WBEZ | Art/Work http://www.wbez.org/series/artwork Latest from WBEZ Chicago Public Radio en A daring plan to wrap a Chicago museum raises city ire – and makes art history http://www.wbez.org/series/artwork/daring-plan-wrap-chicago-museum-raises-city-ire-%E2%80%93-and-makes-art-history-99731 <p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Christo%20tying%20knots%20with%20rope%20on%20a%20ladder%20-%20Harry%20Shunk.jpg" title="The artist Christo ties rope around the exterior of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago during the installation of his 1969 show ‘Wrap In Wrap Out.’ (Harry Shunk)" /></div><p>By the time he was 33, Christo had wrapped many everyday objects. He took tables and chairs, and shopping carts and oil barrels, covered them in heavy cloth and bound them with rope.</p><p>The Bulgarian artist and his late French wife, Jeanne-Claude, are best known for <em>The Gates</em>, the billowing, bright orange arches they installed by the thousands in New York&rsquo;s Central Park in 2005. But in 1969 they were still struggling to make their mark.</p><p>Christo&rsquo;s curious wrapped parcels didn&rsquo;t live up to the artist&rsquo;s ambitions. He wanted to wrap something big, something monumental: a building, preferably in his adopted home of New York City. Christo and Jeanne-Claude self-finance all of their projects through the sale of Christo&rsquo;s preparatory drawings and scale models, so convincing someone to pay for such a project wasn&rsquo;t the issue.</p><p>During a recent conversation, he ticked off the list of buildings he approached in downtown Manhattan starting in 1961. &ldquo;Number 2 Broadway, number 20 Exchange Place,&rdquo; he recalled. &ldquo;We tried to wrap a building at Times Square.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Christo%27s%20preparatory%20drawing%20for%20wrapped%20museum%20-%20Christo.jpg" style="height: 235px; width: 300px; float: left;" title="A preparatory collage illustrates Christo’s vision to wrap the MCA. (Courtesy of Christo)" /></div><p>They all said no. Christo said he quickly realized that his best hope to wrap a building &ndash; his first in North America &ndash; would be to wrap a museum, which might be more amenable to his strange proposition.</p><p>Christo and Jeanne-Claude approached New York&rsquo;s Museum of Modern Art in 1967. The museum was interested, but Christo said they failed to secure permission for the show from the New York Fire Department or from the museum&rsquo;s insurance company.&nbsp;</p><p>So New York said no, but Chicago said yes. It was a fateful decision.</p><p>The Museum of Contemporary Art was just a year old in the fall of 1968. Its first director, a hip young Dutchman named Jan van der Marck, showed the most avant-garde work he could find. Early on the MCA showed work by groundbreaking artists like the minimalist Dan Flavin, who had his first solo museum show there; he hung alternating pink and gold fluorescent lights in the gallery and called it art. For another show, <em>Art by Telephone</em>, van der Marck invited nearly 45 artists to create work by giving the museum instructions over the phone. The museum then built and installed the pieces based on the instructions they&rsquo;d received, and sometimes changed the work on a daily basis.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fabric sample 2_0.jpg" style="float: right; height: 335px; width: 250px;" title="Christo sent the MCA two fabric samples in the leadup to the show, one fire resistant and one ‘water resistant only.’ He instructed the museum to ‘light a piece of each and see the difference.’ (WBEZ/Robin Amer)" /></div><p>Van der Marck passed away in 2010, but David Katzive, the MCA&rsquo;s first curator, said his mentor&rsquo;s daring was controversial &ndash; even with some of his own bosses. &ldquo;They wanted contemporary art in the city,&rdquo; Katzive said of the museum&rsquo;s more conservative board of directors. &ldquo;They were getting that but they were also getting art that was even beyond what they had expected.&rdquo;</p><p>This was certainly true of Christo and Jeanne-Claude&rsquo;s plan to wrap the MCA in chocolate brown fabric. Inside the museum, they would wrap the gallery floors and stairwells, too, in soft white drop cloths. The show would be called <em>Wrap In Wrap Out</em>.</p><p>Jeanne-Claude died in 2009 from complications related to a brain aneurysm, but she and her husband collaborated on art projects until her death. In the lead-up to the MCA Chicago show, Christo sent the museum two fabric samples &ndash; &ldquo;for the color.