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bannerIt’s Chicago’s Year of Public Art, so let’s get out and experience some of this creative art.

I was always aware that Chicago has a great tradition of making public art available to all, and its collection of public art is one of the defining characteristics of the city, but this special year gives another dimension to this.

2017 has been designated Year of Public Art Chicago, with a new 50×50 Neighborhood Arts Project. Managed by DCASE (Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events), the 50×50 initiative will provide up to $1 million for new public arts projects.

Chicago has a long and rich history of public art, so why now? This initiative was

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The Picasso in Daley Plaza

inspired by Chicago’s 50 wards and the 50th anniversary of 2 of Chicago’s most famous seminal public art works: The Picasso in Daley Plaza, and The Wall of Respect, which once stood at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue on Chicago’s South Side.

DCASE manages the Chicago Public Art Collection, which includes 500+ works exhibited in over 150 municipal facilities around the city, such as police stations, libraries and CTA station. DCASE also administers the City’s Percent-for-Art Ordinance, which was established in 1978 and stipulates that 1.33% of the cost of constructing or renovating public buildings will be used for public art.

What an amazing concept. Go Chicago!

perilsThere will be many special exhibits and tours, but I was only in Chicago for 3 days this April, so could only track down a few of these special art works at this time.

Turns out that many of these famous public art works have an interesting story and history, starting with the Picasso. To co-incide with this Year of Public Art, the Chicago Cultural Center has a small exhibit called The Fame and Perils of Chicago’s Public Art. The introductory board tells us that, “Planning and creating public art can be a risky venture. Depending on how or what you count, the placement of art in Chicago’s public spaces has a 200-year long history. Sometimes the art is loved. Sometimes it is hated. To further complicate matters, times change—and so do the tastes of people.”

So…to start with Picasso’s “Untitled”.

frontcloserUntitled” by Pablo Picasso, on the Richard J Daley Civic Center Plaza, 50 W. Washington Street. In 1967 Pablo Picasso’s monumental sculpture was unveiled in Chicago’s Civic Center (now called the Richard J. Daley CivicCenter).

In 1963, imagining a work for the new Chicago Civic Plaza, architect William Hartmann of Skidmore, Owings and Merrill turned to Pablo Picasso. Using an introduction from English artist Roland Penrose, Hartmann contacted Picasso describing a “site for the most important piece of sculpture in the United States.” Picasso accepted and worked on plans for the largest work of his career, mostly with his vision of an abstract female figure, which he gave as a gift to the city.

This abstract design was not originally popular when the monument was erected in

Banks

Newspaper picture with Banks superimposed

1967. In fact, as I learned from the small exhibit in the Chicago Cultural Center, many Chicagoans thought it was a giant portrait of the artist’s Afghan hound. An alderman from the City Council proposed replacing the Picasso with a giant statue of Chicago Cubs legend Ernie Banks, and a local paper ran a story with a photo of Banks superimposed on that of the Picasso.

At the time of the opening of the Picasso, Mayor Richard J. Daley insightfully dedicated it with these words, “what is strange to us today will be familiar tomorrow.” That has proved true, and 50 years later it’s an iconic part of the city’s landscape, and much loved by locals and visitors. So much so, that Northwestern grad and vocal art advocate, Patricia Stratton, has written a book dedicated to the sculpture called “The Chicago Picasso: A Point of Departure”.

sideI find this work of Picasso’s very interesting: I can definitely see the Afghan hound in there, but also a female figure. What do you think?

Picasso’s work was Chicago’s first major pubic art work in the modern style, rather than historical effigies and memorials that had been traditional before. It inspired much private and public investment in art for the city center, including Marc Chagall’s mosaic “The Four Seasons” in 1974, which then inspired his “America Windows”. Other commissions included monuments by Joan Miro (1963), Jean Dubuffet (1969) and Alexander Calder (1974), among many others. And so a tradition was born.

 

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treedaffs

Small weeping cherry tree by the car park

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weeping

Japan House

Sakura…cherry blossoms…weeping cherry trees. These signal spring in Japan, and here in Urbana, central Illinois, they are also a beautiful herald of spring.

