Public Art That’s Truly Public

March 1, 2013 · Print This Article

Preface

This week the Fashion Institute of Technology held a panel on scale and spectacle called “Size Matters” (apparently unaware that they were in danger of ripping off and thereby angering curator Shaquille O’Neal, also a basketball player apparently, who curated an exhibition in 2010 by the title of “Size DOES Matter”). The panelists were Gavin Brown, Roberta Smith, Peter Halley and KAWS, with Hrag Vartanian of Hyperallergic.com as the moderator. There are a lot of panels all over the world and this one wouldn’t really be notable except that Julia Halperin, editor of Art + Auction, live tweeted it and one particular tweet caught my attention. Following the subject of the panel on scale, Halperin reported that “Roberta [Smith] likes Anish Kapoor’s Bean [Cloud Gate] in Chicago because you can have a private experience [with] it.”

This caught my attention, and the attention of at least two other writers, since it seems the exact opposite of what the actual experience of the artwork is—extremely public. I recalled an essay I had written years ago about the artwork but, wanting to share it with my colleagues, realized that I had never published it since I wanted to be sure to retain copyright over it. I imagine a lot of other writers also accumulate essays and articles never published for one reason or another.

So in the interest of expanding the dialogue around this iconic Chicago work it seems time to publish this essay albeit in slightly modified and updated form.

The Bean

“[O]ver the past 15 years public sculpture. . . has become one of contemporary art’s more exciting areas of endeavor and certainly its most dramatically improved one,” stated New York Times art critic Roberta Smith, in August of 2008, when she visited Chicago’s Millennium Park. And by all accounts, Chicago’s Millennium Park is an extraordinary success, inspiring other communities across the country to take on similar projects. The success of Millennium Park, and public art generally, lies in how the artworks function in relation to the city and the people. The artists have achieved a high degree of success in their respective creations, which directly makes the park successful in its mission: “to be a new public space for the people of Chicago.”

The mission of Millennium Park sounds a bit generic until one considers the difficult challenge behind that goal. Chicago is the third largest city in the U.S. and like all major cities is home to a variety of people and interests. We’re only drawn together by the fact that we are Americans and that we share certain intangible ideals. Other than that we differ in appearances, faith, language and a myriad of other things. We are alike, yet profoundly different. This has been the strength, and challenge, of American life since our country’s founding, and this is the strength of the public artwork in Millennium Park, that it allows the viewer to celebrate our differences while creating a tangible sense of community.

Anish Kapoor’s Cloud Gate, nicknamed “The Bean” by Chicagoans, is a large, highly polished stainless steel abstraction that looks like a round cloud pinned down on both ends. The reflective surface lures visitors in close, drawing them from far off as if by magnetic attraction. Cameras emerge and visitors start taking pictures, in groups, individually, up close, or far off. We try to find ourselves in the reflections and simultaneously we find ourselves surrounded by the city, and we see ourselves in the city, part of a fabric larger than ourselves. It’s a powerful metaphor that becomes real when we see a young Chicagoan make this connection.  Strangers inevitably become a part of other people’s pictures, guards are let down and conversations are struck up. The curving reflections of the work dissolve the barriers we put up between ourselves, drawing people into relation, and sometimes conversation, with each other.

The alien form of the abstraction identifies itself immediately as Art but does not alienate, instead it draws people in through their curiosity and the work’s generosity. Kapoor’s contribution accomplishes the mission of Millennium Park, while being wholly successful on its own terms. Rather than an indifferent sculpture, this is public art that lives up to the aspirations of its genre, bringing people together and inspiring them.




Midweek News & Notes: @MayorEmanuel Tweeter Revealed; Illinois Art Council Grantees; Block Director Stepping Down

March 2, 2011 · Print This Article

 

Just a few quick newsy items for this midweek:

*First up, the most significant story of the week (to my mind): Columbia College Journalism professor Dan Sinker – the founder of Punk Planet, no less — was revealed as the @MayorEmanuel Tweeter! Sinker’s fake mayor Twitter persona was the most brilliantly literary use of Twitter I’ve yet seen -  punk rock to the core. For further background on the @MayorEmanuel saga, check out his (now defunct) Twitter feed, as well as this annotated, archivable version of those same Tweets on Snarkmarket, and listen to WBEZ Radio’s interview with Sinker on Eight Forty-Eight here.