&rdquo; One was fire resistant and one was labeled &ldquo;water resistant only.&rdquo; Christo&rsquo;s handwritten note instructed the museum to: &ldquo;light a piece of each and see the difference.&rdquo;</p><p>Clearly, fire safety was on the artist&rsquo;s mind. But ask whether Chicago&rsquo;s Fire Department gave the show its blessing, and you get mixed answers.</p><p>&ldquo;Yes, but of course!&rdquo; Christo insisted. &ldquo;We cannot do anything in the building before the fire department gives us approval.&rdquo;</p><p>Curator David Katzive remembered things differently. &ldquo;We didn&#39;t think we were doing anything that required permission,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;So [the show] went ahead without any prior requests or clearances.&rdquo;</p><p>True to what Katzive said, we didn&rsquo;t find a permit in MCA or city records.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Christo and aid draping the fabric - Harry Shunk.jpg" style="height: 390px; width: 350px; float: left;" title="Christo and an assistant adjust the draping of one of the heavy sheets of tarpaulin suspended from the roof of the MCA. (Harry Shunk)" /></div><p>These days, Christo&rsquo;s close friend and Chicago-based lawyer, Scott Hodes, helps the artist navigate a labyrinth of bureaucracy and public opinion. He&rsquo;s gone so far as to create corporate entities with Christo and Jeanne-Claude as its employees, in order to protect the artists from personal liability. Hodes said compared to later projects such as <em>The Gates</em>, the MCA wasn&rsquo;t that complicated or dangerous.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;He had over a thousand people in New York at <em>The Gates</em>. He had monitors to make sure that people didn&#39;t get injured,&rdquo; Hodes said. &ldquo;There were some projects that were so dangerous that he didn&#39;t hire volunteers. The project in Paris to wrap the Pont Neuf was done by professional rock climbers.&rdquo;</p><p>The Chicago installation couldn&rsquo;t have been more different. Picture Christo, eight art students and David Katzive gathered in front of the museum on a snowy January day. The MCA was located at 237 E. Ontario then, in a one-story building that once housed the offices for Playboy. &ldquo;It was a shoebox structure &ndash; really quite dull and nothing special,&rdquo; Christo recalled.</p><p>The artist and his team were equipped with thousands of feet of rope and thousands of square feet of heavy, dark brown tarpaulin. &ldquo;It took quite a bit of work to haul [the tarps] up to the roof,&rdquo; Katzive said. &ldquo;It was laid out in long piles and pulled up, much as you would raise a curtain.&rdquo;</p><p>Watching the installation that day, an observer from the MCA described the scene this way: &ldquo;Christo and two men straighten the tarps as they hang. The Curator bites his nails.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Wrapped stairwell and gallery - Harry Shunk.jpg" style="height: 342px; width: 350px; float: right;" title="Christo and Jeanne-Claude also wrapped the MCA’s interior in white drop cloth. (Harry Shunk)" />After they secured the fabric to a wooden frame they&rsquo;d built on the roof, Christo tied the rope in knots around the building &ndash; an important part of the project&rsquo;s aesthetic, according to Katzive.</div><p>&ldquo;Christo would be tying the ropes, pretty much improvising on the spot,&rdquo; Katzive recalled. &ldquo;He&#39;d run a line, tie a knot through the middle of it, run rope throughout that &ndash; some were real knots, some were just tangles of rope &ndash; to create a pattern of the hemp on the canvas, to make it beautiful.&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image ">&nbsp;</div><p>As the team worked, falling snow accumulated in the dark fabric&rsquo;s many folds. Christo called that &ldquo;the most rewarding part of the project ... suddenly the entire museum became like a sculpture.</p><p>The installation attracted the attention of city dwellers and the national media, who swarmed the site. You can see the commotion in a short film Katzive shot that day.&nbsp;</p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="338" src="http://www.youtube.com/embed/yg2Dqj6WTHg" width="601"></iframe></p><p>&ldquo;There was a kind of party-like atmosphere,&rdquo; Katzive remembered. &ldquo;Passersby on the street would stop and look and watch. . . they kind of picked up on the joyousness of it. We would hear people say things like, &lsquo;They&#39;re wrapping the whole building! They&#39;re wrapping the whole thing!