We are very lucky here on our campus at the University of Illinois, as we have a Japan House, a cultural center run by the University to promote understanding of Japan, its culture and history. It’s a lovely traditional-style Japanese building, with a small enclosed garden to one side, complete with gurgling stream, stone lanterns and a quiet place to sit and meditate. The other side of the Japan House has a serene raked-stone garden and the whole overlooks a pond (complete with turtles and geese), encircled by a walkway, much loved by local residents.

lake

scene

cherrywilow

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Start of the ‘tunnel’

A number of cherry trees are scattered around our university campus, but the most striking of them all are at the Japan House. There is one weeping cherry tree, a gorgeous tree with thickly clustered pink blossoms, right next to the building, and a couple of others near the small parking lot.

But, because of a generous donation by Dr Genshitsu Sen, we also have the Sen Cherry Tree Alee, the walkways approaching the Japan House. It was planted with cherry trees on both sides in 2008 and now the trees have grown big enough that it’s like walking through a tunnel. In Spring, we feel as though we are passing under a lacy white and delicate pink net, the blossoms on the cherry trees are so thiick. With the stone pagoda lanterns and the raked pebble garden in front of the wooden building, we can almost believe that we are in Japan.

plaque

The plaque tells us that Dr Sen was a 15th-generation Grand Master Urasenke Tradition of Tea

tunnel

cherrylanternAs in Japan, it’s a ritual to go and view the cherry blossoms, to walk under them and be blessed if petals fall on you. Rod and I went last Sunday, as it’s close to our house and we can easily just walk there. It was a cool but sunny afternoon, and there were hundredss of others there, doing the same thing; ambling, ooh-ing and ahh-ing, taking photos, posing under the trees or amidst the drooping flower-laden branches. It’s a very special walk, and the collective feeling of happiness is palpable. Just to remind us of how wonderful Nature is, and how a walk in Nature (even in a somehwat urban environment) can really revitalize us.

(Thanks to Rod for the photos)cherrysky

Vtree

 

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flamingo

snow

In December

fall

In fall

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From our hotel room

Timeless and graceful…A beautiful piece of art that stands out from its surroundings

In Chicago we usually stay at the Club Quarters Hotel on Adams Street, which we did again last weekend. The view from our hotel room was across to the Federal Plaza, with its intriguing red outdoor sculpture. We’ve taken photos of this many times before, at different times of the year, but this time, with the lighting and the snow, we saw it from a new angle and I decided to research it a bit more.

sidethruview

Zoom from hotel room

reflection

Reflection in Post Office windows

Chicago is a city famous for public art and for us this is one of the classics. Others (among many) are the Picasso (1967) in the Daley Plaza, with jungle-gym-like characteristics; Monument with Standing Beast, which is open to multiple interpretations, by Jean Dubuffet (1964) in front of the Thompson Center; and Cloud Gate, aka as The Bean, in Millennium Park.

This red sculpture is called Flamingo, and it does evoke a flamingo-like bird if you look closely. The artist is American Alexander Calder, and the sculpture was unveiled in October 1974 in the Federal Plaza in front of the kluczynski Federal Building, one of three Bauhaus-style federal buildings designed by Mies van der Rohe. A model of Flamingo was unveiled at the Art Institute in April 1973, where it still resides.

model

Model in Art Institute

thrupo

Looking through Post Office

It’s a painted-steel stabile (as opposed to a mobile), 53 feet tall, painted vermilion (now called “Calder red”), the bright color contrasting very nicely with the steel and glass office buildings around it. These modern rectangular buildings surround the square, so this abstract arching form is also a nice counter point, form-wise.

However, Flamingo is constructed from similar materials and shares certain design principles with the architecture, so it’s successfully integrated within the plaza. It’s an example of the constructivist movement, popular in Russia in the early 20th century. This refers to large sculptures that are made of smaller pieces joined together.

The sculpture is monumental but the open design allows viewers to walk underneath and around it, so we can experience it on a human scale too.

market

Market day

mrket2On Tuesdays, in the season, there’s a farmers market on the square, which makes the Flamingo seem even more interesting.

A small-scale replica (one-tenth the original size) was installed in 1975 in the Loop post office right on the plaza. Calder created it specifically for the visually-impaired, as it is meant to be touched, and it is the same bright color.

