Call to Arms, an open letter from Paul Klein

June 4, 2007 · Print This Article

Art Protest

The City Council is on the verge of passing an ordinance that is bad for Chicago, bad for its citizens and particularly bad for the art community.

We have proposed an alternative ordinance that will not be considered unless you act.  We are the following groups: Bad at Sports, the Chicago Artists Coalition, Lumpen, Sharkforum, ArtLetter and others to be named soon.

Short Story:

Mayor Daley and the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) have proposed a terrible ordinance to modify the Public Art Program.  The stated reason makes no sense: that the meetings were open to the public was cumbersome and unnecessary in their judgment.  That the previous ordinance existed for 25 years and that the City has an exemplary art collection they deemed irrelevant.

  • It “privatizes” the the selection of public art by eliminating all Open Meetings.
  • It means the DCA does not have to post thorough information on their website about upcoming commissions.
  • It will remove transparency and accessibility from the Public Art program and  art commissions.
  • It eliminates voting, democracy and public recourse.

Unless the art community acts the City Council will approve their proposed ordinance on the 13th of June.  The best way to prevent this from happening is for artists to

stage a large rally at 5:30 PM Monday, June 11th at the Picasso Sculpture


and a letter writing campaign to make the Mayor and the Aldermen aware of what Chicago artists think and want.

Full Story:

  • Visualize 100’s of Chicago artists rallying around a single cause – Artists’ Rights.
  • Have you ever read about a large group of artists speaking out publicly with one voice?
  • Think about the media coverage.
  • To a large extent the events of the next ten days stand to significantly affect the future of Chicago artists (and Chicago galleries that care about their
    Chicago artists).

Here’s the deal:

In mid-May at the request of the Commissioner of Cultural Affairs (Lois Weisberg), Mayor Daley proposed an ordinance to revamp the Public Art Program.
This proposed ordinance is bad government, bad for Chicagoans and particularly bad for the Chicago art community and artists.

Shortly after the ordinance sailed through committee (despite us “winning” the discussion) a few of us succeeded in having the measure postponed by the City

WELL, the issue is coming back up for a City Council vote on June 13th.  We’ve spoken to a number of aldermen.  Most aldermen think: If the artists don’t care, we don’t care.

It is possible to change the system and it is not going to be easy.

It is time to step up or get stepped on.

As an artist or a member of the art community in Chicago, or elsewhere, if you ever want to able to apply for a commission, or give a damn about your peers
being able to, now is the time to act:

  • Appear at a RALLY FOR ARTISTS’ RIGHTS on the Monday the 11th at 5:30 at the Picasso
    – 2 days before the City Council meets to vote on the 13th.
  • Write letters to the Tribune & Sun Times editorial page.
  • Write a letter to the Mayor
  • Write a letter to your alderman. Speak to your alderman.
  • Speak in favor of Our New (alternative) Ordinance supporting Artist’s Rights
  • Send an email to me or a member of our team telling us what you think. We’ll count them, print them and share them where they’ll hopefully make a difference.
  • Under the pretense of streamlining the selection process, the DCA’s proposed ordinance means the DCA does not have to have “open meeting” to give or get any information to artists about upcoming commissions, nor answer to anyone about selected commissions.
  • They do not have to put information on their website anymore (they’ve been doing a horrible job putting out information so far.)
  • They do not have to allow artists to apply for specific projects.
  • They do not have to respond to the community.
  • They do not have to be responsible for their actions.
  • They do get to keep their inbred selection process whereby they dip into their archaic database, pick whoever they want, sometimes repeatedly, and not have to tell artists why or how they chose or choose.
    If you are going to write a letter, here are some key points.
  • No fair, honest or open consideration of Chicago artists
  • No Open Meetings.
  • No useful listings of commission possibilities
  • No applying for a specific commission
  • No knowing why you weren’t considered
  • Under their proposed new ordinance, the finger-pointing will shift from the DCA to the aldermen because alderman will be asked to have ward forums to discuss art commissions in their ward. This will be an added logistical and financial responsibility for the alderman they may not want.  The aldermen will be responsible to post notice of the forums (many don’t have web sites). They will have to pay for postage out of their own pockets. They will have to host and attend art meetings in their wards. They will have to put up with the potential for dividing their community over art issues. These selfish reasons may be sufficient reason aldermen will defeat this ordinance June 13th – if they are informed.
  • If the aldermen think you care, you will be heard.
  • If the aldermen don’t think you care they will automatically vote with the Mayor and pass this ordinance assuring a closed doors, patronage system where those who are favored will get the most commissions.  It will not be based on quality, or a competent committee considering your work.  Instead of a democracy we’ll have the Department of Cultural Affairs acting like a country club, picking who they want, why they want, without opening up the selection process and broadening the amount of art they can consider.
  • The artists suffer.  The City suffers. The community suffers. The DCA gets a free ride.
  • Think about Chicago’s reputation in the rest of the country.
  • We are already being discussed by National Public Art Administrators
    • We will be a topic of discussion at the National Public Art Conference in Las Vegas.
    • Is this going to look good for Chicago in the rest of the country?
  • How about internationally?
  • How about the Olympics?
    • Every Olympics has a large Cultural Olympics held concurrently.
    • Do you think the Olympic Committee is going to be favorably impressed with this ordinance?
  • You and the Olympics
    • Hidden in the bowels of their ordinance is a distinction between Percent for Art and Public Art. The DCA has succeeded in keeping this totally vague. All Percent for Art (a specific term) is part of Public Art (a general term).  Only the Percent for Art must have public forums.(Percent for Art applies to money spent in City government buildings and land.  But Public Art also includes money for art not for city property yet still administered by DCA – like housing to be constructed for Olympic athletes – which could be billions of dollars.) Can you say cronyism?
    • Well get this: According to their proposed ordinance they only have to have forums (namby-pamby discussions with not binding authority and no vote) with Percent for Art. Okay, but for Public Art they don’t even have to have any forums at all.
  • Who do you think they are trying to take care of?
  • Actions speak louder than words.

Paul KleinDo
you understand why the Mayor doesn’t care about you – the Chicago artist? Or why the Alderman don’t, or the rest of the world for that matter?  Because you haven’t made yourself seen and you haven’t made yourself heard enough.

It is time again to assume responsibility for your career, to take a stance.

Can you visualize the impact just 500 artists showing up at a rally could have globally?

Do you realize the publicity Chicago artists can get?

Do you grasp the impact the discussion of this ordinance will have?

You can either shape your future constructively or get screwed.

It is up to you.
Paul Klein

219 thoughts on “Call to Arms, an open letter from Paul Klein”

  1. The Shark says:

    btw -I would really differentiate between what is propaganda and what is art…sure there is surely art that has a row to hoe -that is what naturalism is -from Zola to Brecht and Shavian discourse to Ayn Rand….this stuff is usually highly stylized, two dimensional cardboard cutout in its character, and leans more towards being a form of craft ie ‘entertainment’ created to have a specific effect, whether frightening the public or, influecing opinion in various other propagandistic ways, to attempting the creation of some form of eutopia, than to truly challenging aesthetics-

    usually only some of the voices are heard in this kind of work, there is a puposeful omission of the universal, and what is usually being attempted is a physical kind of change in the world, rather than an imaginative catharsis-

  2. William Conger says:

    Dumbing down of public works? Except at the new McCormick Place. Why assume that the new work there is not challenging? Why accept what one person claims about work he has not seen? Yet, as Shark himself says about the Picasso, the work will ultimately “have the effect of making us collectively greater as we grew to see it…”

  3. “granted de Suvero is still active -but his aesthetic was really complete 3 decades ago”

    that’s the pot calling the kettle…

  4. The Shark says:

    “Why assume the new work there is not challenging”: first, I am referring to the three large scale painting installations Bill, nothing more, and whether you agree with me, my opinion is not an assumption, my being more than familar with the respective works of the artists I mention..

    as for pointing and laughing -how glad am I to not be a part of the art world Mr Hirst inhabits. A world no doubt, when looking at the completely insane auction prices, about to go down in flames. My comment on de Suvero was in no way meant to be derogatory -but simply my pointing out that he reached his aesthetic maturity in a different time from now -something which actually, I have only recently been able to begin to approach in my own work -as people who are actually familar with what I do, know.