&rsquo;&rdquo;</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Jan and Ingeborg van der Marck and friend at Christo opening 1969 med res (small).jpg" style="height: 272px; width: 400px; float: left;" title="From right: Ingeborg and Jan van der Marck and a friend explore the wrapped gallery barefoot during the opening reception for the show. (Courtesy of the MCA)" /></div><p>MCA staff told Christo the show did &ldquo;beautiful things to people.&rdquo; Inside the museum, students drew, children turned somersaults, and more than one couple was caught making out under the stairs.</p><p>But not every observer was so enthralled. Many art critics and museum directors hated the show. Newspaper accounts described confused onlookers and laughing construction workers. A Mrs. Frank O&rsquo;Brien of Superior, Wis. wrote the MCA, asking, &ldquo;Will you kindly advise me who is paying for this insane idea. . . .?&rdquo;</p><p>Then, towards the end of the first day of work, a reporter saw a fire official inspecting a building across the street. The inspector spotted the museum; he was shocked. He stormed over, demanding to know: Where was their permit?</p><p>&ldquo;I&rsquo;m sitting downstairs in my office and I hear a little hollering,&rdquo; David Katzive recalled. &ldquo;The fire department had showed up, telling us that we were in violation of some city code. Jan [van der Marck] asked them, &lsquo;What were we in violation of?&rsquo; And they told him &lsquo;You&#39;ve covered your windows.&rsquo; Of course they didn&#39;t know, because the building was entirely covered, that there were no windows.&rdquo;</p><p>Museum staff told inspectors they&rsquo;d left the front door and roof uncovered, as well as a rear delivery entrance. But the fire department wasn&rsquo;t satisfied with that explanation. &ldquo;Here we would have potentially had a building in downtown Chicago with a combustible exterior. That&rsquo;s not something that&rsquo;s going to make the Fire Prevention Bureau very happy,&rdquo; said Ed Prendergast, who was an engineer with the bureau at the time.</p><p>The inspector who spotted the building that day worked with Prendergast, who thought he and his colleagues were right to be cautious.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/cheif%20murphy%20photo%20%28small%29.jpg" style="height: 268px; width: 200px; float: right;" title="First Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Francis J. Murphy was the head of the Chicago Fire Prevention Bureau in 1969. (Courtesy of Ken Little)" /></div><p>&ldquo;The city has had some fairly catastrophic occurrences,&rdquo; he said, like the 1967 five-alarm fire that destroyed McCormick Place. After that incident and the deadly 1958 Our Lady of the Angels Church fire, which killed 92 students and three nuns, Prendergast said that former Mayor Richard J. Daley was &ldquo;obviously not interested in having any more major fires.&rdquo;</p><p>So in stepped the head of the Fire Prevention Bureau. First Deputy Chief Fire Marshal Francis J. Murphy was a &ldquo;dems and dose&rdquo; kind of guy, a hands-on boss beloved by his crew. He didn&rsquo;t just enforce Chicago&rsquo;s fire code, he helped write parts of it. Now he wanted proof that the heavy brown fabric wrapped around the MCA was firesafe.</p><p>Murphy died in 1996, but he left behind a lengthy &ndash; and heated &ndash; letter exchange with Jan van der Marck and his staff, now housed in the MCA&rsquo;s archive.</p><p>Van der Marck wrote to Chief Murphy and assured him the tarpaulin around the museum posed no threat, so did the Chicago-based canvas supplier, who claimed the fabric had been prepared with &ldquo;the same treatment used on most high rise buildings&rdquo; in the city, including the Hancock Building.&nbsp;</p><p>&nbsp;But those reassurances weren&rsquo;t enough to sway Chief Murphy.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/Jan%20JvdM%20and%20Ingeborg%20at%20Christo%20opening%201969%20med%20res%20%28small%29.jpg" style="float: right; height: 274px; width: 350px;" title="Jan and Ingeborg van der Marck at the opening for ‘Wrap In Wrap Out.’ (Courtesy of the MCA)" /></div><p>The next day, Chicago&rsquo;s art glitterati assembled for a black-tie reception with museum founders, the city&rsquo;s biggest collectors and Christo. The artist and his wife were dressed to the nines. &ldquo;I remember [Jeanne-Claude&rsquo;s] very fancy French boots, from Paris &ndash; up to the top of the legs,&rdquo; Christo said.</p><p>Into all that pageantry strode Chief Murphy. He walked straight up to Jan van der Marck and handed him a letter. Reassurances from the canvas company, he wrote, were &ldquo;self-serving&rdquo; and &ldquo;not informative.