Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Art in Chicago: "You're surrounded by it everywhere"

"Balloon Dog (Blue)" Jeff Koons (Broad Museum, Los Angeles) 


     If you put a gun to my head and demanded that I name three living Chicago artists I’d be a dead man. Oh, I’d reel off Tony Fitzpatrick and Hebru Brantley easily enough. Then “boom!” because I couldn’t think of a third to save my life.
     Which I’d be too embarrassed to admit if I didn’t suspect that this is two contemporary artists more than most readers could manage.
     Chicago is not really an art town. Yes, Expo Chicago, the International Exposition of Contemporary & Modern Art, kicks off Wednesday at Navy Pier. And yes, we have wonderful public art, highlighted last month with the celebration of the 50th anniversary of the unveiling of the Picasso sculpture. A Miro and a Calder, that Oldenburg bat column and Dubuffet’s “Snoopy in a Blender,” which really isn’t its name, but neither is “The Bean” the real name of Anish Kapoor’s mirrored legume.
     Except for the Bean, which I love, I used to think dimly of Chicago’s public art, particularly the Picasso. But I try to actually listen to the people I talk with, and Michael Darling, the curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, convinced me that this stuff is actually important.

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16 comments:

  1. I enjoy art and know several working artists here in town. but if you asked me to name three popular living artists from here or from NY or LA or Austin Texas I couldn't do it. seems they have to die and be dead for awhile before their names become well known for the most part. sure I know twombly and serano, and close. but where are they from and are they alive? id have to look it up. anyway Chicago's a huge art town and I'm grateful for it.

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    1. I agree -- both on Chicago being a great visual art town, and on it being difficult to name three living artists in any city. The difficulty of accomplishing the second doesn't make thefist untrue! My wife and a friend visit 3-4 galleries monthly, and they're rarely the same galleries, and they're always experiencing the work of Chicago-based artists. But if it weren't for Neil Steinberg, I wouldn't have learned the name Tony Fitzpatrick, and if it weren't for the Reader, I wouldn't have learned Hebru Brantley or Theastre Gates. Same with jazz -- I know Chicago is considered a great jazz town, and I can name Kurt Elling and Patricia Barbour (sp?) and... um... I guess I could name a number of blues artists, but that's thanks to seeing repeated listings in the Reader and through Tom Marker's radio shows. The ignorance of people like me doesn't make Chicago a poor art town!

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    2. My editor mentioned Theaster Gates as the third artist. To be honest, he slipped my mind, and other than refurbishing that bank, I can't think of anything he's done.

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    3. Yep, I know Gates more for his urban planning and arts administrator-type acts than his artwork -- I mean, that's easier to get across in print than art. I think he either has or will soon have an installation at the 95th St. stop on the Red Line.

      Going back to the difficulty of naming living artists -- I think a big part of this is, unless you're actively in the culture, you don't get a sense of consensus on who the current "breakout stars" are. So much of it is hard to grasp, anmd unless you're around curators or up on arts critics and literature or start seeing the same names pop up in different exhibitions... how do you know? We forget how the relatively recent (early/mid 20th century) artists were often incomprehensible to the public in their day, but are familiar to us now that the newness and radicalness of their work has been made familiar by time and exposure. I worked at a museum in California, and curators there moved to other museums, and so we'd do the rounds -- there was a time when I could name a couple dozen Bay Area living artists and recognize their work on sight... and now without that immersion, i don't remember a thing. I could be jogged by a work into some state of memory, but not enough to remember names, stories, etc., and have no idea if they'll be among the folks that will be known in 20-50 years.

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  2. Hear, hear. I'd say your "interpretation" of Koons is spot on, and more elegant than his version. My understanding is one of the things Paschke taught Koons is the Blather (part of "playing the game," which EP couldn't stomach). Art elites, especially collectors, LOVE that seeming double-talk, and Koons has perfected it. I do generally dig his work; his blather, not so much. I prefer Warhol here: "Can I just say blahblahblahblah?"

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  3. Great interpretation of Koons. The sentiment feels spot-on, and is one of the reason I love this city. The blog header image with the chrome bunny in the foreground, intentionally or not, echoes the sentiment: in the bunny's head and body you'll see two contrasting side-show mirror self-portraits.

    On a related note, the Chicago Architectural Biennial opens later this week at the Cultural Center and points beyond. It's as much about art and design as it is architecture, and the last one was very memorable. I wouldn't miss it.

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  4. Neil, your interpretation of Koons' artistic philosophy, in the last paragraph, can also be applied to your own life as a writer in Chicago. Fits you to a T.

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    1. The mirror metaphor is apt. Wasn't born here, but have spent enough time in the vicinity that a daily dose of Steinberg reinforces my sense of being a Chicagoan. That writing is interactive was noted by the philosopher George Christoff Lichtenberg: " A book is a mirror. If an ass peers in you can't expect an apostle to peer out."

      Tom

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    3. That's a great quote. I hadn't heard it before. Reading what Koons had to say, made me think that he has the soul of a writer, which made me think of Neil.

      Don't y'all wish you could get back to your comment to edit?

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    4. Agreed, another wonderful selection from your "little black book," or whatever you call it, Tom. (I know it ain't that, but I can't remember at the moment.)

      One might even amend it for the current times, at the risk of throwing politics into a non-political thread. The presidency isn't a mirror, but if an ass gets elected, you can't expect an apostle to preside. Though this presidency *does* reflect something about the country that is pretty ugly.

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    5. The name I give my little book is one I adopted from the late John Ciardi, who once kindly answered my letter asking about a quote he used on his NPR program about language. He had lost the Italian dictionary that was the original source, but was sure it was accurate because he had entered it in in his "mish mash" book. He was a very civilized man and, I thought, worth emulating.

      Tom

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    6. Ah, yes. I remember now that I see that explanation. I tried to think of it, but I don't believe I'd have come up with "mish mash book" anytime soon. Sad!

      Fortunately, "A great memory does not make a mind, any more than a dictionary is a piece of literature." -- John Henry Newman : )

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  5. When I think of public art (which isn't often), I think of Loredo Taft and the (to me) anonymous creators of statues and decorations for rococo buildings, some of which exist outside the Loop. If there aren't tours to view these ancient works of art all over Chicagoland and honor the artists who created them, there certainly should be.

    john

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  6. This article is an example of why I am a Neil Steinberg fan. Stimulating, thoughtful, informative. He is the best chronicler of all things Chicago in the city. Who knew the connection between Paschke and Koons? Fitzpatrick isn't just a great artist, he writes wonderful plays and composes beautiful pieces for New City that bring Truth to Power. The wonderful power of the pen.

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  7. Check out painter Wesley Kimler (who, among other things, sure plays a mean pin-ball) and sculptor Richard Hunt. Google their names and click on images. Hunt is well represented throughout the city; he could have designed the Gehry's Pritzker Pavilion, only better. Like Helmut Jahn (can we count architects? Whenever one says "art" one unfortunately usually just means "painting"), Gehry does some great work and a lot of awful work, in my view. I suspect I feel about the Pritzker Pavilion the way NS feels about the Picasso.

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