Exhibition Inquisition

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

Posts Tagged ‘public art

Home for the Holidays

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Art Institute of Chicago

Lances and chainmail have a lot to do with the holidays…

So I know, the holidays are over, and I missed this occasion slightly, but I still wanted to dish briefly, mostly to focus on the massive amounts of advertising the Art Institute did for this campaign.  If you’ve walked in the Loop past a vacant storefront building, you’ve surely seen the massive ads about what’s going on at the Art Institute for the holidays.  Or if you’ve been in a subway car recently you might have noticed.  You know how sometimes a single advertiser will buy out all the ad space in an entire subway car? You could be in a car with only blackberry ads and find yourself really needing the ability to BBM.  Well the Art institute did the same; one night I found myself overwhelmed with ads about something going on at the Art Institute called “Home for the Holidays”—there was even ads for it on the ceiling of the subway car.

Ads on the red line.

The “Home for the Holidays” campaign was a concise (cost effective?) way of promoting several new things at the museum rolled into one campaign.  Those things being: 1-the wreathing of the lions, 2 – the decorating of the Thorne Miniature rooms in holiday décor, 3 – the reinstallation of Chagall’s American Windows, and 4 – the installation of the museum collection of arms and amour.  And although Chagall’s stained-glass windows aren’t so holiday themed, they sure reek of holiday spirit compared to suits of armor and battle axes.

The curtains match the drapes (the ads match the wreaths)—it’s called branding.

The wreathing of the lions is a tradition now in its nineteenth year.  Last year (2009) the Art Institute mixed tradition up a bit and had a design firm create contemporary wreaths for the lions.  This year, the museum commissioned the Chicago-based firm Materious to design the lions’ holiday garb: giant cranberry wreathes. The rich pinks and reds are a strong punctuation on snow-filled Michigan Ave.  (The wreaths also light up at night, and are solar-powered, oh hey!) The wreaths look a whole lot better than what they do to the lions when any local sports team wins a championship, and a whole lot better than the shoddy decorations over at the Field.  Also notice how the wreaths match the graphics in the “Home for the Holidays” ad campaign.

Word doesn’t recognize the word “dreidel,” is word being anti-Semitic?

Be prepared to be underwhelmed with the holiday decoration of the Thorne Rooms.  (Full disclosure, I’ve always disliked the Thorne Rooms, but I know that a lot of people love them.)  Only a measly six of the rooms were decorated this year; the museum says it’s going to make this a tradition so eventually maybe all the rooms will be dressed up. The decorations are tiny (duh) but also very hard to see, the English Victorian Era room has a Christmas tree, and someone decided the rich people who own the midcentury modern California room are Jewish.

Smells like holiday spirit.

The Chagall windows really did come “Home for the Holidays;” they haven’t been seen for five years during the construction of the Modern Wing.  The museum also organized a small exhibition about the legacy of public art in Chicago with models and projects to accompany the windows’ return. The windows also went in for some heavy cleaning, shown in the video below.

The other things that came home (for the holidays) was a selection of the museum’s George F. Harding Jr. Arms and Armor Collection.  The installation is complete with a fully-armed knight on horseback, massive tapestries, and cannon.  While this installation has nothing to do with the holidays (come on, you know it doesn’t), the wall text gives a hint about to exciting things.  It reads: “This temporary installation of arms and armor […] Plans are underway for a larger permanent installation […] This new gallery will be part of a series of galleries that feature the museum’s important collection of medieval and Renaissance Art.”  Clearly some large-scale reinstallations are afoot at the Art Institute, ones that are probably going to affect large portions of its well-loved and loved-to-be-seen permanent collection of European art.  I wonder how this will affect the museum in the coming years.

Nothing says “Merry Christmas!” like a medieval battleaxe.

– H.I.

P.S. This story piqued my interest today.  Starting in June, the Art Institute is getting rid of its free Thursday evening hours, quoting low attendance as a factor.  Ahem, I have class on Thursday evenings across the street and know that the line to get in wraps around the building.  Okay, I’ll be fair: the museum spokesperson said not enough Chicago residents were coming on those evenings and that it was mostly out-of-towners. AKA people the museum wants visiting during regular hours and paying full ticket price.  “Taking free hours off the table was never an option,” said a spokeswoman—well legally you can’t (all museums in Chicago are required to offer 52 free days), so don’t pretend like you do this out of the goodness of your heart.