&rdquo; He wanted a lab test that proved the fabric was fire-resistant and he wanted it in 48 hours.</p><p>The &ldquo;or else&rdquo; was implied.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/MCA in the snow - Harry Shunk.jpg" style="float: left; height: 446px; width: 300px;" title="Snow accumulates in the folds of the heavy cloth. (Harry Shunk)" /></div><p>Van der Marck resisted taking down the show. He provided more experts who argued that the test Murphy wanted was outrageous &ndash; they&rsquo;d have to go to New Jersey to find a lab to do it &ndash; and that the fabric had the same treatment as canvas used by the U.S. Army.</p><p>But weeks passed without a response from the fire chief. Finally, according to curator David Katzive, the museum got an order to take down the show. But by this point it was already closing &ndash; and nearly 14,000 people had seen it.&nbsp;</p><p>Visual art tastemakers saw it too, according to lawyer Scott Hodes. &ldquo;It gave Chicago a different impression in the art world,&rdquo; he said. &ldquo;The Chicago art scene was dominated by the Art Institute of Chicago, which would not have done this kind of a show. The MCA coming aboard showed Chicago could be on the leading edge, too.&rdquo; Christo said Chicago was crucial in his own artistic evolution, giving him the credibility to wrap bigger buildings, like the German parliament in 1995.</p><p>Ironically, as Christo&rsquo;s reputation grew and he was ushered into the canon of contemporary art, the city went from fighting him to courting him. The Morton Salt Company, for example, invited Christo and Jeanne-Claude to wrap a mammoth pile of salt at its South Side facility shortly after the MCA show. Former Mayor Harold Washington was a fan, too, according to Hodes.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;The mayor and Christo talked about doing a project in Chicago and Mayor Washington basically said to Christo, &lsquo;You decide what you&#39;d like to do and I&#39;ll see to it that Chicago welcomes you,&rsquo;&rdquo; Hodes said.</p><div class="image-insert-image "><div class="image-insert-image "><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/blow%20torch.JPG" style="float: right; height: 415px; width: 310px;" title="A volunteer uses a blow torch to heat up the sidewalk before laying down vinyl for ‘Color Jam.’ (WBEZ/Robin Amer)" /></div>Christo hasn&rsquo;t come back, but other artists have benefitted from the trail he blazed.</div><p>As night fell on the corner of State and Adams last week, volunteers used a blowtorch to heat the sidewalk, then laid down huge sheets of red, green and blue vinyl. They were wrapping the intersection &ndash; the whole intersection: buildings, streets, lampposts, everything.</p><p>The project is called <em>Color Jam</em>, and its creator, Chicago artist Jessica Stockholder, claims it&rsquo;s the biggest ever vinyl art project in North America. Program manager and curator Tristan Hummel, who works with the project sponsor, the Chicago Loop Alliance, said the paperwork to make this happen was extreme. He can&rsquo;t imagine doing it the way Christo might have done.</p><p>&ldquo;To accomplish anything on this scale, to do so without permission would be suicidal,&rdquo; Hummel said. &ldquo;You&#39;re talking about a huge loss of investment.&rdquo;</p><p>Luckily, he said, the city and other stakeholders have embraced the project, which opens Tuesday June 5th.&nbsp;</p><p>&ldquo;I wouldn&#39;t be surprised if in the &lsquo;70s if they were just like, &lsquo;Weirdo,&rsquo; like dismissive of a project like that,&rdquo; he said of Christo&rsquo;s 1969 MCA project. &ldquo;Now I think it&#39;s been proven a little better that art has an impact.&rdquo;</p><p>As Hummel and his crew worked, two Chicago police officers rolled up in their SUV. One leaned out the window and asked what was going on. They&rsquo;re installing art, I told them. The cop nodded his head and they drove away.</p></p> Fri, 01 Jun 2012 10:13:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/artwork/daring-plan-wrap-chicago-museum-raises-city-ire-%E2%80%93-and-makes-art-history-99731 Whither Art/Work? http://www.wbez.org/series/artwork/whither-artwork-98966 <p><div class="image-insert-image " style="text-align: center;"><img alt="" class="image-original_image" src="http://www.wbez.org/system/files/styles/original_image/llo/insert-images/fabric%20sample%202.jpg" title="A tidbit related to our upcoming Art/Work feature. (WBEZ/Robin Amer)"></div><p>You may be wondering what’s become of our monthly series, <em>Art/Work</em>, which profiles contemporary visual artists showing in Chicago. Don’t fret, we haven’t gone away.