Exhibition Inquisition

The stuff you look at, but don't see.

Public Notice 3

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Art Institute of Chicago

Not-so-coincidentally Public Notice 3, by Jitish Kallat opened on September 11, 2010.  You probably remember what happened on September 11, 2001, but September 11, 1893 is also intrinsically important to this piece.  The words from a speech given by the Indian monk and social reformer Swami Vivekananda on September 11, 1893 have been illuminated in thousands of colored LED lights and set into the risers of the Woman’s Board Grand Staircase in the Art Institute.  The “landmark speech delivered at the first World’s Parliament of Religions, in what is now the Art Institute’s Fullerton Hall, by Vivekananda, who called for an end to all “bigotry and fanaticism.”” Another major element of this piece is therefore site-specificity.

Danger, danger, high voltage.

Vivekananda’s words are illuminated in five significant colors taken from the United States’ Homeland Security Advisory System.  It’s been a while since I thought about this color system, so I needed to refresh myself on the meaning/terminology.  Red = severe risk of terrorist attack, orange = high risk, yellow= elevated risk, blue = general risk, and green = low risk.  I kinda forgot about this institutionalized system of fear, and being reminded of it, I realize I can totally live without it.

I wonder what security level the Art Institute is operating at right now.

The message in this work is profound, meaningful, and especially timely—too bad the execution of the work is lacking.  What could have looked high-tech and modern, ended up looking like a cheap lite brite from the 90s.  I will concede that spending a lot of cash on something expensive placed at foot level also wouldn’t fly with me, so I forgive those responsible, and shall consider them frugal and realistic.  One well executed element is that no matter which of the four entrances up the stairs you enter (or exit) you read the same text; you read the whole speech regardless of the path you take.

Standart, they came up with that not me.

A colleague of mine stated Public Notice 3, looked like a cheap version of Jenny Holzer, and this seemed like a tired (done and done better) idea.  I know all about Jenny Holzer, mostly from the installation of her work in the Standard Hotel in downtown LA.  The medium might be similar, but the impact is totally different (mainly because of context: Museum vs. swanky hipster hotel).  To say that Holzer is completely original in using LED lights would also be incorrect; Baldessari was using scrolling LED light messages as early as 1968 in his Lighted Moving Message.

Vintage LED lights, in Pure Beauty.

And if you were wondering, there is indeed a Public Notice 2, and even an original Public Notice.  Number 1 was created in2003, and is made up of five mirrored panels and uses text from a speech given by Jawaharlal Nehru on the occasion of Indian independence from British rule on 15 August 1947.  Number 2, was created in 2008, and is also a physical manifestation of another historic speech, this one delivered by Mahatma Gandhi, on the eve of the epic Salt March to Dandi.  Kallat is an Indian artist, which is probably why he uses speeches from important Indian orators, but the themes in these speeches are (as corny as it sounds) universal, and very topical for an American audience.

Bad ad and small advertising budget.

Chicago art-going audiences might be over art installations on stairs.  Right now, just a few blocks away at the MCA, is another installation on their front stairs.  For the life of me (and almost a half hour of googling it) I couldn’t figure out who this installation was by. And then I read the words again; it says “form, balance, joy” in bubbely, bouncing letters—so it might just be a bad attempt at advertising their recent Calder show.   Apparently the MCA really likes doing the whole installation on the stairs thing and has done a few in the past.  I hope that people in Chicago aren’t bored of stair installations, because this one at the Art Institute is way different (and way cooler) the ones I’ve seen so far at the MCA.

– H.I.

P.S. here are some more photos of Public Notice 3, via the Art Institute’s Flickr, yes they have a Flickr, and yes I approve of them using social media in this way.  And look a blog post too!

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One Response

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  1. Nice shots of Public Notice3!

    You, unlike me, pulled back and got in the staircase(s). I wasn’t particularly interested in the staircases, nor did I find any particular coherence at work between the steps, the staircases, and the installation itself. The risers simply seemed like an unusual, efficient, and eye-catching place to install the lights!

    My shots of this can be found at

    http://pamelanmartin.wordpress.com/2010/11/27/joy-unspeakable/#comments

    Just loved stumbling upon this exhibit at the AIC; really quite surprised by it!

    wellcraftedtoo

    November 28, 2010 at 6:02 PM


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