Forget the Olympics. What the Second City Really Needs is First-Class Art News

October 5, 2009 · Print This Article

Last week was, by many accounts, a humiliating one for Chicago, ending as it did with the announcement that the Second City had been knocked out of contention for the much-coveted 2016 Olympics–in the first round, no less. Given that Chicago had already beaten out numerous other international contenders to reach the final four in the first place I don’t  exactly see why it’s considered such a crushing embarrassment to have come in fourth but, whatever…I  have no dog in that fight. It’s probably just one of the many “Chicago things” that I’ll never fully understand. As an art person, however, I’m far more interested in looking at the blows to civic pride that were delivered earlier last week in the wake of the Tribune’s story on the positive public reaction to J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s outdoor sculpture “God Bless America.” Yeah, you know the one. This one:

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Written by Trib reporter Steve Johnson, the article was framed by this headline: “What does popularity of God Bless America sculpture say about public art in Chicago?” This, I think, was precisely the wrong boldfaced header to attach to an article about a sculpture that has been borrowed from the Sculpture Foundation and is not, in fact, meant to be a permanent part of the city’s landscape of public art. Although the Trib’s article does make passing reference to this fact, the headline seems to imply that “God Bless America” somehow holds similar status as the Picasso, Calder or Kapoor pieces do in the city’s world-class lineup of public art.

For better or worse, Steve Johnson’s story gained a degree of national attention, not as much from Chicago’s art crowd as from arts writers elsewhere in the country. On September 30th the L.A. Times’ chief art critic Christopher Knight linked to the Trib article on his Twitter feed with the comment: “Is J. Seward Johnson trying to be America’s Worst Artist?” A few days later Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City wrote a post titled “Bad Public Art Finds Audience in Chicago” containing a point-by-point takedown of Steve Johnson’s main arguments, which he set up as follows:

“Critics can wag fingers at it — and some do — but God Bless America meets some of the fundamental tests of public art. It is noticed, it is appreciated, and, in many cases, it provokes reflection on what makes an art work original.”

I drove by “God Bless America” last week. Parking is monstrous downtown so I couldn’t stop to get out and walk around it, which is too bad, since public art–like all art–needs to be experienced in situ in order to be fully understood and appreciated. Nevertheless, I can’t offer any viable counter-arguments to Knight and Paddy Johnson’s assertions that the sculpture makes for some pretty bad art. Sure, I could attempt some sort of cultural studies-style analysis of how people actually relate and respond to the sculpture in real life (a more populist form of which Steve Johnson was basically attempting in his Trib article) but my heart wouldn’t be in it. Knight’s snarky question was a valid one, and Art Fag City’s post was in keeping with its editor’s ongoing deconstructions of the more egregious myths about contemporary art and its reception–the Trib’s article, sadly, providing a prime example of just the sort of superficial arguments that so often inform those myths.

As far as I know the Trib’s Steve Johnson isn’t an art critic or an arts journalist. He’s a thoughtful and smart culture reporter who was interested in the popular reaction to a popular work of public art in his city. My beef certainly isn’t with Mr. Johnson or with the quality of the article he wrote. It’s with the fact that Johnson’s was one of the rare  “news” stories about art in Chicago that the Trib has published over the past few months. And I straight-up disagree with that particular choice of story.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, even though I’m not saying anything everyone who lives here doesn’t already know: it’s a damn shame that a city of the size and cultural prominence of Chicago does not have a national voice for its art scene, a newspaper art critic of the stature of Christopher Knight who could have written about Seward’s sculpture from a critically informed art historical viewpoint as well as the more straightforwardly populist one put forth by the Trib (or, better yet, would have chosen not to make this into a story at all, given that there’s nothing particularly timely or newsworthy about it).

This is not a city of people who know nothing about art and architecture, nor do Chicagoans evince a “fear” of the rigorous discourse that often accompanies discussion about those subjects. So why does the Trib cover art as if it its readership needs hand-holding and spoon-feeding via articles that essentially give us permission to look no further than a work of public art’s most spectacular effects?