*On to somewhat more relevant news: The Illinois Arts Council has announced its first round of FY2011 grants, awarding 725 grants totaling over $7,567,938. Click here to see the full rundown of awardees county-by-county. The big question is: how long will it take for awardees to receive their funds? See this July, 2010 article in Time Out to learn more about the IAC’s ongoing budget woes due to the state of Illinois’ economic crisis. Key ‘graph from Time Out’s piece:

“While the agency’s budget has crept back up to $8.5 million for fiscal 2011, [IAC Executive Director] Scrogum warns that Quinn probably will impose a “reserve” on grants, freezing recipients’ access to at least five percent of the money until the state’s finances improve. Fiscal 2011 applications were due in April; our sources’ pessimism about them appears justified. “We don’t know how much will be available to award,” Scrogum admits, “and even once that is known, [we still won’t be] able to predict how long it’s going to take for those grants to be paid.”

For further background, listen to Richard Holland’s interview with the IAC’s Executive Director Terry Scrogum about the funding crisis in Episode 205 of Bad at Sports’ podcast.

*Arts writers declare ‘strike’ against Huffington Post.  Make sure to read the comments (there are surprisingly few – maybe that tells ya something), as they provide interesting points of view on the debate.

*David Alan Robertson, The Ellen Philips Katz Director of the Mary and Leigh Block Museum of Art, will step down effective December 31, 2011, as stated in a press release issued by Northwestern University.

*Interested in the idea of Community Supported Art? Want to know what the hell that even means? Check out two great, affordable examples here and here.

 




Meet Kate McGroarty,The Museum of Science & Industry’s Cute White Lab Rat

October 10, 2010 · Print This Article


Well the Museum of Science and Industry has announced their winner of the Night ”Month at the Museum” contest and it is Kate McGroarty. Kate is a Theater Artist/Customer Service Representative & recent graduate of Northwestern University. Kate starts her tour of duty in the museum on October 20th and leaves on November 18th. Kate seems to be meta aware of the entire point of this exercise and that is reflected in her lonelygirl15′esque video submission below.

You can follow Kate’s adventure via twitter and facebook (by the way MSI nice forcing the “I like” function as your public facebook link, that move should have it’s own chemical formula…….. let me think). There seems to be a very ironic website page on Miss McGroatry as well which I really hope is someone trying to capitalize on her 15 mins and not actually run by Kate herself since its a tad self congratulatory and disingenuous.

Also here is the video of the winner announcement which I have to admit whoever came up with the checmical reaction to signify the winner should get a bonus (or season 2 of “The Big Bang Theory” on DVD) since that has been the best move I have seen as of yet with this project. Also whoever missed or decided not to post the video of that announcement on the MSI website and is not capitalizing on the great PR value of that moment should get the reverse (and the season 1 DVD of Cavemen) no one should have to search for that video to find it.

I hope this is a success and will agree that having looked at the applicants that they picked the right person for the position (a arts student who admittedly knows little about science but knows PR, is cute and bubbly and gets it with a wink and a nod) Sorry Alex Dainis in a perfect and fair world you would have been the right choice since you have the looks, smarts, personality, background & non creepy factor but in the end this isn’t about Science it’s about marketing. It is going to be interesting to see how Kate takes the initiative on this and what she can do with it since the agenda seems pretty open for input. Good luck and no using the taxidermied animals as teddy bears :)




Hot (okay maybe only lukewarm at the moment) Topic Alert: the Crisis in Art Criticism

March 26, 2010 · Print This Article

Jenny Holzer, Television Texts, 1990. © Video Data Bank Chicago.

This week New City published an essay by its arts editor Jason Foumberg on the state of art criticism amidst the rise of blogging, online websites, and other forms of interactive media titled The State of the (Visual) Art. I didn’t read this as a piece on the status of art criticism in Chicago per se, as I think some may have, but rather as about the difficulties of defining (much less practicing) this thing called ‘criticism’ at all in online, social-media driven contexts. Foumberg’s essay is part of a larger series of articles at New City that are exploring the state of criticism in the age of Yelp!,  Amazon book reviews, and other online social feedback devices. The other pieces can be found here, here, and here (this last one is about Yolp!, a Jersey Shore parody of Yelp that’s really funny). The comments that ensue are interesting, but there aren’t a lot of them and there’s not too much back-and-forth…yet. But today Christopher sent me a link to Michael S. Thomas’ blog Stagnant Vowels, in which he’s posted a response, of a sort, to the New City article, which immediately bumped Mr. Foumberg’s piece up to “hot topic” status in my mind. (Thomas’ response might itself almost qualify as a good old-fashioned Rant, and as I’ve said before, I am to rants as a moth is to a flame….Jason, in contrast, doesn’t rant: he muses.).

