4) Irene spoke with Jim Poueymirou at the Chamber of Commerce and with Robert Mason, at the Southeast Chicago Commission (SECC). Everyone agreed that something needed to be done, although another source told me that the Chamber initially thought maybe the sculpture should be saved and moved to an inside location (oy vay).

5) The SECC wrote a letter to the 4th and 5th ward aldermen, who both asked the Department of Transportation to check the condition of the sculpture.

6) The DOT wrote a letter to the Chamber saying "Due to the deteriorated state of the statue, the City requests that the Chamber either repair the statue or remove it from the property and restore the site." In that letter, the DOT estimated that the cost of removing the sculpture and restoring the median (which DOT will do) will come to $18,600.

7) Out of politeness (not a legal requirement), someone notified Mr. Bahauddeen that Orisha Wall was slated to be removed. He was disappointed. Apparently he has decided the decay is part of the artistic statement.

8) The Chamber of Commerce checked its coffers, and discovered -- oops -- there's only $1,200 in the escrow account.

9) Alderman Preckwinkle and Hairston offered to pay $9,000 each from their 2008 menu money.

10) The DOT says that removal and restoration of the median should occur this spring, this fall, or at the latest, next spring.

Post Script: in taking the second photo, I noticed that Matt Freedman's bronze sculpture, which is doing far better than Orisha Wall, is nonetheless in need of maintenance, or it too will begin to fall apart.

Um, Irene,...are you up for Round Two?


Zig & Lou said...

$18,600. To remove the decrepit pile of tile and to fix the median. What exactly is included in that fee? For that much perhaps they could leave a guy behind for the Summer to pick-up trash and pull weeds in the vicinity.

khs said...

Just another reason we love Irene!

SR said...

zig & lou, the 5th Ward TIF committee has been paying an organization called Clean Slate (it's a transitional work program for ex-prisoners) to pick up trash on 53rd Street, maybe they could expand to 55th? It might be worth asking for at the next TIF meeting. Although it sounds like we've got ward boundary issues along that stretch.

Raymond said...

$18,600 seems like a lot. You'd think they could just send out a guy with a sledgehammer.

I wonder if the piece has to be taken apart bit-by-bit and catalogued like an archaelogical find.

Famac said...

I'm pretty sure I could have Mark Dimpter do that job for less, and he's the most expensive contractor in Chicago (that doesn't work for Daley).

Anonymous said...

$18,600 sounds crazy but most of it is probably going towards pouring fresh concrete. Demo of the old cruddy statue is probably only about half the cost, probably less. Concrete work, unfortunately, is kinda pricey (especially in Chicago where everyone and their cousin is getting paid off).

It's weird that a decaying statue would be considered an artistic statement. I mean, I see where he's coming from, but realistically, why would someone want a decaying statue out in public? People want attractive artwork, not rubble. If he was that disappointed, he could have volunteered to come out and refurbish it for free. :-)

chicago pop said...

[S]omeone notified Mr. Bahauddeen that Orisha Wall was slated to be removed. He was disappointed. Apparently he has decided the decay is part of the artistic statement.

I'm glad this guy isn't making too much of a fuss. After all, for someone who is up-front about not expecting his art to last forever, this lovely piece of work had a 22 year run. For a piece of clay covered with bathroom tiles and exposed to the Chicago weather, that's pretty good, no?

Besides, the logic of this "shabby chic" decay thing "falls apart" pretty easily. Maybe that's intentional, as well. I mean, how do you define "decay"? Does it involve a backhoe? When does decay begin, and does it have to be the result of non-human action?

Can it be accelerated? If the final goal is non-existence of the work, why wait? Why not make a festival out of its spectacular destruction, a sort of artistic potlach that will bring the community together? Can I use a hammer to take a piece off to put on my mantlepiece, like the slab of Berlin Wall it would stand beside?

If it's understood that ashes to ashes and dust to dust, then I can't see why the dust part should be later rather than sooner.

Elizabeth Fama said...

C-Pop, the artist would have no legal grounds to make a fuss. The contract he signed gave him no rights over the sculpture (other than the copyright). The same document required the HP Chamber of Commerce to maintain the scuplture. I'm surprised that none of our readers are picking up on the thread that interests me: do we want public art that is so darned difficult to remove? Who will make sure the group that's supposed to maintain it is doing so?

Richard Gill said...

C'mon, people. What's all this worry about a Hyde Park Person "making a fuss?" Since when do people in this neighborhood fuss about things? Why, just the other day, I stepped in a clod of goose poop on Wooded Island. I picked up a stick off the ground, scraped the poop off my shoe and threw the poop-on-a-stick into a trash can. Only three people threatened to sue me for "misappropriation of nature's bounty." So, what's the big deal?

Raymond said...

OK, Elizabeth, I'll take us down the path you want to go, with a couple questions:

--If the aldermanic offices hadn't ponied up the extra money, what would've happened? Nothing?

--Are the contracts being signed for public art today as onerous as the one signed for this sculpture? How about the one renovated "egg" sculpture in Nichols Park or the new murals we're getting? Anybody know?

chicago pop said...

Total change of subject:

The U of C just bought Harper Court.

Price: $6.5 million.

matt said...

Guess what I found today? The University bought Harper Court! Ohhhhhh snap. Things are gonna get interesting now!

Anonymous said...

Great stuff............

chicago pop said...

I'm surprised that none of our readers are picking up on the thread that interests me: do we want public art that is so darned difficult to remove? Who will make sure the group that's supposed to maintain it is doing so?

This is a good question, and Elizabeth has gone some way towards clarifying how this issue might be approached in future -- i.e., retire and rotate them.

Part of the answer may be problems we have seen elsewhere as far as the accountability of various community organizations. The dilapidation of Orisha Wall/Dream/Nightmare reflects as poorly on the HP Chamber of Commerce, whatever the hell that is, as it does on the artist who did not design with climate-appropriate materials. Let's promote business in the community by letting a glazed anthill fall apart at a central neighborhood intersection. Testimony right there to the relevance of THAT organization.

People make decisions, then disappear, and the rest of us are stuck.

I think that can be said in the case of most of the underpass murals that have also been discussed on this blog. They start to deteriorate, we're left figuring out what to do, then some dude pipes up post-facto from the west coast, east coast, or Racine, Wisconsin "Hey, don't mess with my cheese."

Mike said...

It probably would have been much cheaper if they had decided to do it a little earlier and combined it with the project that removed the median and added a turn lane on 55th just east of the sculpture.