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December 6, 2004

A Chicago Art Digest

I've been spending far more time than is probably healthy following newspaper arts coverage lately. Reasons for this will become apparent at a later date. For the time being, a backlog of stories in the world of Chicago art and culture...

Kings of the mountain at the Circle Campus

Since Paschke's death, the Sun-Times' Kevin Nance has put some calls out towards a short list of local artists poised to take over Ed's mantle as local art dean. UIC makes a strong showing:

Paschke's death leaves Richard Hunt, his contemporary, as the dean of Chicago artists in terms of age and status. But the city is not without its contingent of rising stars who seem poised to fill at least part of the vacuum created by Paschke's passing. A dozen calls to local art-scene observers yield a short list of four names, most of them men in their 40s, who are well on their way toward building national and international reputations as well as solid records as teachers, mentors and advocates of the arts in the city.
They are Kerry James Marshall and Inigo Manglano-Ovalle, both winners of the MacArthur Foundation "genius" grant and professors at the University of Illinois at Chicago; Dan Peterman, a conceptual artist who recently joined them on the UIC faculty and had a solo show, "Plastic Economies," this year at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and Dawoud Bey, a photographer who teaches at Columbia College and has had significant shows at institutions such as the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

Art matters

While it may not be as sexy as towing scofflaws or as Big Shoulder-rugged as hauling asphalt, Chicago's Public Art Program is doing its best to get in on the city scandal bonanza.

On November 26, the Trib reported on a possible settlement in the latest iteration of attorney Scott Hodes' lawsuit against the program. The first go 'round began some 5 years ago:

Chicago artists have long called the program unnecessarily—even illegally—secretive about the way it sets prices for commissions, and how it chooses artists.
A corporate attorney who represents artists, often on a pro bono basis, Hodes long has complained in letters to city officials and newspaper editors about the way the program was managed. In 1999, he filed a lawsuit to end its secret deliberations and ensure fair play for the estimated 17,000 applicants registered to be considered for the program's dozen-or-so annual commissions.
In 2001, Hodes, in effect, won: Officials pledged to honor state open meetings and public records laws if he would drop his suit, and so he did.

A new era of transparency? That would run too much against Chicago's cronyist grain. The latest suit was prompted in part by the process (ahem, lack thereof) that put Public Art dollars into three commissions for Gallery 37 that same year.

These three commissions were anything but routine, because the building at 66 E. Randolph is of special interest to two of Chicago's most powerful and beloved women—First Lady Daley and Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Lois Weisberg.
A series of intricate, interlocking relationships put Daley and Weisberg on both sides—donor and recipient—of the Public Art funds that flow through 66 E. Randolph.
In 1992, Maggie Daley established The Arts Matter, a private charity to raise money for the Gallery 37 teen artists' wages. Arts Matter receives money from private donors, but it also gets funds from Chicago's general city budget, channeled through Weisberg's Department of Cultural Affairs.
Daley chairs both the Arts Matter charity and the city-run Gallery 37 Committee. As commissioner of Cultural Affairs, Weisberg controls the funding for the Gallery 37 program she and Daley co-founded.
City records don't show that either woman played a direct role in the 66 E. Randolph commissions, and neither would comment for this article.
With the comparatively hefty $159,600 purse, the normally modest city program saw 66 E. Randolph as a chance to swing for the fences and go after "artists we could not have been able to get before," one city memo says. Gallery 37's then-director, Michelle Boone, drew up a list of eight nationally noted artists—including painters Ed Paschke and Kerry James Marshall, quiltmaker Faith Ringgold and photographer Michelle Keim—intending to award $50,000 each to three of them. Five of the eight artists originally considered were Chicago-based.
But, for reasons that remain unclear, there was a change of plan. Rather than go for artists with national reputations, city officials instead turned to others with ties to the Gallery 37 program. The available records don't show what discussion, if any, led to those choices.
Christopher Furman is known for interactive, kinetic sculptures installed in Chicago's Children's Memorial Hospital and Purdue University in Indiana. Furman said he got a call from the Public Art Program asking him to produce a work for 66 E. Randolph, for which he was eventually paid $42,600. "I was flattered—at the same time I was kind of surprised," he said.
Furman had not submitted slides of his work to the Public Art Program registry to be considered for a commission, but he had been a Gallery 37 teacher, and had helped assemble artwork for then-director Michael Lash, an artist himself.
Called before a program advisory panel headed by Lash, Furman was prepared to present several proposals. "It didn't seem like much of a competition. It was like, `we're going to use you,'" he said.
Carpenter/cabinet-maker Jeffrey Goldstein had slides in the Public Arts registry. But he had taken a 15-year sabbatical from gallery submissions and showings, so his application contained slides of paintings that had not been exhibited. He bolstered those with photos of a sailboat he had constructed.
The lead artist creating "Dance Frieze" was Phil Schuster, who has taught at Gallery 37. According to a February 2001 memo, city officials initially intended to list him as a member of the seven-person Project Advisory Panel that would select artists for 66 E. Randolph.

