Year of Public Art: Sculpture Trolley Tour
Chicago Park District and Chicago Sculpture International
TOUR: Sculpture Around Town
June 21, 24 and 25, 2017
Trolley tours highlight the Chicago Sculpture International’s Sculpture In the Parks (15 sculptures near Chicago Park District cultural centers) and the Chicago Tree Project (30 sculptures made from dead trees). Each tour highlight a different area of the city from north to south to west sides and include talks by the artists.
Starts/Ends: 500 S. Central Ave., Columbus Park near Austin Blvd.
“Sculpture Around Town”
Published May 31, 2017
The year 2017 is being recognized as the year of public art. Accordingly, Chicago Sculpture International has organized trolley tours to nearly 50 works that have popped up in the city’s parks, with a special focus on a carved-tree series transforming dead trunks into surreal wonders. Pick one of three two-hour tours: north (June 21, 6 p.m.), lakefront (June 24, 10 a.m.), or south (June 25, noon).
“What are you doing this weekend? We’ve got an idea or two”
Crain’s Chicago Business by Graham Meyer
Published June 7, 2017
To combat the lack of decent docents to interpret the public art dotted around our urbs in horto, Chicago Sculpture International and the Chicago Park District are tootling trolleys from artwork to artwork, hopping off to hear from the artists themselves, then hopping back on to zip off to the next park art. The two-hour tours run on north, lakefront and south routes, viewing sculptures and trees sculpted in place, branches of the Chicago Tree Project to artify dead or sick trees. Those who have schedule conflicts at the times of the tours, because, honestly, it’s difficult to get to all 10 Things to Do, can listen to an audio tour through the smartphone app Otocast. June 21-25. $20. Depart from Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington St.http://www.chicagobusiness.com/article/20170607/NEWS0701/170609925/what-are-you-doing-this-weekend-weve-got-an-idea-or-two
“Sculpture Around Town”
Published June 5, 2017
Join Chicago Sculpture International and the Chicago Park District on a series of trolley tours to view the latest sculpture installations — and meet the artists who created them — at parks across the city. Select from three tours. The North Tour running from Rogers Park to Pilsen on June 21, the Lakefront Tour running from Edgewater to Jackson Park on June 24, and the South Tour running from south of Cermak to West Pullman on June 25.
“Along Chicago’s Lakefront Trail, an open-air museum”
Chicago Tribune by James Steinbauer
Published June, 22 2017
“On a cool, windy June afternoon, a ghostly figure, its knuckles hanging at its sides, strode south toward the Chicago skyline.
Large Walking Figure 1, by Thomas Houseago, is the newest and northernmost piece in a rotating collection of sculptures along the Lakefront Trail. Installed two months ago, it will stand near the bike path about a third of a mile south of the Bryn Mawr Avenue access point for at least a year.
Chicago is home to scores of world-class sculptures sitting in parks throughout the city, and nowhere offers a more diverse collection than the lakefront.
“When we think of art, we typically think of it as something that belongs in a frame or museum, but public art flips that around,” said Mark Kelly, Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events commissioner. “I believe part of what makes us human is we have an unmistakable creative energy about us. And that is not something that should be isolated or locked away.”
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has pushed for more art in public places, city parks and on the lakefront since he took office. He named 2017 the Year of Public Art, and Thursday, the cultural affairs department will announce the artists bringing work to each of the city’s wards as part of its 50×50 Neighborhood Arts Project.
The 50×50 project allows aldermen to use up to $10,000 for public art installations, and the cultural affairs department will match the amount they spend, Kelly said.
There are more than 500 works of art scattered around 150 of Chicago’s municipal buildings, CTA stations and parks, with almost 40 on the lakefront alone. So, on summer days when the weather is too nice to stay inside the Art Institute, pack a picnic, grab a bike or simply stroll along the city’s open-air museum. Here are some random samplings of what you might encounter.
The Chicago Tree Project
Just off Lake Shore Drive’s Belmont Avenue entrance ramp, a pair of trees that were slated for the ax have been transformed into two oversize chess pieces.
The two sculptures, a knight positioned for the takedown and a queen in ornate Elizabethan drab, her stiletto raised in defense, are collectively titled Checkmate. They were carved by Margot McMahon, an Oak Park native. McMahon said she wanted the knight, with its hoof outstretched and its mouth in an agonizing scream, to indicate the intense move in a chess game.
Checkmate is part of the Chicago Tree Project, a collaboration between the Chicago Park District and Chicago Sculpture International, a nonprofit created in 2004 to champion sculptures throughout the city. The project takes the city’s dead and dying ash trees, which have been decimated by the invasive emerald ash borer, and turns them into works of art.
“There is a subliminal message,” McMahon said of her work. “I’m an environmentalist and a sculptor. So this represents nature and the perpetrators of climate change. The knight, the horse, is saying, ‘Stop doing this,’ but we are above it in our own thinking.”