</p><p>Rather, we’ve been spending the last eight weeks or so reporting a radio feature we think will have been worth the effort. I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say this: The feature brings to light a fascinating moment when Chicago made art history. It also lifts the curtain on an exciting and groundbreaking exhibit that’s coming up soon.</p><p>The featured is scheduled to air sometime in the last week of May. Stay tuned!</p></p> Wed, 09 May 2012 11:10:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/series/artwork/whither-artwork-98966 With ordinary objects, artist Laura Letinsky instills - and questions - photographic desire http://www.wbez.org/story/ordinary-objects-artist-laura-letinsky-instills-and-questions-photographic-desire-96180 <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2012-February/2012-02-07/Untitled3_Letinsky_2011.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/36364802?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" webkitallowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="451" width="601"></iframe></p><p>Historically the still life has been considered a “debased genre” – less important, say, than the portrait or the landscape. This hierarchy is reflected in the artwork’s sale price, with still lifes fetching less money than other genres.</p><p>There have been, however, moments in history when the still life has come into prominence. The 17<sup>th</sup> century, for example, when Dutch masters gave us opulent tablescapes overladen with oysters, ripe fruit and sides of meat. Or the latter half of the 20<sup>th</sup> century, when <a href="http://www.google.com/search?q=wayne+thiebaud+cakes&amp;oe=utf-8&amp;rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&amp;client=firefox-a&amp;um=1&amp;ie=UTF-8&amp;hl=en&amp;tbm=isch&amp;source=og&amp;sa=N&amp;tab=wi&amp;ei=j3AxT6yNJOjfsQKv2-iSBw&amp;biw=1600&amp;bih=655&amp;sei=kXAxT8D-Ion_sQLey7mLBw">Wayne Thiebaud gave us cakes</a> and <a href="http://www.google.com/search?q=wayne+thiebaud+cakes&amp;oe=utf-8&amp;rls=org.mozilla:en-US:official&amp;client=firefox-a&amp;um=1&amp;ie=UTF-8&amp;hl=en&amp;tbm=isch&amp;source=og&amp;sa=N&amp;tab=wi&amp;ei=j3AxT6yNJOjfsQKv2-iSBw&amp;biw=1600&amp;bih=655&amp;sei=kXAxT8D-Ion_sQLey7mLBw#um=1&amp;hl=en&amp;client=firefox-a&amp;rls=org.mozilla:en-US%3Aofficial&amp;tbm=isch&amp;sa=1&amp;q=claes+oldenburg+sculptures&amp;oq=claes+oldenburg+&amp;aq=0&amp;aqi=g10&amp;aql=&amp;gs_sm=c&amp;gs_upl=3384l3384l2l5348l1l1l1l0l0l0l0l0ll0l0&amp;bav=on.2,or.r_gc.r_pw.,cf.osb&amp;fp=dab9654dde5ead8&amp;biw=1600&amp;bih=655">Claes Oldenburg gave us clothespins</a>. Still lifes catch our eye in periods of time when images of objects clustered together have embodied something about the current culture that makes them relevant and resonant.</p><p>Photographer <a href="http://lauraletinsky.com/">Laura Letinsky</a> thinks that we’re in another such moment where the still life is ascendant.</p><p>All you have to do, she says, is look at the plethora of lifestyle magazines stuffed to the brim with glossy photos of meticulously laid out, Martha Stewart-esque dinner tables and ads for shiny new iPods. Or scan countless food and home decor blogs that document every lamp, every refurbished desk, every jar of jam, every room arranged in pristine fashion. Right now, it seems, we really want to look at beautiful images of beautiful objects made for us to consume.</p><p>Asking why, and exploring her own love-hate relationship with these images of domestic perfection, are what have driven Letinsky’s work since she began making still life photographs in 1997.</p><p><img alt="" class="caption" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/insert-image/2012-February/2012-02-07/P1040497.JPG" style="width: 300px; height: 225px; margin: 5px; float: left;" title="Objects in Letinsky's studio reflect the artist's preoccupation with all things discarded. (WBEZ/Robin Amer)">Letinsky says she wants to undermine and challenge what she sees as the “promise” of these images. Rather than show us a “cornucopia awaiting the viewer’s appetite,” she wants to show us the discarded, the spoiled and the left-over. In her images, flowers have wilted, drinks have been spilled, fruit has rotted—in short, the party is over. Letinsky wants to question the promise of perfection and possession held in not just still life photos, but in every photographic image.