Chicago needs at least one real art journalist with a national platform to represent this city to the rest of the country, if not the world (and by “art” here I mean fine art, not theater, dance, music, etc.  if that’s not already obvious). Clearly, other arts writers across the country are still paying attention to the Trib’s art coverage and looking specifically (and exclusively) to that paper for news and insight into Chicago’s art scene and its art public. The problem is that the Trib is relying on reporters who have no in-depth art backgrounds to cover art news in this city–no dog in the fight, as it were–and frankly I find the effects of this to be somewhat humiliating.

Chicago needs a high-profile newspaper writer who is both a critic of and an advocate for the city’s art; not a booster but a person who will draw attention to bad decisions and art world folly while at the same time placing new developments within a larger cultural and historical context. Chicago’s art bloggers simply aren’t able to bear that responsibility, not because of a lack of talent but from a serious lack of time, money and resources. My advice to the Trib: get freelancer Lori Waxman on staff and make her a reporter or something–I don’t fucking care, but Chicago needs to cultivate its own Chrisopher Knight some way or another. Until we do, we risk letting writers from other cities steer the discourse on Chicago art. We owe it to ourselves not to let that continue.




Wednesday Clips 7/8/09

July 8, 2009 · Print This Article

2008 photo of the Sepulveda Pass Fire; View Through the Sepulveda Pass (Mike Meadows/Associated Press)

2008 photo of the Sepulveda Pass Fire; View Through the Sepulveda Pass (Mike Meadows/Associated Press)

The Getty Museum on Fire? Not so far, according to the latest L.A. Times report. Thankfully the Center’s evacuation seems to have gone smoothly. Sad to say, but this kind of disaster is a regular occurrence in SoCal, and it’s not the first time the Getty’s been threatened by advancing flames.  Here’s hoping everything’s back to “normal” quickly. For the rest of what’s been happening so far this week, read on…

*Jason Foumberg of NewCity reports on the cessation of Individual Artist Grants this year, and in forthcoming years, from the Driehouse Foundation.

*Arts Stimulus Funding and the Art Economy: Hrag Vartanian at Art 21 explains it all for you (extremely clearly and well; especially useful for those of us who suck at math).

*In Chicago, interest in building a South Loop art scene is on the rise, but can it really happen in this economy? (Chicagoist).

*Art Baloney (via C-monster); but Regina Hackett’s spirited arguments in defense of the much-maligned meat make for a far better read, imho.

*Lynn Becker does it again: my fave architectural blogger gleefully deconstructs the wedding photos of a fab young couple who got married at the Art Institute (Edward Lifson took the gorgeous pics). Edited to add: I only just realized that “Lynn” is a he! Whoops.

*Sequential Chicago: a new website devoted to the Chicago comics scene (via Windy Citizen).

*Chicago artist Todd Chilton interviewed at Neoteric Art (via MW Capacity).

*Artist Stephen J. Shanabroock’s chocolate waterboarding sculptures, now on view at  Daneyal Mahmood Gallery in New York (via Boing Boing).

*Sarah Jessica Parker talks to Artnet about her partnership with Bravo on The Untitled Artist Project (via Art Fag City, who also has an exclusive interview with the show’s casting director Nick Gilhool).

*Gallerist/blogger Edward Winkleman’s book “How to Start and Run a Commercial Gallery” to be released July 14th by Allworth Press. Click here to preorder the book on Amazon; Bad at Sports interviews Winkleman about running his own art gallery on Episode 169 of the podcast here.

*Check out the British Council and Whitechapel Art Gallery’s The Fifth Curator competition, for aspiring curators outside the U.K.

*Still, I don’t have one: app art for the iPhone and ipod Touch (Rhizome Inclusive).  Here’s what’s thought to be the first music video shot on the iPhone.




Friday’s Link Roundup

July 3, 2009 · Print This Article

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David Hammons, U.N.I.A., 2000.

On this weekly roundup we check out Robogeisha, a surprisingly versatile robot, half a Century of Nuclear Explosions, and Brooklyn is burning. Actually this sounds like a rather apocalyptic roundup for Independence Day.

Buckminster Fuller closes This Sunday July 5th at the MCA Chicago.

