Our latest post on Art:21 blog is up today; check out Terri Griffith’s piece on the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park, a hidden gem on the outskirts of Chicago containing some surprisingly good public art (and a few plops, but that comes with the territory). A brief excerpt below; check out the full post on Art:21 blog here.
Living in a fabulous art city like Chicago, it’s easy to become urban-centric when it comes to contemporary art. But there’s a place just on the border of Chicago that will make you forget the frenzy of the city, where you can immerse yourself in a forest of contemporary sculpture. The Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park is situated in an unlikely place, a narrow strip of land between the North Channel of the Chicago River and the super busy, five-lane McCormick Boulevard. Technically, the park runs two miles and is the westerly dividing line between the City of Chicago and the Village of Skokie, but a less official sculpture park continues on southward back into the city limits, and to the north into Evanston, though there are many fewer sculptures on the northerly end.
This charming park hugs the North Channel and winds alongside like its own little verdant river. Most of the park contains two bike paths—one on the McCormick Boulevard side that runs straight and will get you where you need to go, and the second on the river side that is much quieter and farther away from the traffic. Because the park is so linear, it is from this serpentine tributary of the path that the sculpture is most enjoyable. There are benches and big stretches of grass, conducive to a fun afternoon outing. (Read more).
You know, after giving it some serious thought, I think I’m coming to the surprising conclusion that newspaper articles about public art and the public’s reaction to it are my new favorite genre of art news. There’s just so much to chuckle over. Last week, a pair of articles in the L.A. Times told of skeptical police reaction to a recently-installed sculpture outside the L.A.P.D.’s new headquarters. On October 21st, Times columnist Steve Lopez, who has a direct view of this building from his office window, confessed his bemusement at the piece, which is titled “animaline.” But Lopez’s reaction was minor compared to the distaste expressed by outgoing police chief William J. Bratton. Writes Lopez,
The cast-bronze sculptures consist of six large black blobs, with two tall, skinny structures on either side. I wasn’t sure what to make of them, so I went straight to the top: It looks like “some kind of cow splat,” said Police Chief William J. Bratton, who sounded as if he were personally insulted by the installation. Bratton said he first drove past the work and later walked back to see whether “it’s as ugly up close as it is when you’re driving by.”The answer was yes, and he sounded mad enough to have the artist arrested.
Bratton said he was not alone in his opinion; it was the talk of cops and staffers who already have moved into the new police administration building. “I don’t think anybody can figure out” what the shapes are supposed to be, Bratton said. “Bisons and hippos maybe. I haven’t the faintest idea what the two tallest things are on either side.” Nor does he understand what any of this has to do with police administration, if anything. “I don’t get it,” he said. “It’s just a shame.” Myself, I didn’t see animals when I first looked at the sculptures. Peering down from my third-floor window, I thought they were giant molars. Not a good idea, I thought, to have a bunch of knocked out teeth on the grounds of the cop shop.
When I went outside for a closer look, I realized the molars were actually the torsos of animals with large rumps. Were the cops trying to tell me and my colleagues what they think of The Times, giving us a bunch of derrieres to look at? Not clear. But the animal on the northern end looked like a pig that had been knocked on its side. You have to wonder how that’s going to sit with the LAPD brass.
The same day, the Times published a more detailed story (by Yvonne Villarreal) on the L.A.P.D.’s new art collection, this one containing a tit-for-tat response to Bratton’s quotes by artist Peter Shelton, who was commissioned by The Department of Public Affairs to make the sculpture.
“I’d like to think he’d leave his post more graciously,” Shelton said in response to Bratton’s comments as he did the finishing touches on the pieces Wednesday afternoon. “He doesn’t need to bad-mouth something intended to be enjoyed by the city. I’m disappointed he thinks he’s an art expert.”
Shelton, of course, is a highly regarded L.A.-based sculptor who is represented by L.A. Louvre and has shown internationally, blah blah blah, facts I only mention in order to point out that even the so-called “good” artists make work that gets shit on sometimes. It’s outdoor sculpture, after all, and there are just as many birds in Los Angeles as there are anywhere else. I hope J. Seward Johnson takes some small comfort in that.
UPDATE: Last week the L.A. Times’ chief art critic Christopher Knight reviewed Peter Shelton’s new public sculpture series, titled “sixbeaststwomonkeys.” That review placed Shelton’s sculpture, designed for placement near the new police headquarters downtown, in in a larger historical context with respect to public art in L.A. as well as nationally. Knight also recalled the furor caused in 1955 by a sculpture by Bernard Rosenthal (1914-2009) for the just-built Parker Center, the L.A.P.D.’s former headquarters.
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:
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.
via The Smoking Gun:
“Cops: Man created public art with items swiped from construction site
JUNE 12–A North Carolina man is facing criminal charges for creating an amusing piece of public art from construction barrels. Joseph Carnevale, 21, was nabbed Wednesday after a Raleigh Police Department investigation determined that he was responsible for the work constructed May 31 on a roadway adjacent to North Carolina State University. Carnevale, pictured in the mug shot at right, was charged with misdemeanor larceny for allegedly building his orange monster from materials pilfered from a construction site. According to an arrest warrant, Carnevale ‘destroyed three road blocking barrels by cutting and screwing them together to form a statue.’ Police estimated that Carnevale’s artwork caused $360 in damages to Hamlett Associates, the North Carolina construction company that owned the barrels. Carnevale is scheduled for a July 21 court appearance in Wake County.”
Read the full article here.