Sunday, April 25, 2010

Art Chicago creates an 'avenue of sculpture'

ART | River North corridor beckons passersby to Artropolis

Artist Victoria Fuller of Chicago works on installing her "Safety First " sculpture, which took five  months to finish.
Chicago is known for its wealth of public art scattered throughout the city. So the massive Art Chicago 2010 wouldn’t be complete without some of the same.

Spread throughout the first floor of the Merchandise Mart and along Orleans Street art fans will find an interesting array of large sculptures by artists from Chicago and other locations around the world.
» Click to enlarge image
Artist Victoria Fuller of Chicago works on installing her "Safety First " sculpture, which took five months to finish.

What: Art Chicago, NEXT, International Antiques Fair
When: 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 11 a.m.-6 p.m. May 2; 11 a.m.-4 p.m. May 3
Where: Merchandise Mart, between Wells and Orleans
Admission: $20; $25 for a multi-day pass
Information: (312) 527-3701;

“This is our fourth Art Chicago in the Merchandise Mart,” said the show’s director Tony Karman. “Each year, we try to activate the inside and outside with artwork.”

Art Chicago, the international fair of contemporary and modern art, is the largest event of its kind in the Midwest. It’s the centerpiece of Artropolis, a citywide celebration of art, antiques and culture. Two companion shows — NEXT, an exhibition featuring work by emerging artists, and the International Antiques Fair — also will be housed in the Merchandise Mart starting Friday and running through May 3.

Included in Art Chicago are on-site exhibits, including “New Insight,” featuring rising stars from art programs around the country; “Partisan,” works that explore social and political issues; and “Perspective Texas,” a showcase of work by leading artists from Texas. As opposed to these shows, which have an admission fee, the sculpture is a public art display open to anyone passing by.

Scattered throughout the Mart will be 15 large-scale works by Rodney Graham, Kiki Smith, Dzine, Tony Tasset and Dietrich Klinge, among others. These will be installed during the coming week.

“Countercurrents,” the sculpture display already installed along Orleans, just north of the river, features work by members of Chicago Sculpture International, an organization dedicated to the advancement of the artform, especially in a natural landscape.

“The show is a very eclectic mix of material and concepts,” exhibit curator Mimi Peterson said. “The pieces are large in scale and strong in material, which links each to the urban landscape.”

Peterson says the organization’s goal is to get the public thinking about art. Thus public art is a form of education.

The hope is that it will draw the viewer inside to Art Chicago where CSI has a booth displaying smaller sculptures.

“This work inside is quite different,” Peterson said. “It’s more on a human scale. It’s a more emotional interpretation of the material and the philosophy of the artist.”

Here’s a look at four Chicago artists and the work they chose for the public art display.

“Blob Monster” by Tony Tasset

“Blob Monster” spent the winter in Tony Tasset’s Oak Park backyard, blocking his garage. Now it will be stationed at the main entrance of the Merchandise Mart, adding a manic splash of color to the massive building.

The fun, colorful piece, standing 15 feet high, was quite the conversation piece among his neighbors, especially the children, who loved it.

“There are some funny pictures of it sitting in the snow,” Tasset said, laughing.

Made with a rigid urethane foam that expands when poured and turns hard in a matter of minutes, its a simple, universal sort of image.

“I see the colorful drips as a cartoony version of a Jackson Pollack painting,” Tasset, 49, said. “It’s not quite a ‘Scooby-Doo’ monster, not quite a ghost. I think it speaks to a large audience.”

Tasset attended the School of the Art Institute and now is associate director of the school of art and design at the University of Illinois Chicago. He’s a multimedia artist who also works in video, bronze, photography and film.

Tasset’s next public art project will be literally eye-catching. It’s a giant eyeball planned for tiny Pritzker Park on State Street adjacent to the Harold Washington Library Center, where the piece will be displayed July-October.

“The Majestics” by Dzine

It’s pretty obvious that Dzine’s “The Majestics” is inspired by the custom cult world of low-riders, where stunning tricked-out cars are the centerpiece.

His dazzling tricked-out bike, to be displayed in the Merchandise Mart’s first-floor lobby, is completely ridable and comes with an audio soundtrack — a meditative heartbeat.

“The audio represents the idea of living and breathing this culture,” Dzine said. “It’s really borderline obsessive. Kind of religious.”

The piece, incorporating Swarovski crystals, silver leaf, mirror, paint and fabric, is named after a well-known West Coast low-rider club.

Dzine (aka Carlos Rolon) likes the fact that this type of work takes him outside the context of the art world.

“Working and engaging with people who don’t care about the art world but are making these unbelievable pieces of art is amazing and inspiring,” he said.

Another side of his inspiration, came from Puerto Rican bicycle clubs and the spillover into Chicago.

“I would see these old Latin guys in Humboldt Park on these crazy cool bikes,” Dzine said. “They were really tricked out.”

Dzine, 39, who is of Puerto Rican descent, is self-taught and started out as a graffiti artist. Also a painter, he creates stunning psychedelic images bursting with vibrant colors.

But it’s work like “The Majestics,” that he says allows him a platform to take his work further into new vistas.

“There is definitely work that I create that is meant to be hung on a white wall,” Dzine said. “But there’s also pieces like this meant to work in a very public manner. It’s something anyone can understand, from curators to the delivery people. It crosses boundaries and aesthetics.”

“Finish” by Terry Karpowicz

Chicago artist Terry Karpowicz knows a lot about sculpture as public art. He was one of the founders of Pier Walk, which at its height brought 178 sculptures from around the country and the world to Navy Pier in the late ’90s for an extended stay.

His elegant piece, titled “Finish,” is on display on Orleans as part of Chicago Sculpture International’s public art happening “Countercurrents.”

“We’ve turned Orleans into an avenue of sculpture,” Karpowicz, 61, said. “It’s the perfect blank canvas for some public art.”

“Finish” is a figurative image of an athlete leaning for the finish line. Made of industrial steel and sealed with a gold finish, he says it speaks to “ideas about achievement, preciousness and greed.”

Karpowicz feels that the demise of Pier Walk left a void in the community which the membership of Chicago Sculpture International is filling.

“Public art is about large-scale sculpture,” he said. “And that’s what CSI is all about. The majority of our membership works large when we have the opportunity. ”

“Scrape” by Dusty Folwarczny

Dusty Folwarczny grew up in Winfield, Mo., just outside St. Louis, where her father owned a pipe and steel company. After years spent wandering the yard, all that steel worked its way into her subconscious.

Today, Folwarczny works with the scraps from her father’s company to create large sculptures that turn a pile of steel into a work of art.

“I didn’t want to sell pipe,” Folwarczny said, laughing. “So it’s my way of being part of the family business.”

“Scrape,” a steel sculpture of what looks like balancing rings is part of the Orleans Street public art exhibit. Folwarczny says she wanted to make this piece “inviting and easy to engage with.”

“I saw this work when we installed it,” she said. “Passersby sort of wanted to sit in it. To get up in it.”

Folwarczny, who now lives in Lincoln Park, dabbled in art in high school but was torn between the “healing arts and visual arts” in college. She started out in pre-med but a drama class spent building stage sets led her to sculpture. She looks at a scrap pile of steel “as a puzzle to be solved.”

“I love working with steel and its raw textured surface and the beautiful oranges in the rust,” Folwarczny, 30, said. “And I love the idea of public art’s power to change people’s view of the world.”

“Scrape” is her first entry into Art Chicago, and she has her eyes on the prize.

“It’s a great feeling to see my art on a downtown street, she said. “It’s my goal to someday have a piece on permanent display.”

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