On-Site Participant Discussions
On-location Interview Transcription and analysis (22 Participants Total)
The Republic, Stony Island
Participant comments and analysis of this piece are in my thesis.
Thomas Garrigue Masaryk Memorial
Participant comments are in my thesis.
My Reflection: As I waited for subjects to interview, sitting in the rain on a cold December day in the shadow of "Good King Wenceslas," I asked myself if there really is anything to be learned from the old monuments? Are they really just moldering pieces of bronze that should go uncared for, unheeded, with plinths of marble fit only for the purpose of keeping us fit as we run up and down the steps on our daily exercise routines? "King Wenceslaus," a woman nearby asked? "Who is that?" Even the old Christmas carol is no longer part of the typically recognized Christmas lyrics. They were replaced years ago by ones like "Grandma got ran over by a reindeer," a song whose strain echoed from the nearby skating rink. The original carol, set in 1853 to a fifteenth-century dance tune celebrating the regenerative power of spring, was disdained by the editors of the 1928 "Oxford Book of Carols," who hoped that the carol "gradually pass into disuse" (Dearmer, et. al, p. 167). It has. Should the monument, as well as the stories based upon Wenceslas, pass into disuse as well? Or is it possible for a viewer to be inspired by the story of a thirteen year-old boy, raised by his grandmother after his father was killed, who later went on to lead his people into a unified group, fighting against oppression? Monuments sometimes obscure the stories behind them, no longer offering critical or crucial information. They stand where they are, silent. It is up to the viewer to seek the hidden meanings behind them, in the same way it is necessary for a jogger to strap on a pair of shoes each time she heads into the cold rain.
A University of Chicago employee who has worked at the same location across from the Memorial for five years was entirely unaware of the monument's history, unlike the other two students from India interviewed at the same location. As a mother of a young child, she would be interested in purchasing a comprehensive guide book that would allow her to begin introducing her daughter to the rich artistic heritage she encounters daily in Chicago.
Shankman School Untitled Mosaic
My Reflection: The mosaic, which creates concave areas of light and space through swirls and lines of texture and color, is hidden in a dark arcade, and the surrealist style of the piece is a startling contrast to the trees that serve to further shield it from view. The setting, with its stark branches in fall and winter, bursts into bloom in the spring, serving as further reminder of the inevitable yet rejuvenating cycles of life.
The viewer, a Chicago native who was emerging from the building to which the mural is attached, admitted that though she passes the mosaic often has never paid much heed to the piece. She added that she realizes that many public works of art have disappeared across the city throughout her lifetime, a fact that makes her realize she should be more appreciative of the art while it is available. She just hasn't taken the time to do so because of her hectic schedule.
Construction in Space
My Reflection: This piece at one time shared the quadrangle with "Diarchy," a 1957 Kenneth Armitage piece and a nearby 1970 concrete encased Cadillac by Wolf Vostell. While visiting the site, I listened to tunes from the sixties and seventies echo from a nearby ice skating rink, a reminder that pop culture has outlived some of the fine art styles from the same period.
University of Chicago anthropology student, who believed she was rather perceptive of her surroundings, was surprised to learn that one of the featured sculptures abutted her dormitory, yet she didn't recognize the piece. She had walked past the work of art without ever taking note of its existence. She had no suggestions how educators could perhaps begin to increase the public awareness of art other than through formal education, which she wryly noted she had not received even though the University of Chicago Logan Visual Arts Center had employed her for two years.
Carl von Linne
My Reflection: The sculpture, surrounded by a well-landscaped garden-like setting with twelve benches, is partially obscured by overgrown trees. While it is an apt setting for a botanist, the artistic integrity of the piece is compromised by the surrounding landscape.
Fountain of Time
Participant comments are in my thesis.
My Reflection: The piece was first commissioned by the B. F. Ferguson Fund to commemorate the centennial of the end of America's 1812 War with England, but within the 14 year timeframe it took to complete the 100-figure sculpture, World War I had been fought, bringing a poignant, new interpretation to the march of Time, seemingly led by the soldier on horseback toward the unseen goal Taft had originally described when he first began the piece. Lovers, children, youth, aged: none are exempt from the devastation of war.
Mother and Child
My Reflection: This primitive-inspired piece, donated by the Sara Lee Corporation, is easily lost in the surrounding, same colored metal staircase railing, which figuratively imprisons the mother and child depicted in the sculpture.