P.P.S  I’m on break in LA, so expect a full report from the West Coast in upcoming posts.

John Bannon “Transit” (2005)

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CTA Headquaters

When I first came to Chicago, I loved CTA, mostly because I have a U-Pass, which allows me to get  myself about without worrying about paying for ride fare.  Life was great and I was loving public transportation, reveling in it even (especially after LA Metro).  And then something horrible happened.  On the morning of Saturday the 16th, after a night of innocent fun (it may have been four in the morning…), I went to the Blue line to head home.  What happened?  The machine ate my U-Pass.  Suddenly CTA was not so amazing. Having to pay $2.25 for each measly hop on a bus or train was miserable.  Not as miserable as calling CTA Customer Service every day for five days straight trying to be polite as possible, culminating in a mad dash to CTA Headquarters in an attempt to pick up a well-deserved 7 day courtesy pass.  But no, CTA added insult to injury.  4:31 is the exact time I reached the CTA Headquarters, one minute after 4:30, and the security guard (who takes his job WAAAY too seriously) wouldn’t let me up to the second floor to pick up my pass.  After sharing some very appropriate words with Mr. Security Guard, I left, angry (in need of some retail therapy) and spent the rest of the weekend paying for each individual train and bus ride.  On Monday I finally picked up my courtesy pass (still waiting on that new U-Pass).  Thank god I have a blog where I can complain about this saga in such a public way.  Okay but for real this does have to do with an art installation.

Hold that thought.

When I returned to the CTA Headquarters on Monday, I noticed an art installation in their lobby (I hadn’t noticed it the first time because I was too enraged).  High above the lobby floor was what looked like an abstract mess of neon squiggels.  This knot of neon lines is ingeniously titled Transit (2005), and was commissioned for the CTA lobby from artist John Bannon.  It isn’t until you proceed to the second floor that the neon squiggles of Transit make sense.  Looking out over the lobby, you come face to face with a quaint scene of a train rumbling down a subway tunnel (in neon lights no less).  Oh yay! Some art to look at while you wait in this ridiculous customer service line!

Transit reminds me of the only thing I remember from my astronomy classes (yes, I’ve taken multiple).  There is this thing called “parallax.”  I don’t really know what it means but I remember the word, and remember how it was illustrated at the Griffith Observatory in a display called “A Familiar Star Pattern.”  In the display is an arrangement of lights which visitors can walk around.  The lights represent stars (duh) in a cluster.  Only when you stand in one particular spot do you realize this arrangement of lights slash stars is the big dipper constellation.  But if you view it from any other position you don’t see the big dipper.

It’s parallax! I think.

Transit works like the big dipper display at Griffith Observatory.  From below, all you see is a tangle of neon lights. When you stand directly in front of the installation, the neon strands magically arrange themselves into a scene with a train! How cool is that?  It’s actually really cool.  Then if you walk around (the parallax thing happens again) and the scene disappears.  But if you go around and view the work from an angle 90 degrees from the frontal view, you see another scene in neon, this time with a bus in it! Well this is fun.

If this effect isn’t called “parallax,” I don’t really care.

Accompanying Transit, in the hell that is CTA Headquarters, is one of those cows that are everywhere  in Chicago. This bovine is painted, very proactively, like a bus.  Chi-town was the first city to do this project, but now every city seems to have similar projects of painted animals (in San Francisco they have don’t have an animal, they have hearts, and in Palm Springs they have Bighorn sheep), my favorite is the town with beavers (this link is SO worth clicking).

I doubt anyone in the long-ass customer service line was looking at the artwork.  But you know what?—In Chicago, that doesn’t matter, art is everywhere in this city.  Public art is literally everywhere, and here is a brochure from the DCA to prove it.  Chicagoans are force-fed public art every single day.  Personally, I don’t mind the art feeding tube; I like seeing the Picasso everyday when I get off the blue line, and I’m not going lie; I love looking out over Millennium Park everyday at school.

