Chapman Kelley calls the Chicago, IL Grant Park wildflower garden he created more than 20 years ago “my Mona Lisa.”
The 66,000-square-foot plot of 45 different kinds of species splashed yellow and purple when in full bloom was once called a “magnificent piece of art.” by then Mayor Harold Washington.
But is the garden — or was it, before the Chicago Park District halved it — art by legal definition? Can you own art, does the buyer/commisoner own it and therefor destroy it when it sees fit to? Those questions and more go before a federal judge today in regards to the lawsuit filed by Mr. Kelley.
In consideration is the federal Visual Artists Rights Act which protects the destruction or alteration of works of art of “recognized stature”. The city posits that the law awsa created to protect outdoor paintings, murals & sculpture and not to protect gardens. Mr. Kelley is stating that his garden is an environmental sculpture.
Kelley is a painter, but his garden in Daley Bicentennial Plaza, just east of Millennium Park, brought him his greatest praise. It appeared in travel guides. And at one point, the district compared Kelley to other “heroes of Chicago landscape” such as Frederick Law Olmsted, who designed Jackson Park.
Is it protected art, what is the right of the artist, what is the right of the commissioner, if artists can not get longevity and recognition from public work will they continue to do it? If cities have to fear lawsuits and damages in the 6 figure or higher level when they redesign city areas will that put a freeze on public art commissions?