Scientists tour Creationism Museum: “And there was a feeling of unhappiness, too, about the extent to which mainstream scientists and evolutionists are demonized — that if you don’t accept the Answers in Genesis vision of the history of Earth and life, you’re contributing to the ills of society and of the church.” via Boing Boing

Plural Blog has a video of Half a Century of Nuclear Explosions. 2053 atomic explosions have occurred. frightening and yet strangle hypnotic.

The Museum of Forgotten Art Supplies.

Glasstire breaks down the reasons why Jerry Saltz should have a blog.

Fan made Persepolis 2.0 documenting the post elections in Iran.

C-Monster linked to a pretty awesome aritcle on the new territory of Chelsea from a 1996 New York Magazine acticle titled,  “Chelsea! It’s the New SoHo! Maybe.

Brooklyn is Burning…”the one-night event takes gender bending to whole new heights, featuring the work of emerging artists interested in expanding the boundaries of sex, sexuality, the body and whatever is left in between.” via Cool Hunting

Art Fag City speaks with casting director, Nick Gilhool of Bavo’s new art reality show.

Robogeisha, narrated by someone that sounds eerily like Mike Benedetto . Ill take the Tengu Milk with the fried shrimp. via Sean Bonner





Friday’s Links Roundup

June 12, 2009 · Print This Article

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Wallpaper* Magazine's colection of Tart Cards

Hope everyone has had a great week. On this weeks roundup we check out Murakami’s latest video for Louis Vuitton, a new article on Marina Abramović, and Wallpaper Magazin’s collection on Tart Cards. Have a good weekend and hopefully we will see you at the closing of Green Lantern.Viva La GL!




Friday Clip Show

April 3, 2009 · Print This Article

Are re-blogged links the blogger’s version of the sitcom flashback episode? Uh, maybe, but in any case, here’s a partial and purely subjective roundup of the past week in art, culture, etc. in Chicago and beyond, via a whole mess o’ handy links, of course….

*Artists selected for the 53rd Annual Venice Biennale have been announced; find the list here.

*New City art editor Jason Foumberg has a nice recap along with some thoughtful analysis of last week’s “The Invisible Artist: Creators from Chicago’s Southside” panel discussion at the School of the Art Institute. UPDATE 4/4: There is some very interesting, enlightening, and pretty damn sharp back-and-forth going on in the comments section of this article by panel participants and others who strongly disagree with (or have misunderstood) Foumberg’s assessment of the panel and the issues it addressed.

*The mass firings of adjunct fine art faculty at Parsons The New School for Design: blogger Hrag Vartanian’s coverage has been some of the most thorough thus far. Check out his posts here, here and here as a start.

*Time Out Chicago writer Lauren Weinberg has a piece this week on the ways in which Musuems in Chicago and elsewhere are using social media.

*Big yawn: on the Twitter front, an update on @platea’s Twitter happening I blogged about a few weeks ago. UPDATE 4/4: NewCity reported on what happened during the Twitter Island project discussed in that same blog post, here.

*A huge Pose slideshow available on The World’s Best Ever.

*Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes provides an excellent, two-part summary of a rare Robert Frank public talk this week with National Gallery of Art curator Sarah Greenough; part one and two.

*Via C-Monster: The Architecture of the Drug Trade. A fascinating look at  the landscape of weed and the architecture of the grow house. Especially loved the comparison of the latter to Max’s bedroom in Where the Wild Things Are.

*Paddy Johnson of Art Fag City writes for The L Magazine on why Jenny Holzer is not the patron saint of Twitter in her review of Holzer’s Protect Protect Project, which originated at the MCA and is now at The Whitney.

*Via ArchitectureChicago: iTunes offering free download of the first movement of John Cage’s 4’33″.

* Get your art on at Chicago Artist’s Resource (CAR)’s Creative Chicago Expo tomorrow (Saturday) from 10-4. Workshops and Consult-a-thons galore for individuals and arts organizations.

*And finally, the hermeneutics of “pin diplomacy”: via Artnet Magazine, Madeleine Albright’s pin collection to be shown at the Museum of Arts & Design in New York.  Pins weren’t mere jewelry for Albright, they added a subtle layer to her diplomatic efforts.  She wore a bee pin when talks were getting pointed, a balloon pin when she felt hopeful, and a snake pin after Sadaam Hussein’s people called her a serpent. I’m so there!