Now in its fourth year, the Chicago Tree Project has transformed more than 30 trees. Many of the sculptures can be found along the lakefront, including Endless by Samantha Rausch and Lead with the Heart by Kara James.
A trio of trees by Ron Gard, titled Dying to Survive, Phoenix Rising and Fair Curve, stand near the North Avenue terminus at Lake Shore Drive in Lincoln Park. Gard used a chainsaw to accentuate the natural torque of the trees, and they are smooth to the touch.
Michael Dimitroff, manager of art initiatives for the Park District, said artists are given a $2,000 stipend for each carving, but the work they put into the trees is a labor of love. It took McMahon about a month’s worth of carving to finish Checkmate. Gard’s trilogy took more than four months.
“These are museum quality,” Dimitroff said, running his hands up the grain of Fair Curve. “Instead of having a hole here where there were once three nice trees, the artist can breathe life into them again.”
When you walk off the Lakefront Trail and approach John Henry’s Chevron, positioned north of Diversey Harbor, the more than 50-foot-tall sculpture looks a bit like a windmill. The grassy field is dandelion-sprinkled. Pastoral.
It’s not until you’re alongside it that Chevron takes on a completely different look. Made of blue-painted steel beams, the sculpture becomes a part of Chicago’s cobalt skyline. It looks metallurgic. Industrial.
Dimitroff said one of the challenges of working with public art is finding the right spot to put it. Chevron works well where it stands, but most of the time, if art competes with Lake Michigan, it will lose, he said. Dimitroff can spend an entire day with an artist searching for the right spot. It’s his favorite part of the job.
“Part of putting art out is to, what we call, ‘activate a site,'” Dimitroff said. “When this came up, all of the sudden there was a spot for people to come out and meet. Art does that. It embraces.”
In 2013, world-renowned artist Christopher Wool’s famous painting “Apocalypse Now,” which had a short stint at the Art Institute of Chicago, sold for more than $26 million at Christie’s auction house in New York.
Valued at a more modest $3 million, Untitled (2013), a sculpture by Wool, rests in a flowerbed at Buckingham Plaza North, where the globular tangle of bronze wire is juxtaposed against the rococo-style Buckingham Fountain.
Most of the Park District’s public art, including Untitled (2013), is on loan from museums, galleries or the artists themselves.
“With a very limited budget, we sit with about $10 million of art on the ground,” Dimitroff said. “Which is pretty incredible.”
It can also be a liability. Last year, during the music festival Lollapolooza, almost half a million people crowded into the park around Untitled (2013), making it a particular concern for Dimitroff. Since late January, three outdoor art exhibits have been restored after they were vandalized, according to the Park District.
On a recent afternoon, Barb and Larry Lain, who were visiting Chicago from Dayton, Ohio, admired Wool’s work.
“At first, I thought it could be a first-grader’s shoelace,” said Barb Lain, a retired middle school teacher. “Then, I thought it looked a bit like my garden hose.”
Larry remembers when the Picasso was brought to Daley Plaza in 1967. Back then, he said, it was controversial.
“People thought it was an eyesore, that it didn’t look like anything,” he said. “But now public art is in every part of Chicago.”
Magma and Destino
Along Monroe Harbor and south of Queen’s Landing, Dimitroff points to a sculpture by another world-renowned artist. Magma, a rusting, 48-foot-long behemoth, was created by the sculptor Mark di Suvero. Chicago is home to two di Suvero sculptures. The second, named Destino, can be found along the lakefront near 54th Street.
Dimitroff described di Suvero’s works as “playful,” and despite the fact they are made from massive, crane-bent steel I-beams, oxidizing in the moist air blown off the lake, they can both move in the wind and seem light.
As a couple shared a picnic on the grass beside Magma, their bikes rested against its rusty skeleton. Site activation in action.
Unlike Houseago’s striding figure, Looking Up by Tom Friedman, which sits at the Lakefront Trail’s opposite end, on a stretch of grass near 47th Street, seems to be from the lighter side of a storybook world. It’s neck craned backward, the 33-foot-tall sculpture evokes images of a “Jack and the Beanstalk”-esque character.
The sun reflects off Looking Up’s polished stainless steel. From a distance, it looks like Friedman molded the giant out of crumpled aluminum foil, but closer inspection reveals smashed roasting pans, cupcake tins and TV dinner trays.
Friedman said he wanted the sculpture to convey a sense of wonder.
“What the best art can do is affect the way people see the world,” he said. “Not everyone takes the time to look up at the sky, and you can’t tell people to wonder, but you can give them a giant clue or request to do that.”
Looking Up is jovial. Had there been a nighttime sky filled with stars, he would be gazing at them. But with a front of cumulonimbus clouds moving on the horizon, he resembled a youthful boy, leaning into the rushing wind.”