  5. William Conger says:

    I think the Gutzon Borglum bronze sculpture of Gen. Sheridan at the Belmont/Sheridan Rd. park site is one of the best public monumental works in America, if not elsewhere too, at least for its formal aspects. Its “civil religion” power has faded with changing social values.

    It may also be the last major equestrian sculpture in America, c. 1923. Look at it from any position and see how alive the contours are and how organic the whole is and how forceful the mass is. Few realize that this is not a recast of an earlier work of the same subject Borglum did in D.C. which pales by comparison, being, as Shark says of much public art, flat and unexpressive. And I don’t think many people today would admire Gen. Sheridan so much, despite heroic Civil War victories. because of his later ruthless treatment of Native Americans, etc.

    Borglum, most famous for the Mt. Rushmore heads, is not well regarded as an artist today, unfairly, I think when we really look at this late masterpiece. It’s a great example of successful public art albeit less resonate with our time. Few look at this piece but tens of thousands are now treking to Mt. Rushmore, a poor example of art.

    I certainly agree with comments re aesthetic maturity. It does not mean that the aesthetic is frozen; it means that it has become fully articulate.

  6. Your description of Borglum’s sculpture brought to mind what Smithson once said, that size determines what an object is but scale determines whether it is art.

  7. David Roth says:

    that’s a great quote. just a reminder of how few artists these days really understand proportion.

  8. Jason says:

    W. Conger– your apt phrase, “the imaginary persona of the civic idenity”, is a key problem, and so difficult to define (though the ‘public sphere’ has been approached by so many thinkers), and I tend to agree that monumental sculpture is becoming obsolete. Personally I enjoy it but it is not a popular taste– is that its appeal? Why does so much public art seem like a prescription of “good taste” upon “the public”? I’d like to promote artists that know how to maneuver through this new idea of the public:

  9. David Roth says:

    Packard Jennings – the Tyler Durden of the art world.

  10. There are even some things worse than plop sculpture. Most “public art” or “Kunst am Bau” as it is called here in Switzerland is highly decorative geometric crap (like Mosset’s three two-story-high diagonal green stripes on one building) or, more recently, cutesy-pie Neo-Conceptual art like Zaugg’s text works in the Gerber image above, or some kind of little addition that requires an hour of curatorial explanation to even notice it. To which the correct response is usually a “knowing” consensus-clique chuckle. Not my idea of aesthetic appreciation.

    What’s the problem with just buying things like good paintings or photos or sculptures or installations and putting them up, rather than insisting on bureaucratically-pleasing site-specific-justified art (which usually is not really contextually specific, which is far more important)? I love to do things site- and contextually specific, but most Kunst am Bau is only nominally so, not truly so.

  11. Bill Dolan says:

    One of the finest pieces of public art is in danger of disappearing. “Spindle” is going to be removed to make way for a Walgreens.

  12. Bill, unless I missed it, there wasn’t one mention of the sculptor’s name in that article. Curious… who was the artist?

  13. BillDolan says:

    The Tribune has an article on it today and mentions the artist, Dustin Shuler. There is also a little more info and history than the article I previously linked.,1,3249415.story

  14. Marshall Mcluhan says:

    Applause for J Currin for not only being inventive, but intelligently sniffing out the fact that this troupe seems to spell trouble, seemingly corrupt, pointlessly abusive, defensive , disrespectful & repetitive noise.Change the tune, at least do something, something different.

    Bludgeoned to death with hacking at art theory & history, gasping for air amidst such irrelevant lecturing.Over & over again. Start a book club or weekly review already.
    Really.We GO to lectures, consciously, pay for them, talk about them.Host lectures.

    Not even an ounce of harmony, or a sense of our fully diverse fabric of reality, of which we all submit to, which is why it is likely you saw so few at the plaza.