</p><p>You can explore her work in the video above, or see it for yourself starting tonight: Her first solo museum show opens Tuesday at the Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of their <em>Chicago Works</em> series. She’ll also have photos on display at <a href="http://smartmuseum.uchicago.edu/exhibitions/feast/"><em>Feast</em></a>, a food and hospitality-themed exhibit that opens at the Smart Museum on Feb. 16.</p><p><a href="http://www.wbez.org/series/artwork"><em>Art/Work </em></a><em>features contemporary visual artists exhibiting in Chicago talking about the inspiration and perspiration behind their creative endeavors. </em><a href="http://www.mcachicago.org/exhibitions/next/all/292"><em>Chicago Works: Laura Letinsky </em></a><em>opens today at the </em><a href="http://mcachicago.org/" target="_blank"><em>Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago </em></a><em>and runs through April 17, 2012. The MCA is a station partner of WBEZ. </em><a href="http://smartmuseum.uchicago.edu/exhibitions/feast/"><em>Feast: Radical Hospitality in Contemporary Art </em></a><em>runs at the </em><a href="http://smartmuseum.uchicago.edu/exhibitions/feast/"><em>Smart Museum of Art</em></a>&nbsp;<em>from Feb. 16 through June 10, 2012.</em></p></p> Tue, 07 Feb 2012 18:39:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/story/ordinary-objects-artist-laura-letinsky-instills-and-questions-photographic-desire-96180 Video: Sculptor Juan Angel Chavez traces hidden meaning along the border http://www.wbez.org/content/video-sculptor-juan-angel-chavez-traces-hidden-meaning-along-border <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-December/2011-12-13/juan angel chavez.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="338" mozallowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/33612013?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="601"></iframe></p><p>Chicago artist Juan Angel Chavez recalls <a href="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a07bemVFons">a Latin pop song</a> he heard on a recent trip back to his home state of Chihuahua, Mexico. It offered tongue-in-cheek advice to would-be immigrants trying to cross the border into the U.S. “Try not to look like you’re from Neptune,” the lyrics advise. In other words, if you want to cross successfully, try to blend in. Don’t stand out.</p><p>The song’s witticism inspired the title of a new piece by Chavez currently on display at the National Museum of Mexican Art in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood. <em>Neptuno</em> is a gallery-sized wooden sculpture meant to evoke one of the many underground smugglers tunnels used to transport contraband - including people - from one side of the U.S.- Mexican border to the other. As is the case with real smugglers tunnels, Chavez wanted his to hide in plain sight. The piece is camouflaged: made to look like a giant fallen log, built from scrap wood and building materials scavenged from alleys and workshops around the museum.</p><p>The tunnel is also a metaphor for the overall experience of border crossing, which Chavez knows first hand. Chavez says he came to the U.S. legally in 1985 when he was 13 years old. But over the years, and especially since 9/11, concerns about terrorism and drug trafficking have made border crossing a much more difficult proposition than it was in his youth. Those dangers are more than about one’s immigration status: Border-crossers may also encounter Mexican <em>federales</em>, drug cartels, or Minutemen as they navigate the layers of power and authority that exist in the space between the two countries.</p><p>In the video above, Chavez describes his experiences at the border and explains why he was inspired to bring a rogue tunnel into the rarefied world of art.</p><p>Neptuno <em>by Juan Angel Chavez is on display at the <a href="http://www.nationalmuseumofmexicanart.org/">National Museum of Mexican Art</a> in Pilsen through January 8, 2012.</em> <a href="../../content-categories/96594">Art/Work </a><em>features contemporary visual artists exhibiting in Chicago talking about the inspiration and perspiration behind their creative endeavors.</em></p></p> Tue, 13 Dec 2011 15:42:00 -0600 http://www.wbez.org/content/video-sculptor-juan-angel-chavez-traces-hidden-meaning-along-border Spaghetti and ‘Cubist cokeheads’? Artist Scott Reeder seduces with humor. http://www.wbez.org/content/spaghetti-and-%E2%80%98cubist-cokeheads%E2%80%99-artist-scott-reeder-seduces-humor <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-November/2011-11-01/Cubist Cokehead.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/31441609?