This installation is so easy to navigate.

One last and actually really awesome (sarcasm? Me? Never!) thing about the neon CTA art: So that random cluster of neon lights that you see looking up at Transit from the lobby—It’s actually a map of the train system!  It’s parallax times three.  I don’t think many people know how cool this work is (and it took me many minutes of googling to find anything about it).  So now you know.  But it’s not like I’m encouraging you to take the convenient green line down to CTA Headquarters to see it, screw CTA.

– H.I.


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LAPD Headquarters


New Kids on the Block

After reading all of the reviews and discourse in the LA Times about Peter Shelton’s work, I knew I had to scuttle down to 1st and Spring streets to the new LAPD headquarters see what all the hoopla was about.  My mistake was two-fold: because I went at night, and also because when I chose to visit the new public artwork, it was completely surrounded by a temporary fence, which I think was installed to protect the setup for an inaugural event elsewhere on the headquarter grounds.


So I may have climbed up on a barrier to get this picture.

Seeing sixbeaststwomonkeys at night was nice in a way because all of the photos I had seen in the press were taken with lots of daylight.  I think the sculptures really change at night.  Anyone walking around downtown in the dark (no one but me is) should be creeped out by these eerie sculptures (especially the two “monkeys” which look to me like two crazy, long-legged Dali elephants). In terms of installation the works were surprisingly well-lit at night, in that awful municipal lighting that turns everything either black or yellow.  Good for me the sculpture are inky black anyways.


Urban Light is so much prettier.

Each of the eight pieces in the procession of sixbeaststwomonkeys is placed on a raised platform.  The eight platforms break through the long line of the stylobate-like steps that lead from sidewalk level up to the secondary pedestrian pathway.  All of this space functions to distance the building of the headquarters from the street; this construction is all about safety.  But I’m glad they used public art to beautify the space.


Is that your leg?—Oh no, it’s just a railing.

There are some things I did not care for in the installation of these works.  Running around all of the sculpture are railings.  I know these railings are functional, helping people climb the three measly step up, or helping visitors up ramps, but these railings really conflict with the sculptures.  The skinny metal poles of the rails look terrible with the skinny legs of the “monkey” figures.  The formal comparison the two skinny features is ugly.

Another thing I disliked about the installation was the spacing in between the parade of sculptures.  Going south along Spring Street, all the figures were equidistant from one another, but the last “monkey” was drastically separate from the rest.  This spacing was dictated by the service driveway that led up to the building, but it really divided the last “monkey” from his friends.


Driveway that ruined the spacing.

Finally my last issue with the installation of sixbeaststwomonkeys, and a major issue, is the way these sculptures are integrated into the landscaping of the site.  Directly in front of every sculpture is a tree.  And I mean, directly.  These little saplings are fairly short at the moment but they will grow, and their foliage will get fuller.  These plants completely obscure the sculpture from view!


Monkey hiding in a tree.

To be fair, the trees will probably be taller than the “beasts,” but the trees in front of the “monkeys” will completely overpower the sculptures, people on the street, even on the sidewalk won’t even notice the “monkeys.”   My question then is this: Why spend more than a million dollars on public art to decorate a space, if you then go and cover it with trees?

I know there has been much debate over sixbeaststwomonkeys, and that many of the people who work inside the new headquarters dislike it (yes I’m making reference to the “cow splat” comment), but I must say I think these works nicely adorn the contemporary façade of the new building.


Too swanky for a police headquarters, or just swanky enough?

The uneven windows of the building rise up behind the Shelton’s figures twisting the eye upward.  The “beasts” and “monkeys” of this work seem to function differently fro one another.  The “monkeys” operate similarly to the windows of the building, twisting upwards, while the massive “beasts” anchor the work securely to the space.

I think the critics should embrace sixbeaststwomonkeys, and if they don’t it is not as if there are that many pedestrians in that area passing them anyways…


How could you not love this?—It’s so endearing!

– H.I.

Written by exhibitioninquisition

November 3, 2009 at 9:44 AM