    I suggest you all make your blog exclusive & shut it off from the public, this sounds exactly like what you need, set up a password so ONLY certain fish may post.THEN prove to the world what you have intended to prove through bashing skulls into barbed wire & post your amazing results to the public!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!At least you won’t be scaring all your seemingly wounded “retarded & idiotic” (lovely terms by the fish) readers away. Secrecy & mystery gathers attention too!
    Enough with the whining about anon- anon has a VAST history of which we are NOT the architects. merely observers. merely observers.
    You might have gotten a little creative, inviting all of us to arrive with polished butchers cleavers & canvas aprons, a cam corder & something ridiculously unpractical & or practical & extraordinary to express, truly, in favor of the beauty OF the absurd.

    Discord, takes comprehension of it’s mechanics, planning & how it may or may not facilitate authentic change.

    A full awareness & sensitivity to think, to then enter into desire, which in turn compels one to trust in something tangible, alive & vital.

    Many , not all, involved in the arts WORK (in every sense), IN the arts, thus, those that work hard in the arts, inevitably, have some financial or social successes that one may create & utilize as questionable spectacles. In this instance, undermining any sort of thorough & completely- ( if it must be, BRUTALLY ) honest, contextual exploration, of the realities at work, the times, of anything for that matter, etc.
    & people have always bought ANY ART THAT THEY WISH.

    If someone wants to buy what one may view as bad work, there is nothing one can do about it & insulting artists is very provocative, but do it in the nude, to their face, brandishing clips, & whips.

    We like to read about interesting collectors, they exist as well.

    A hypocritical gang running in circles of lackluster & obvious patronizing rhetoric.

    So, why not just, get creative.Realistic.
    Depending on the individual these two simple qualities have been known to succeed on occasion.
    In hand with decently consistent sincerity, even greater the odds, that is if one does not wish to enter into success via corruption & lies, abuse & belittling of human beings.
    With issues regarding the environment & an end to this war & the tremendous horrors in Sudan, Africa & let’s not forget Joseph Kony, etc, i could go on & on. The era of big fish and krill is OVER. A good suggestion. Over. Done. If anything have a sense of humor. American psycho.

    I am surprised i even read this, & it’s safe to say no one in their right mind could possibly imagine reading this in it’s entirety.
    Who’s magnificent brain are we trying to pick any ways guys?

    The individual or “being” who i found the most lucid & interesting, is William Conger, i suggest following his lead once in a while & again, as to ensure “art” discussions that may be worthwhile.He is engaging, regardless of what anyone has to say about his personal life & career, choices, human existence, it’s a fact, he is engaging & interesting.

    No small feat when you are a human being.
    If anything, humbling ourselves, is surely a way towards improvement.
    Try your hand at being fiercely humble, see where it gets you.This is suggested for all of us, the mad, living & deceased.Just the attempt, is magical.

    & i like overly polite in some instances, one garners a great deal when in the presence of individuals with their own unique brand of being anally overly polite. & Conger does not remotely seem overly polite.
    & I am also not alone in that i like a certain kind of ass hole, i like a certain kind of unforgivable bastard that has such outrageously & amazingly high concepts of thought &/or belief & morality, especially the ones that are HONEST.& why are they honest? It benefits the sorts of results that they seek in their lives. & it takes tact to get away with being an interesting & pleasant ass hole to be around. Craft.

    All the generalizing, & all these diatribes simply amount to wandering self interest & an inhumane, cold & uninspired attitude to art.Which could be interesting for a WEEK & with several anomalies of context.
    So rarely breached in ANY ART WORLD.
    It happens & when it does it is an awe, for all of us, a life altering thrill & a reality that does not manage, to take place- here.
    Try not to take it for granted.

  15. Uh, yeah, right. Thanks. You really cleared everything up faux-Marshall. Jesus.

  16. Steve says:

    God my fucking head hurts after reading that.

    Thanks Amy.

  17. John Currin says:

    Just checking back here after a couple of years and want to report that the world did not explode after the ordinance passed.

    Seems now, with 20/20 hindsight, like much ado about nothing….

  18. Gotta agree there with faux-John Currin, altho hindsight is perfect, etc.

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