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="601" frameborder="0" height="338"></iframe></p><p><em>Editor’s Note: The above video contains certain images that may not be appropriate for younger or more sensitive viewers. </em></p><p>Scott Reeder is a funny painter. Not funny-strange, but funny-ha ha: a painter with a sense of humor. His pieces have punch lines, sometimes in the title, and sometimes in the way they’re made. For instance, paintings of pinkish-colored, concentric circles or flat squares of color transform from mere abstract images into something giggle-inducing when you learn the titles are <em>Continuous Hot Dog</em> and <em>All the Boring States</em>. A sublime looking canvas that might call to mind a Cy Twombley chalkboard painting turns out to have been made with 50 lbs. of dried spaghetti, like a very advanced version of someone’s nursery school craft project. &nbsp;</p><p>Many modern artists have challenged the art establishment with humor – like Duchamp with his signed urinals. But as a classically trained painter who’s now on the faculty at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Reeder says he’s not trying to “undermine these heroic painters.” His work is less a challenge to - and more of a conversation with – the great painters of the past. &nbsp;“The tone of it, what I’m trying to say,” Reeder insists, is, “have you tried spaghetti – as a tool?”</p><p>Some might know Reeder from earlier, Milwaukee-based collaborations with brother Tyson, like the web –based series Zero TV. Now his work has its biggest spotlight to date in the MCA’s revamped and rebranded <em>12x12</em> series, which for ten years showcased mostly local artists in their first solo museum shows, and which re-launches today with Reeder as <em>Chicago Works</em>. The show includes several new figurative paintings, Reeder’s title lists, and his biggest painting yet, a 14 by 25 ft. spaghetti painting on display in the MCA’s main atrium.</p><p>WBEZ filmed Reeder while he created this work, and spoke to him about why he makes paintings with titles like <em>Cubist Cokehead</em> and <em>Symmetrical Pirate</em>. They’re as funny as they sound, and you can see them in the video above.</p><p><em><a href="../../content-categories/96594">Art/Work</a> features contemporary visual artists exhibiting in Chicago talking about the inspiration and perspiration behind their creative endeavors.</em> <a href="http://mcachicago.org/exhibitions/next/all/289">Chicago Works: Scott Reeder</a> <em>opens today at the <a href="http://mcachicago.org/">Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago</a> and runs through Jan. 24, 2012. The MCA is a station partner of WBEZ.</em></p></p> Tue, 01 Nov 2011 18:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/content/spaghetti-and-%E2%80%98cubist-cokeheads%E2%80%99-artist-scott-reeder-seduces-humor Artist Deb Sokolow makes conspiracy theories come alive in graphic style http://www.wbez.org/content/artist-deb-sokolow-makes-conspiracy-theories-come-alive-graphic-style <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-October/2011-10-06/You Tell People excerpt_Deb Sokolow.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/30138198?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="601" frameborder="0" height="338"></iframe></p><p>At age 12, while eating lunch with her mother in a Washington, D.C. McDonalds, <a href="http://debsokolow.com/home.html">Deb Sokolow</a> watched a man enter the restaurant bathroom with a suitcase. Several minutes later she watched a different man leave the bathroom with the same suitcase.</p><p>“That,” she says, “Was a significant moment.”</p><p>Now a visual artist with an eye for hidden detail and an ear for conspiracy theories, Sokolow takes the comic book form – drawings and storytelling – and explodes it. She takes the form off the page and brings it onto the wall, creating huge narrative drawings that can fill an entire gallery, sometimes stretching up to 48 ft. long.</p><p>Her drawings are precise and even architectural. Her text is blocky and self-consciously hand-written. Her stories are wild and intricate.</p><p>The conspiracy theories she explores include both popular ones debated out in the world and those that she invents herself. To wit: A current piece explores the notion that the Denver International Airport is concealing an underground network of tunnels that may house the headquarters of the New World Order or a secret Congressional bunker; whereas in her 2005 piece <a href="http://debsokolow.com/section/30827_Someone_tell_Mayor_Daley_the_pirates_are.html"><em>Someone tell Mayor Daley the pirates are coming</em></a>, buccaneers plot to steal treasure the mayor has hidden beneath Meigs Field.