Of course, it's well known that critics of the city's favoritism are really only out for one thing: to embarass Little Dick Daley. Reforms are mere window dressing for all the haters.

City officials call Hodes' charges of impropriety in those commissions "preposterous." But they acknowledge that, over the years, his litigation has prompted broad, tangible reforms. The program now keeps detailed minutes, submits annual financial reports and posts advance notice of meetings to the public.
"The city has ceased the practice of quote-unquote secret balloting, so that issue is moot," city attorney Andrew Worseck told the judge in an August court hearing.
But as Hodes kept winning, city officials privately expressed exasperation that he wouldn't stop suing, and said he seemed out to embarrass the mayor or wrangle a seat on the program's 17-member Public Art Committee.
So it is with some ruffled feathers that the two sides reach the brink of settlement.
Hodes and program director Greg Knight have agreed to meet on Monday to discuss resolving the litigation. City officials won't comment on the talks, but Hodes and a city official who spoke off-the-record said the key outstanding issue was creating a way for the city to publicize upcoming projects and invite proposals from artists.

Hodes, for his part, is optimistic:

"What they did was wrong," Hodes said. But in the wake of his lawsuit, he adds, "I tend to think they won't try it again."

Ha. I'd say forget it, Scott. It's Chitown.

Minding Neverland

Charged with developing a couple of new three-year funding initiatives in the arts, new Chicago Community Trust senior arts program officer Kassie Davis polled local arts organizations about their needs. 250 groups were asked to participate in the online survey. 131 responded. Charles Storch reported the results a week ago in the Trib.

But the survey results did hold some surprises for her, including that grants for more artistic works or artists were a relative low priority.
"The needs seem to be on the organizational side rather than on the artistic side," she said.
Another surprise was the age of some organizations. Respondents were divided into four groups, based on their budgets: very small, up to $250,000; small, $250,000-$999,999; midsize, $1 million to $4,999,999; and large, $5 million or more.
The results showed that 27 percent of the very small groups had been scraping by for 11 to 20 years and 21 percent for longer than 20 years. Were these Peter Pans that wouldn't grow up?
"A lot of organizations do grow over time," Davis said. "But there is something holding these back, or they have chosen not to grow."
She noted that the smallest groups might be able to afford only one or two salaried staff members, relying largely on volunteers. She said if more research suggests lack of paid staff is a big barrier to growth, then support for more salaried positions might prove a worthy initiative.

Something that struck me as noteworthy:

Question: What artistic or cultural disipline best describes the primary work of your organization?
Theater: 26
Arts education: 20
Dance company: 17
Museum/botanic garden/zoo: 15
Music: 13
Community arts/music schools: 8
Presenter: 7
Arts service: 6
Media arts: 4
Literature: 3
Visual arts: 3
Other: 4
No response: 5

Of course, many notable visual arts orgs are probably subsumed under "Museum/botanic garden/zoo" (take your pick).