University of Chicago research instructor visits the plaza five times a day plus passes beside the work each time he ascends the steps between his two locations on campus, yet he has never taken the time to look at the plaque identifying the work and its artist. He believes there needs to be increased awareness of the rich artistic and cultural influence available across campus, but has no suggestions how this may be achieved. He did note, however, that location seems to matter, recalling that the nearby "big circle" stands out in his mind more than this one because of its prominent position in the plaza.
My Reflection: The prominence of the calligraphic-style writing that at once provides the rotating force and seemingly breaks through the otherwise restrictive hardness of the polished surface serves as a reminder that ancient writings still wield power in a mechanized society.
The piece is memorable because, as one observer noted, it "speaks to the viewer" unlike some of the smaller, poorly placed pieces across campus. The viewer added that too often in today's world of specialization and hectic schedules, little time is left to appreciate art. He doubts he would be likely to use a mobile app, visit a website or read a book published on the public works of art, though he added, "I should, but I probably won't. I am too busy."
My Reflection: A traditional dialogue breaks the surface plane, figuratively inviting the viewer to join into the scholastic exchange of ideas. This piece, sitting on its own 14' limestone base, looms over the viewer in a self-contained, threatening space, discouraging the viewer from participating in the conversation.
Jacob Wrestling the Angel II
My Reflection: Because of its size, this sculpture in the center of the small plaza is easy to miss, but once spied, its tormented, bent figure is not easily ignored, symbolizing the inner struggles with sensitivity toward community responsibility shared by all humanity.
Local employee had barely taken note of the sculpture, believing it to be "just part of the Christmas decorations." He was unable to describe it other than noting that it was "circular." The piece of public art he most easily recalls was the Marilyn Monroe, a temporary sculpture erected in the Tribune Plaza. He added that it had received extensive media coverage, something that he believes is instrumental in informing the public about a work of art.
Hyde Park resident and art boutique import shop owner was aware that "Jacob and the Angel II" had been there for as long as she could remember, yet even though her shop shared the same plaza as the piece, she was unaware of the title, artist, or even the subject of the piece, describing it as "half-man, half-beast."
My Reflection: The antiquity of this piece and its accompanying Guardian Figures contrasts sharply with the more modern pieces surrounding it, yet compliments the overarching geometric patterns so frequently employed in the nearby mid-twentieth century sculptures.
Confucian theory, Li, encompasses three basic concepts: ritual associated with honoring ancestors, honoring social and political institutions, and honoring one another with our daily interactions. As I watch passers-by cut across the well-laid out landscapes looking for the quickest way to get from one point to another, passing by any number of monuments, most of which were set up as memorials to the deceased, representing in some form or another an important historical moment or social/political event, I wonder how closely we are adhering to these ancient principals, or whether or not we are too distracted to heed anything outside of the reach of the sound of our own earbuds.
My Reflection: This later, brighter Jene Highstein piece allows the natural veins of the marble to emerge, lending the appearance of blood trickling down the rough-hewn, deeply incised marble.
University of Chicago Smart Museum docent, a graduate student, admitted he is unaware of the titles or artists of the pieces in the vicinity of the museum, adding that he leads the children through the memorial garden, relying on the plaques to provide the information regarding the pieces. He noted that public art is "not about names or dates," but about the impression they make upon the viewers. As I brushed aside the detritus of old growth and fallen leaves from the plaque to identify the title of the sculpture, I realized it had been awhile since the docent had referenced the information contained thereon.
My Reflection: Placed in the 2008 renovated courtyard of the Smart museum, this piece is part of the Vera and A. D. Elden Sculpture Garden, a patchwork design intended for interactive, interdisciplinary educational outreach that emphasizes "life long learning" through educational programs offered by the free art museum. Docents of the program "introduce students to methods of looking at and communicating about works of visual art." The program is designed as a community outreach to third and fifth grade students intended to increase their appreciation for the arts.