Alexander Calder (1898-1976) has created many sculptures for open spaces throughout the world. He is probably most famous as the originator of mobile sculptures or kinetic art, a type of moving sculpture made with delicately balanced or suspended shapes that move in response to touch or air currents. In contrast, Calder’s monumental stationary sculptures are called stabiles. He also produced wire figures, which are like drawings made in space. He was a prolific artist who worked with many art forms, large and small.

 

 

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Three of Plensa's Heads. From R to L: Ines, Laura, Paula

Three of Plensa’s Heads. From R to L: Ines, Laura, Paula

Crown Fountain early evening. One of 1000 Chicagoan faces

Crown Fountain early evening. One of 1000 Chicagoan faces

In celebration of its 10th anniversary (opened 2004), Millennium Park in Chicago presents an exhibition of sculpture by Jaume Plensa. On display through December 2015.

Born 1955 in Catalonia, Spain, the artist and sculptor Jaume Plensa lives and works in Barcelona. He has presented more than 35 projects and solo exhibitions around the world, in cities such as Calgary, Dubai, London, Liverpool, New York, Nice, Seattle and Tokyo, among others. And even in Des Moines, Iowa, where we were fascinated by his Nomade! https://viviennemackie.wordpress.com/2014/04/25/symbolic-head-sculpture-with-multiple-meanings/

Because we’d seen Nomade recently we were happy to find more works by this talented artist.

Chicagoans are already familiar with Plensa as he designed and made the Crown Fountain at Millennium Park, one of the park’s most prominent and popular attractions. The fountain, which opened in July 2004, is composed of a black granite reflecting pool placed between a pair of glass brick towers. The towers are 50 feet (15 m) tall and they use light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to display digital videos on the faces that appear and disappear.

fountain2

 

Paula

Paula

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Looking into my Dreams, Awilda

Looking into my Dreams, Awilda

Now, he has another installation in Millennium Park—4 huge heads, called 1004 Portraits, on display through December 2015. This new exhibition of outdoor art features four monumental portraits of young girls complementing the story of the 1000 LED portraits of Chicago residents that illuminate the Crown Fountain.

The first sculpture is called Looking Into My Dreams, Awilda. It’s made of resin and marble dust and stands 39 feet tall at the entrance to the Park on Michigan Ave and Madison Street. The aim is that the sculpture’s surreal and majestic presence will bridge the energy and distractions of city life with the tranquility of the Park, and encourage visitors to stop and contemplate.

The other 3 sculptures are in the South Boeing Gallery, overlooking the fountains. They are cast iron and stand 20 feet tall—Paula (north), Laura (middle) and Ines (south). They are very solid-looking but also have a hologram-like quality. These serene, dreamlike portraits offer a counterbalance to the children’s noisy play in the fountains below (in the warmer weather).

This exhibition is on loan from the artist and Richard Gray Gallery and is sponsored and funded by multiple sources.

Rod M stands in front of Ines

Rod M stands in front of Ines

 

 

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Urbana-Champaign, Illinois: Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival

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redbbqIt’s summer in the northern hemisphere, so it’s festival time. Festivals pop up in cities and small towns all over celebrating the season, but especially celebrating music and food.

Our university town in central Illinois has joined in the fun and last weekend (June 27-28, 2014) we had the 3rd annual Blues, Brews and BBQ Festival, with a cute alligator as the logo and mascot. Blues is a very popular genre of American music, and almost everyone enjoys beer and BBQ (at least in the summer).

The festival’s catchy name reflects the great atmosphere, with a laid-back but lively buzz, at the

One of the Vendor Alleys

One of the Vendor Alleys

venue—a large parking lot in downtown Champaign, closed off and decked out. People wander at will, in groups or alone, with kids in tow or in strollers, and many folks bring their own portable garden chairs so they can sit and eat /drink while listening to the music.

Along two sides are the Vendors Alleys, where you can choose any kind of BBG your heart may desire, plus Greek or Mexican food, and things like corn dogs, funnel cakes, and curly fries. My husband couldn’t resist trying something called a bacon-wrapped pig wing! (a small pig shank wrapped in bacon and doused with a BBQ sauce).

