Thursday, November 17, 2016

Sand Castles at the Cultural Center

     I'm a big fan of the Divvy bike system, but it does have a flaw, and I'll tell you what it is. Since the Divvy bikes need to be left at Divvy stations, that discourages spontaneously stopping places en route. Oh, you could carry a light cable lock in your helmet bag, and I've considered that. But then you have the half hour limit, and you can't really pause and idle places with the meter running like that. They get you quickly from Point A to Point B, but if you suddenly want to pause at Point C, you're shit out of luck. 
    For instance. Tuesday I Divvied from the paper to Millennium Station, then strolled over to The Gage for lunch. After, I was about to hop on the bike back, when I thought, "What's your rush?" bypassed the Divvy station and began to walk back. There, right in front of me, is the Cultural Center. 
    The Cultural Center is the old main Chicago Public Library, which Richard J. Daley announced the city would pull down, on general principles of replacing gorgeous and intricate older buildings with plain, ugly brutalist new ones. But Sis Daley, his wife, in her only public intrusion into city affairs, said, in essence, "The hell you will." And so the Cultural Center was born.
    Despite its huge Tiffany dome and interesting exhibits, I never set out for the Cultural Center as a destination: I've never said to myself, "I think I'll head over to the Cultural Center and see what's cooking." Not once.
    Which is a shame, because they have neat things going on, like Spectacular Vernacular, a show of design elements put together by the duo behind the British Parsons & Charlesworth design studio. It was a typical Cultural Center show -- odd, not quite museum quality, but engaging for a few minutes nevertheless, particularly these sand ziggurats constructed using wooden blades designed by Tim Parson's great-grandfather, Henry Ingham, an engineer in a cotton mill. I spent 10, 15 minutes gazing about the show, which had a vast array of Japanese artifacts for reasons I couldn't fathom, then went on my way -- perhaps not infused with culture, as such, but certainly distracted. 


  1. To preempt the joker who took exception to the tattoo column, I have to say, "Sand castles? And Persian ones at that!"

    Love it. There's so much to delight the mind and the senses downtown. It's a shame that I hardly ever yield to the temptation to hang around for a while after doing business down there.


  2. I love the Cultural Center, and love that it in effect pays homage to its former function as a library, if you will -- providing free access to art and education. When I was a teen, my then-hometown library had a poster that said "Libraries will get you through times of no money better than money will get you through times of no libraries." Extending that to galleries, the Cultural Center gave me access to art and artists when I could ill afford the Art Institute. I still visit every few months, and even if the exhibitions don't always resonate with me, the architectural photographs sure do.

  3. What's the library like now? I asked because the last time I visited--as a teenager, more years ago than I want to admit--it was vile. Hard to use, rude and unhelpful staff, and filthy--dust and grit covered every surface, and the bathrooms were indescribably disgusting. Has it improved?

    1. The Harold Washington library is beautiful and very clean, and so is the Cultural Center. I hadn't been to the Cultural Center in a long time and when I went last month I was very impressed with the quality of the art displays.

  4. Your statement about how this city deals with historical buildings made me chuckle, especially having just returned from a long weekend in Milwaukee, where they seem to do a better job of maintaining and respecting their older architecture (for whatever reason; could be that they couldn't afford to tear down and rebuild). We had breakfast one morning at the Plaza Hotel, a swell melding of prairie-style and Art Deco, as well as some time at the Milwaukee Art Museum, which is comprised of an iconic Mid-Century Modern building with a very different post-modern addition; somehow, it works and the two complement each other nicely. Sadly, Chicago doesn't seem to have as much respect for the older stuff.


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.