Something clever...

As long as we're discussing Lois Weisberg and arts funding, perhaps you've heard about the Department of Cultural Affairs' latest creative fundraising scheme: The Great Chicago Fire Sale, a suite of eBay auctions featuring "one-of-a-kind items, services and experiences that are unique to Chicago" and benefiting Gallery 37, the Art Grants Program and the Chicago Cultural Center.

The first auctions opened last Thursday and most will remain up through the 9th, when a second set of goods will go up on the block. So far, a dinner for 10 with Bill Kurtis (plus a life documentary of the winner, done up A&E-style) leads the pack price-wise at $6,100 (with 20 bids). The marquee item, a vintage 1960s Playboy Bunny costume donated by Hef & Co, has yet to garner a single bid (opening bid: $6,000). Likewise a dinner for 6 with the Zhou Brothers (opening bid: $2,000).

Something controversial...

In more traditional auction news, the Field Museum raked in millions at Sotheby's last week in a controversial deaccessioning of a collection of Western art that includes 31 George Catlin portraits.

In an auction that involved daylong drama and suspense, Chicago's Field Museum sold a collection of 19th Century Western art for $17.4million Thursday to an anonymous bidder and pledged to use the money to expand its holdings of contemporary anthropological artifacts.

In what may possibly be a bit of good news, the Field's Jonathan Haas suggests that the lone, anonymous buyer may have been another institution. Then again, maybe not:

Former trustee Edward Hirschland, who said he resigned in protest of the sale, was not necessarily enthused at news that the paintings were sold in a single lot. "They could have been bought by a broker who intends to sell them individually," he said.

And 'Something more radical'

Finally, on the art fair beat, we find Chicago Contemporary & Classic director Ilana Vardy quoted in a recent PR wirelette at Art & Antiques:

CHICAGO—You might add a fourth "C," for "complete," to the name of Chicago Contemporary & Classic—the forthcoming international art fair (May 6–9) at Chicago's Navy Pier. For the first time, the newly renamed show expands past its modern and contemporary roots to include decorative arts, furniture and antiques. "Galleries told us they are not as interested in a straightforward contemporary art fair; they are looking for something more radical," says director Ilana Vardy.

"A Chicago Art Digest"
Posted by Dan at 03:06 AM


Referenced in this post:

ArtandAntiques.net: Classic Combination—Will Pollock
Artcyclopedia: Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle
Artcyclopedia: Kerry James Marshall
Artfacts.net: Dawoud Bey
Chicago Community Trust
Chicago Sun-Times: Art auction draws $15.5 mil. for Field–from lone buyer—Andrew Herrman
Chicago Sun-Times: The joke's on those who lose cars to tow companies—Mark Brown
Chicago Sun-Times: Trucks hauled stolen city asphalt—Tim Novak and Steve Warmbir
Chicago Sun-Times: Who's the next art star?—Kevin Nance
Chicago Tribune: City's public art legal battle nears settlement—David Jackson and Charles Leroux
Chicago Tribune: Field Museum art sold for $17 million—Stevenson Swanson
Chicago Tribune: Survey says...—Charles Storch
City of Chicago: Department of Cultural Affairs
EBay: Items for Sale by thegreatchicagofiresale
Field Museum
Gallery 37
Great Chicago Fire Sale
Iconoduel: Art Chicago Lives: or Location, location, location
Iconoduel: Ed Paschke
Iconoduel: Rhymes With Blow
Illinois Issues: The Stealth Boss—James L. Merriner Jr
New York Times: To Stretch City's Budget for the Arts, Chicago Turns to EBay—David Bernstein
Richard Hunt: American Artist
The-artists.org: Dan Peterman
University of Illinois Chicago: School of Art and Design