‘We resolved to winter there’

"We resolved to winter there"I am waiting at the bus stop on the way to the dentist.  I am directly opposite the old Marquette Building, with its amazing brickwork (if can you call it that when all the bricks are unique to the building itself) and its distinguished old bronze story-boards, with their glorious patina of greenish-grey. More

They lived with their dead

A reminder of one lost (funerary sculpture on the grounds of Chesterwood, Stockbridge MA), © 2013 Celia Her City

Several historic homes we visited in New England offered reminders of the omnipresence of death in earlier times.

In one house, a large marble bust of a young man stood in the corner of the living room, the likeness of a son, age 19, who had gone upstairs after dinner and died.  The same family had lost a 26-year-old daughter to colitis, sitting up with her in her bedroom in the final weeks of her life.

Loss and the possibility of loss dogged the everyday, making people perhaps more comfortable with death than we.  On the grounds of the home of the sculptor Daniel Chester French, I encountered this funerary sculpture of a boy, with an arched path leading up to a bench for meditation nearby.  I can imagine the husband and wife sitting on this bench, recalling their dead child, and pondering God’s nature and human love.

A bench for contemplating the quick and the dead, © 2013 Celia Her City

Each summer contemporary sculpture is installed in the park, and this summer a modern sculpture resembling a pregnant woman has been placed in between the bench and the boy.

Rally at 5

Political rally at Chicago's Federal Plaza, © 2013 Celia Her City

The Flamingo turned a fantastic color during a rally Wednesday.

It was great weather for a protest, mild and clear.  The rally began in the afternoon, my old office window rattling from all the noise.  It was still going on as commuters began pouring into the streets at 5.

The rally was in support of charter schools, but most passersby really had no idea, or took it for just another teachers’ rally.  There are so many protests in the Loop, and lots of agitation about the schools.

Click image to enlarge.

New sculpture strategy

New sculpture strategy

I’ve been seeing a lot more sculpture lately, thanks to several initiatives that have been bringing more contemporary art to the lakefront and parks.  The Grandmother’s Garden in Lincoln Park alone has eight or ten new sculptures, including (above) ‘Narrow Horse,’ by Jozef Sumichrast, and Christine Rojek‘s ‘Cross-Pollination.’

What I like best about the new sculptures is their siting.  Many can be seen really well from a car or bus, so that you can look them at them when you’re commuting.  It’s great to be able to look out the window at some interesting art when sitting in traffic in your car.  Other sculptures have been plunked right down on neighborhood sidewalks, obligating you to look at them as you go by.

"Stone wobble" by Derick Malkemus, in Chicago's Lincoln Park (photo © 2013 Celia Her City)

‘Stone wobble’ by Derick Malkemus

These frank strategies, which take into account modern realities, result in fleeting encounters that deepen.  From a distance, I appreciated the insect-like qualities of Derick Malkemus‘s ‘Stone Wobble,’ which looks like a giant beetle or a fantastical flying bug that’s happened to light.  When I was finally lucky enough to get up close, I learned the name of the piece, and could appreciate its beautiful materials and the balancing act it pulls.

'Fern Temple VI' by Austin Collins and 'Ruby Rollins Roving House' by Verina Baxter in Chicago's Lincoln Park

‘Fern Temple VI’ by Austin Collins and ‘Ruby Rollins Roving House’ by Verina Baxter.

Most of the small-scale works in the parks are only temporary.  Installed in the fall of 2012 in connection with the 23rd International Sculpture Conference held in the city, they are likely to disappear next fall.  In the meantime, it’s been a pleasure to enjoy these wonderful works for free.  I hope the exposure brings the artists patronage as well as publicity.

Margaret Lanterman's 'Nesting Loft' (photograph © 2013 Celia Her City)

Margaret Lanterman’s ‘Nesting Loft.’

Chicago Sculpture Exhibit, which likewise has been bringing large-scale works to lakeside parks under the leadership of Aldermen Tom Tunney and Vi Daley, will happily continue its work.  I’m grateful to them for bringing us impressive sculptures like Jason Verbeek‘s Prairie Pump, which stands near the north entrance to Diversey Harbor, and which my sister and I very much admire.


Goethe statue framed by Mies van der Rohe building, © 2013 Celia Her City

The coming of spring has made me strangely nostalgic for the passing season.  Nostalgic, yes; nostalgic for a season that wasn’t—for we didn’t really have a winter to speak of.  The season was dry, with precious few days when one could go out and snap a picture like this.

Regardless of the possible merits of this picture, what can be said for the specifics of the scene?  Is the place that it depicts, on the northern edge of Lincoln Park, in any respects a beautiful locale?  Is it appealing?  And what about the vaunted ethnic strains that are supposed to make living in Chicago so enriching and rewarding?

These are the questions that come to mind, as I gaze at this fairly absurd statue of Goethe, flanked on the left by a Mies van der Rohe building.  Both speak to the once powerful German element in Chicago that’s vestigial now.

Both attest to different waves of city-building, waves that are constantly ebbing and flowing, creating the visual bric-a-brac that make up our surroundings.  The wealthy Germans who had this statue erected in the public park in 1913 were asserting their cultural authority, memorializing a great writer from their native land, whose works remained a touchstone of their identity.  Symbolically, this German statue “wars” with the more nationalistic statue of Alexander Hamilton located nearby.  (A statue of the German-born Governor John Peter Altgeld, commissioned in 1913, is also hidden nearby in a grove.)

The commemoration of Germans, no matter how Americanized, came to a halt with the outbreak of World War I, as acceptance and admiration for Germans’ cultural heritage turned to suspicion and hostility.

Yet, with the advent of World War II, a German arrived who would once again change the face of the city: Mies van der Rohe, who swept away the beautiful old Chicago building traditions that Celia loves in favor of the modernist monoliths you see here. (And here.)

To make a long story short: In every community every building has a story.  Let us praise waves of building that leave us with enduringly beautiful and admirable things.  Even if you have never read a word of Goethe, you may still appreciate this statue from the bus, and let your imagination soar like the eagle you see.

Visual jazz

Reflections on the mirrored facade of the Stone Container Corporation building, Chicago, © 2013 Celia Her City

The facade of the Crain Communications Building gave me something to study while my bus was stuck interminably at the intersection of Michigan and Randolph.  Built by the Stone Container Corporation circa 1980, this generally bland (but nonetheless immediately recognizable) tower eventually came to be known as the Smurfit-Stone Building, until the Crain’s people bought it in 2012.  I’ve read that it’s just been put on the block again.

The sculpture in front, by Yaacov Agam, is called Communication X9.  Honestly, I’ve passed by this building many many times and never seen it looking anything like this.  The reflections on the windows inside the bus added another layer to the fun-house feel.

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