Monday, September 22, 2008

Mural Progress

posted by Elizabeth Fama

At the end of July, an artist named Rahmaan "Statik" Barnes -- with several assisting artists -- painted the new mural under the 47th Street viaduct. The mural was sponsored by Alderman Toni Preckwinkle (4th), Chicago Department of Transportation, and Metra, and produced by the Chicago Public Art Group. It replaces a controversial, slightly unfinished "street art" mural that had been whited out.

The new mural has images of Jean Baptiste Pointe du Sable, Gwendolyn Brooks, and a bunch of ordinary Hyde Park/Kenwood residents on bikes, at the beach, and on foot. It's a consistent, high-effort product, and for that I give it props. It's still not my favorite style of art, and like many murals in Chicago it has a sort of two-dimensional "collage" aesthetic -- that is, the activities are linear, like ancient Egyptian art, and unrelated to each other -- and problems with anatomy and perspective; but it's upbeat, bright, and colorful.

There's a section that seems to pay homage to my least-favorite mural ("Under City Stone" on 55th Street), but unlike Caryl Yasko's depressing, dated work, the subjects of this 47th Street mural are reasonably happy, the worker appreciates his job, and there's a positive view of public transportation.

The question of whether painted murals are the right medium for underpasses remains, however. There are dripping stains above the image of the Metra train that are only going to get worse over time. That's not a problem if you perceive mural art to be transient, as it should be, but the Chicago Public Art Group (like many Hyde Parkers) seems to think every piece of public art is historic and worthy of preservation.


Richard Gill said...

"...[many Hyde Parkers seem] to think every piece of public art is historic and worthy of preservation."

Just like they want to preserve every old building, regardless of decay and degradation.

What happens when these new murals don't get properly maintained? I know, there are supposedly built-in commitments for maintenance, but I'll believe it when I see it.

Speaking of public art, isn't that thing in the middle of 55th Street supposed to be removed by now?

ScottM said...

I ride past this everyday on my bike and simply hate the fact that I don't see one Caucasian in the mix.

I know I'll rot in hell for writing this but I'm shocked that the "artist" needs to overlook such a large percentage of the population (& couple this mural with the store mix/vacancies in the two retail strip malls directly on the other side of the tracks makes a very wrong impression of our neighborhood.)

I'm very surprise the Preckwinkle allowed this one to go up.

Elizabeth Fama said...

Since posting this I've learned that the mural content came from an RFP that the Chicago Public Art Group developed in response to meetings with residents from north and south Kenwood. Residents also reviewed the work that the artists submitted in response to the RFP, and selected the final artist.

There's a prominent Asian face in the mural, and a couple of Hispanic faces. The fairer-skinned faces are Sicilian, at best. ;-)

mchinand said...

"Speaking of public art, isn't that thing in the middle of 55th Street supposed to be removed by now?"

There are some spray paint markings on that median that I assume are in preparation for its removal, but I think they've been there for a couple weeks, at least.

chicago pop said...

I gotta say I like these murals. Much better than what came before, and the other stuff at 55th and 57th Street.