In his post, Mr. Thomas, who was the director of the well-respected and now defunct Dogmatic Gallery in Chicago, calls us out over here at Bad at Sports for basically being slutty opinion mongers on a par with t.v. talk show pundits. He writes:

“The flux or crisis isn’t with experts or authority per say, its in the distribution of opinion as though it were reasoned discourse. It’s in the ongoing creation of model’s for the dissemination of hyperbole without rational checks or balances. Whether it’s Glenn Beck, or Jon Stewart, or Bad at Sports these models can do much to obfuscate legitimate dialogue if not entirely cripple its formation.”

I have to assume he’s talking about our blog in particular, as the podcast’s one-on-one interview format is pretty much the antithesis of opinion journalism. But I want to know — where is all this ‘legitimate dialogue’ (emphasis on the word ‘legitimate’) that we in particular are guilty of obfuscating? Tell me where it’s happening, and I’ll gladly get the hell out of its way!

In all seriousness, though, I don’t at all disagree with Thomas on his larger point. In fact I think most of his post hits it right on the mark, particularly in his assessment that lack of editorial oversight might be precisely what makes online art criticism so problematic (I’m paraphrasing his argument, but that’s what I took away from it). Thomas finds fault with the recently launched Chicago Art Magazine for precisely these reasons, and although I shall remain neutral on the matter of his specific target, I tend to agree with many of the larger arguments he’s making. Such as this one:

“But I would argue that without editorial oversight or a progressive long term vision for growth, an endeavor such as this one is hopelessly mired. After all criticism and opinion are not the same. Amateur criticism is little more than the ALL-CAPS and bold fonts version of a comment roll, and paying said amateur is in no way a transformation of this reality. So what makes a misinformed critic not, a knowledgeable and, or an opinionated amateur? Time, energy, condensed thoughts, research, an apishly large library surrounded by lovely black and white photographs of water fowl, and other bric-a-brac? No its constancy and persistence in the pursuit of understanding and conveying the qualities that define the arcane and metaphorical reality of objects and their surroundings.”

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MoMA’s Live Streaming Marina-Cam Invites Everyone To Be Present

March 22, 2010 · Print This Article

Screen grab from Live-Streaming Video of "The Artist Is Present"

Does the Museum of Modern Art’s live feed of Marina Abramović’s performance “The Artist is Present” defeat the purpose of the piece, or enhance it? “The Artist is Present” is the title of both Abramović’s retrospective, which opened at MoMA on March 14th, as well as her new live performance, which takes place in MoMA’s Marron Atrium throughout the run of the exhibition.  In her performance, Abramović sits on a wooden chair in front of a wooden table. The chair across from her is occupied by different museum visitors, who are invited to take a seat across from the artist and gaze at her while she gazes at them. Visitors are allowed to sit in the chair for as long as they want. (One man stayed for seven hours).  MoMA’s exhibition website notes that the retrospective as a whole endeavors to “transmit the presence of the artist” by including “live re-performances” of Abramović’s works by other people, along with this new durational performance by the artist herself.

I couldn’t find any mention of how live streaming the performance fits into the exhibition’s overall attempts to “transmit the artist’s presence,” however. Ideally, of course, viewers will experience Abramović’s performance in a more direct fashion, either by sitting across from her or watching from the audience as other people share her gaze.  But the existence of MoMA’s live streaming “marina-cam” (my nickname, not theirs) is downright puzzling. What’s the purpose of streaming a performance–one which purportedly explores what it means to “be present” in this particular historical moment — for the benefit of anonymous internet users who can engage with it only by staring at their computer screens for a few seconds at a time?

For a work of art that necessitates ‘presence’ in all the multivalent meanings of the term, I find it curious that Abramović agreed to the livecam broadcast in the first place. Read more