If public art isn't "about names and dates," then what is it "about?" For that matter, what is any art "about," and what does it mean to increase its "appreciation?" As I edited the photos I shot for these tours, I often grimaced when I come across the inevitable reflection of myself in the panes of glass surrounding the public art, knowing that I should not use the photo. "All photographs are there," John Berger has stated, "to remind us of what we forget." He added, "In this - as in other ways - they are the opposite of paintings." To this I add, "or any other form of art, whether it be performance, sculpture, music, film..." Berger has also noted the arts "record what the [artist] remembers. Because each one of us forgets different things, a photo more than [any other art] may change its meaning according to who is looking at it." Remembering. That is what art is about, what it is for, and, like a photo, it always remains a reflection of ourselves within a single moment, the moment of contact in which we view ourselves reflected in the art before us.
My Reflection: The well-worn path that cuts through the nearby grass indicates a number of people pass within close proximity of the sculpture, which contrasts what was at the time cutting edge-technology (radar) with ancient calligraphic-style language. The curvilinear rectangle appears to echo the myths and legends of history, projecting them outward for the receptive passers-by to hear the message. Few, as I have discovered in a series of interviews conducted on the campus, take time to do so.
Fifteen-year University of Chicago veteran who works at an arts-based location near this piece had never taken the time to learn the name of the pieces he passes daily. His organization is heavily involved in educating both college-age and grammar-school students, providing services to both individuals and school groups. He believes interdisciplinary education needs to be strengthened. He collects books from locations he has visited, adding that he would more than likely purchase a text rich in photos based upon Chicago public works of art.
My Reflection: When viewed with the nearby backdrop of autumn's bare branches, the bronze becomes one with its setting, further underscoring the artist's original intent of emphasizing the organic form of his sculpture.
Fifth-year University of Chicago docent, though unable to identify any of the public art near the Smart museum, explained that he is part of the free program offered to third and fifth grade students. The curriculum includes extensive integration of discussion, on-line learning and art making for public South Side Chicago schools.
My Reflection: Embodying at once "a skull, a death's head," and a mushroom-shaped cloud, when "Nuclear Energy" was unveiled, William McNeill wrote, "Moore's sculpture symbolizes an awesome risk and a no less awesome promise inherent in the human possession of cheap and all but illimitable energy. It shows that science, along with other fields that apply human intelligence, both creates and destroys human values....Thanks to atomic energy, the end of poverty, no less than the end of humanity now seem real possibilities" (rpt in Bach, 1983, p. 270).
Every person interviewed in the area was familiar with the subject, most were able to identify the title, and three were able to identify the artist.
Spirit of DuSable: Taylor, Parker
My Reflection: The unformed mass sitting at the base of the towering curvilinear structure serves as a reminder of potential growth, the overarching theme of the sculpture park celebrating the life of the first non-native settler, Jean Baptiste Point Du Sable, a Haitian trader who built the first permanent structure in the Chicago area around the end of the eighteenth century.
The Chicago Parks District maintains this sunken sculpture garden, one of the few instillations that feature all Chicago sculptors.
Spirit of DuSable: McCullough
My Reflection: The intricate bronze patterns are evocative of finely woven reeds of an African basket while the resin serves as an all-too familiar reminder of race riots that have haunted Chicago's not-too distant past. A week after I researched this piece in January, 2012, police squad cars were pelted with bricks, sticks and stones a few blocks from this location following an early-morning arrest of two men charged with suspected burglary.
Spirit of DuSable: Ford
My Reflection: The upright form of Ford's sculpture mirrors the abandoned factory smokestack in the distance while the angular jawlines of the transhuman face echoes the horizontal lines of the newer business complex nearby.
My Reflection: The elongated forms of adult and child lean protectively toward one another, creating a contrasting hollow space between the figures, alluding to the potential growth of both figures that may result from the strength derived from the pleasure of unconditional love. The second installation of this piece appears as a lone column on the other side of the museum's steps, a solemn reminder of the isolating effect of "conditional love" or the absence of love altogether.
My Reflection: All too often, we have idolized American heroes, setting them up on the pedestals of history, stripping them entirely of their personalities, then deifying them in art. In part, this is the process against which Benjamin wrote when he called for the deconstruction of history. When he wrote that "monumental history" ought to be replaced by "critical history," he was not calling for a cessation of history lessons, but for a re-evaluation of history so it could provide lessons of how society could reinvent itself, much in the way Franklin had begun to experiment with harnessing electricity. Rather than viewing a stodgy hero instrumental in forming the early stages of America's Industrial Revolution, as Franklin's figural coat flaps in the wind and he takes the symbolic step off his pedestal inviting the viewer to join him in conversation, I am reminded of his more humorous essay in which he instructs the French academy to "Fart proudly." Go ahead. Join him, and cut lose. Perhaps as you do, you will be more inclined to unleash the power of history's lessons rather than fight against or for its monumentality.