 

Hmmm…what can that be?

Hmmm…what can that be?

I'm in front of the Main Stage, holding a pig wing!

I’m in front of the Main Stage, holding a pig wing!

A Vendor Alley offers all kinds of BBQ delicacies

A Vendor Alley offers all kinds of BBQ delicacies

An enormous inflatable icecream cone-stand offers cool icecream in the hot weather, and a stand shaped like a huge yellow lemon entices with cold lemonade. Choose from a variety of beers from beer tents dotted around, if you are so inclined, or even local wines. Many people bought a large luminous green beer mug, which they could then refill.

At the Merchants tent you can buy festival T-shirts, mugs, and CDs of the various performers. I was lucky enough to be there when Eddie Shaw (Blues performer) was selling and signing his CD, so I got an autographed copy.

Two stages dominated the venue and various artists

An upcoming star---Kenna Mae  Reiss

An upcoming star—Kenna Mae Reiss

performed on these. But not at the same time—each stage took the stage for an hour or two, then it switched to the other one. At the end of the venue was a smaller stage, especially for upcoming new artists. It was next to Louie’s Playland, a special section for kids’ activities, with a jumpy castle, face painting etc.

bikesIn another corner was the Dinosores Motorcycle Show, which seemed very popular. I don’t know much about motorcycles, but even I could tell that these were special machines, much loved by their owners.

 

Eddie Shaw & The Wolf Gang

Eddie Shaw & The Wolf Gang

Eddie Shaw plays and sings---very talented

Eddie Shaw plays and sings—very talented

Maurice John Vaughn and his group

Maurice John Vaughn and his group

The musical line-up was impressive, but unfortunately we were only there for part of one afternoon and couldn’t take in the billed main acts: Buckwheat Zydeco, and Nikki Hill. But, no matter as they were all great and we really enjoyed the two we could listen to: Eddie Shaw and the Wolf Gang (fantastic Chicago Blues), and Maurice John Vaughn (also out of Chicago).

Maurice John Vaughn and his group

Maurice John Vaughn and his group

 

 

 

 

Next year, if you are in Illinois (or even somewhere in the US Midwest) in June 2015, it’s well worth making a detour to visit Champaign-Urbana and enjoy this lovely event. The festival is free (you pay for food and drinks obviously), but a donation would be welcome.

www.bluesbrewsandbbqfest.com

If this food truck is to be believed, you’ll be treated like royalty!

King

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ImageUrbana: Why are the Round Barns Round?

The three round barns sit atop a low hill rising behind the Vet Med Building on the south campus of the University of Illinois. “Hill” may be an exaggeration; it’s more like a slight elevation in the land. But, even a small rise is noticeable and noteworthy here, in flat central Illinois, slap-bang in the middle of the seemingly endless (and flat) plains and prairies. They stretch to the far horizon and very little breaks the eye’s gaze. Farmhouses appear like small blips in the fields, and the wide expanse of land and the huge open sky dwarf even the groups of grain elevators.

Back to the round barns. Tall, stately, white-washed, these historic landmarks gaze down on rolling fenced fields, which to the south and west are cultivated with experimental corn in the growing season. To the north lie a large paddock—horses grazing under the few trees—and huge velvety green soccer fields, very active at weekends.

Nowadays, around Illinois typical red, boxy barns dot the farmlands. You will seldom find a traditional round barn, so these barns have become rather special symbols of a time past. They are much more than quaint landmarks, as they are symbols of the university’s history of agricultural education and innovative research. Built as a demonstration dairy in 1908, the barns’ round shape allows for a center silo around which cows can stand and feed, like spokes on a wheel. The barrel construction uses less lumber and is stronger and better suited to resist harsh midwestern weather—powerful prairie winds glance off the rounded outer walls. One wonders why more farms don’t still have round barns.

Few people visit the round barns really, except those interested in historical architecture, but I walk past them regularly and watch them, unchanging, in the changing days and seasons. They are not far from our house, and are a definite part of our daily landscape, so we love them.

At sunset, the barns on their hill rise like a fat silhouette before the painted sky. At dawn mist wreathes them. In winter, they almost blend into the white landscape. Here are some winter shots.round barns

round barn2

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