&nbsp;</p><p>To some, the stories may sound laughable. In some moments they seem so farfetched and ridiculous they read like obvious works of fiction.</p><p>But at other moments, the work hits a nerve, and the&nbsp;way the story is executed makes you wonder&nbsp;whether your neighbor really could be a human butcher working for the Chicago Outfit.</p><p>As the saying goes, just because you’re paranoid, it doesn’t mean the postal workers you see out your window aren’t smuggling drugs for a Mexican cartel.</p><p>Sokolow’s work is on display at the Betty Rymer Gallery at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago through October 15, as part of the group show <em>CartoonInk! Emerging Comics in Context</em>.</p><p><em><a href="http://www.wbez.org/content-categories/96594">Art/Work</a> features contemporary visual artists exhibiting in Chicago talking about the inspiration and perspiration behind their creative endeavors.</em></p></p> Thu, 06 Oct 2011 14:41:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/content/artist-deb-sokolow-makes-conspiracy-theories-come-alive-graphic-style Through primates, the evolutionary origins of war http://www.wbez.org/content/through-primates-evolutionary-origins-war <img typeof="foaf:Image" src="http://llnw.wbez.org/story/photo/2011-September/2011-09-08/Exhilerated and Exhausted.jpg" alt="" /><p><p style="text-align: center;"><iframe allowfullscreen="" src="http://player.vimeo.com/video/28772707?title=0&amp;byline=0&amp;portrait=0&amp;color=b30000" webkitallowfullscreen="" width="601" frameborder="0" height="338"></iframe></p><p>Today WBEZ launches a new monthly series called Art/Work, where we talk with contemporary visual artists exhibiting in Chicago about the inspiration and perspiration behind their creative endeavors. We begin with <a href="http://www.alisonruttan.com/">Alison Ruttan</a>, a multimedia artist based in Oak Park, Ill., who works largely in photography and video.</p><p>Ruttan likes to emphasize that she is an artist, not a scientist, despite her fascination with scientific inquiry. She jokes that she was raised to be an "artist anthropologist" by her social scientist parents who moved her to a new school almost every year. “I would have to figure out how to not get picked on,” she said about her childhood. “I was really interested in trying to understand what the rules were about behavior - and trying to fit in.”</p><p>Now, fascinated as she is by human behavior, much of her work is preoccupied with exploring what makes us uniquely human, versus those elements of our behavior which can be traced to our primate ancestors.</p><p>Ruttan’s previous projects include a series on primates <a href="http://www.alisonruttan.com/art.php?group=0&amp;item=4">photographed in human settings</a>, and an investigation of bonobos living in captivity who may be <a href="http://www.alisonruttan.com/art.php?group=0&amp;item=1">cultivating individual hairstyles</a>. But her most ambitious project to date is a photo series based on the field work of legendary primatologist Jane Goodall.</p><p>Goodall spent decades in Tanzania starting in the 1960s, observing the behavior of humanity’s closest primate relatives: chimpanzees.&nbsp; Among the things she witnessed was a brutal "war" between two groups of chimpanzees that had previously lived together as a single, peaceful community. After splitting in two, one group of chimpanzees attacked and decimated what Ruttan called “their former friends.”</p><p>For her series <em>The Four Year War at Gombe</em>, Ruttan cast untrained actors (and one performance artist) to re-enact scenes from Goodall’s work. Shot in a patch of woods in Oak Park and River Forest, Ill. the resulting photographs are reminiscent of the kind of dark, 19th century illustrations that might accompany classic children's fairy tales. The woods are dark and foreboding, the photos, haunting. Her images also take aesthetic cues from horror films shot with hand-held cameras, like <em>The Blair Witch Project,</em> and have the kind of size and presence one finds in monumental landscape painting or the stained glass windows of a cathedral.&nbsp;You can see Ruttan’s work, and hear her describe her process, in the video above.</p><p><em>Selections from </em>The Four Year War at Gombe <em>are on display at the Museum of Contemporary Photography at Columbia College in Chicago through Oct. 16<sup>th</sup>. Ruttan gives an artist talk tonight at 4 p.m., followed by a reception from 5 to 7 p.m. </em></p></p> Thu, 08 Sep 2011 16:21:00 -0500 http://www.wbez.org/content/through-primates-evolutionary-origins-war