Spanish-born University of Chicago instructor identified this sculpture as one of the most memorable pieces of public art in Chicago.
Robert Cavelier de La Salle
After fighting successfully against corruption in Chicago's City Council, Tree's hopes of pursuing a political position locally were dashed, but President Grover Cleveland gave him the honor of serving as foreign minister in Belgium. Tree was as intent on supporting the arts in Chicago as he was fighting corruption, founding the Tree Studios on North State Street, which established a inexpensive living quarters and studio space for artists (Bach, 1983, pp. 129-30).
Life-long Chicago resident and marketing manager noted that few people seemed to interact with the art, but added that it contributed to the overall feeling of community. She meets with her friends at least once a day near the sculptures and enjoys the time spent with them as their dogs play together in the area. She was aware of the sculpture of La Salle, the role he played in history, and added that the sculpture could serve as an important visual reinforcement of the history lessons teachers introduce in their classrooms. When asked about the increased violence in the area (a shooting had occurred just a few blocks away the weekend before I interviewed her), she expressed concern, but quickly added, “This is Chicago…” When I pressed her to explain her comment, she recounted that “in her own neighborhood” as she was waiting for a bus early one morning on her way to work, she had what she had identified as a “wealthy, drunk business man” pull up beside her and asked her how much she charged, indicating he had mistaken her for a prostitute. Her anecdote served to illustrate that criminal activity is not just limited to gangs, divided among racial or socio-economic statuses, but was just a normal part of everyday life in Chicago.
Hans Christian Andersen
My Reflection: As a child reared in a conservative home, I was allowed to read two types of literature: the Bible and fairy tales. I would escape the abuse, neglect, dirt and poverty of my childhood lost in a strange world of words painted with violence and poverty overcome through hope, faith and a touch of magic. As I explore the public art in Chicago, I lose myself once again in images of Lincoln Park, old memorials that serve as a reminder that the ugly kid on the block may some day be transformed into a beautiful swan or that a kiss may transform the allusive mermaid into a human.
Long-time Chicago resident and local employee, who stressed that he and his children’s primary form of entertainment in the evening was reading, noted that Chicago Parks were actively engaged in education, hosting school-aged children on field trips often, adding that his place of employment was free to the public. He believed art, architecture and landscape worked together to create an atmosphere that encouraged hands-on, daily interaction with all cultural modes of expression.
My Reflection: The small garden surrounding him features flowers mentioned in his works. The base is inscribed with Samuel T. Coleridge's praise of Shakespeare: "He was not for an age but for all time."
Blossom and Irving Levin Family Foundation
Life-long Chicago resident and educator who was currently pursuing her Master’s in Education lauded Chicago’s 2012 Cultural Plan for its effort to increase cultural awareness of local communities through its proposal to engage students within their own neighborhoods. She noted that areas like those surrounding this sculpture served as a perfect example of how interdisciplinary approaches are a successful means of educating students about ecology, biology, history, geography and art, adding that excursions into the local neighborhood will also provide physical exercise as well, an important aspect in effectively engaging all types of learners. The area has signs (visual instruction), a teacher’s lesson in the area would have to be auditory, and the experiential learners would be able to appreciate the textures, smells, and physical stimulation of the walk itself, all important aspects in educational processes.
Local horticulturist and college instructor provided one of the most insightful interviews I had throughout my project. He spent hours visiting with me regarding the subject, and I am grateful for his contribution. I discuss the interview thoroughly in the body of my thesis.
Richard J. Oglesby
My Reflection: In the same way that well-worn gloves once symbolized a Renaissance man, possessing virtues of wealth, power and athletic ability, a well-worn hat once symbolized the American frontiersman ideal. Placed on one of the highest hills I have seen in Chicago, this monument seems above the world, yet in an isolated way, neglected, nearly ignored except by the occasional homeless person, artist or partier who wanders up the hill for a glimpse of the city that often is reserved for those wealthy enough to possess a view from a tower office or expensive apartment or condominium.