Posts Tagged ‘Art’

Word on the street: Sidewalk poetry

July 9, 2008

Like most big cities, Chicago has its share of graffiti. Most of it is mindless tagging, the annoying human equivalent of animals spraying their scent to mark their territory. Only this is done with spray paint or markers or—in the latest defacement innovation—acid that actually etches into plate glass and has to be ground and polished out. This is vandalism, pure and simple.

But there’s a much more creative side to graffiti that, if it doesn’t exactly make me ready to forgive taggers, maybe causes me to adopt something of a philosophical “take the good with the bad” attitude. Most famously, graffiti has given us artists like Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat. It also gives us random poignant moments like this piece, spotted downtown last winter, near Columbia College:

And on a grander scale, this piece done with stencils and spray paint by graffiti stencil artist Peat Wollaeger:

Most recently, graffiti gave me a bit of street poetry. Well, sidewalk poetry, to be more exact. Walking up to the Bucktown offices of the ad agency where I work one morning, I saw a seemingly random word stenciled onto the sidewalk. And then another. And another. When I explored later, I discovered there were 38 words in all, in 29 groupings, spaced out over two city blocks. Someone or a group of someones had cut out these stencils and, in the wee-est of the wee, small hours of the morning [Bucktown and neighboring Wicker Park are infested with late night bars], had applied a poem to the streets of Chicago. Here it is:


Goodbye, Robert Rauschenberg. Thank you.

May 14, 2008

This will be a short post. I just saw on the New York Times website that American artist Robert Rauschenberg died Monday night at his home on Captiva Island, Florida. Please read their excellent obituary of this seminal artist. It is far more articulate than anything I might write here.

Rauschenberg is sometimes identified as a Pop Artist, but he actually predated Pop Art of the ’60s, emerging in the early ’50s. And his work over his long career defied definition or pigeonholing. Here’s how Michael Kimmelman of the Times puts it: “A painter, photographer, printmaker, choreographer, onstage performer, set designer and, in later years, even a composer, Mr. Rauschenberg defied the traditional idea that an artist stick to one medium or style. He pushed, prodded and sometimes reconceived all the mediums in which he worked.”

Jasper Johns came to prominence about this same time and while both he and Rauschenberg embraced and, in fact, heavily shaped Pop Art, they transcended it as well. Coming out of the Abstract Expressionism of Jackson Pollock, Franz Kline and others, their work was more painterly than other Pop Artists. And this only served to make their inclusion of found objects and mixing of media more exciting, more shocking, more energizing.

A couple of years ago, I had the amazing good fortune to see the show Robert Rauschenberg: Combines at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Combines was his term for pieces that included painting, collage and sculpture. I considered myself to be reasonably familiar with Rauschenberg’s work and a big fan of his. But suddenly seeing these 67 works, all created between 1954 and 1964 and all in one place, was electrifying.

In looking back at art from other periods, I’m sometimes frustrated by not seeing it with eyes of the time in which it was created. Impressionist and Post-Impressionist art is among the most beloved today—Monet, Renoir, Van Gogh… But when the work was first exhibited, it was revolutionary and caused an absolute uproar. Walking among these Combines at the Metropolitan some 40 or 50 years after they were created, I could get some sense of either how outrageous or wonderfully fresh they must have seemed when they were first exhibited.

It was an amazing show. An amazing career. An amazing life. Thank you, Mr. Rauschenberg.

Art and food together. “Is this heaven?”

February 6, 2008


Last Saturday night we went to Chicago’s first ever Slideluck Potshow, held at the spacious Madron Gallery. As the event’s name sort of implies, it’s a combination potluck dinner and slideshow. At first blush, this sounds like something the Moose Lodge in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, might put on to liven up a long winter night, with everyone oohing and aahing over the multiple green bean casseroles and Ed’s 827 slides of the Alaskan cruise he and his wife Doris took, “when was it now, two years ago… three years ago?” Or as my Brooklyn Buddy Ronnie Ann put it, “Now wait a minute… people willingly go to watch slide shows without having committed a crime?”

Except the slideshow was art—very current work by Chicago artists. The crowd was an entertaining mix of mostly artists and hipsters. The food was plentiful and, for the most part, really good and interesting—this was not the kind of event where you show up with a bag of Doritos or a green bean casserole. And there was even a potluck dessert table and a potluck bar.

For our contribution, we brought a nice bottle of California sparkling wine, and Marion made a heaping bowl of the delicious soba noodle salad she posted on Blue Kitchen last week. The latter was an especially big hit—had the bowl been scraped any cleaner when we picked it up at the end of the evening, we could have just put it back on the shelf.

After the crowd had sufficiently fed, imbibed and networked, we all settled in—mostly sitting on the floor [and feeling fairly collegiate, I think] for an amazing show.


Slideluck Potshow is the brainchild of advertising and editorial photographer Casey Kelbaugh. It began in his backyard in Seattle back in 2000, when he invited friends and colleagues to bring slides and food. He told me Saturday night that the first shows really were slideshows, with artists loading their slides into carousel trays and projecting them onto the screen: “Click-click… click-click… click-click…” Now it’s all gone digital [of course], with images being set to music and the whole show being run from a laptop to a projector.

Kelbaugh did a number of slide show parties in Seattle before moving to New York in 2003. He wasn’t sure how the idea would fly there, but he gave it a shot and hosted his first New York Slideluck Potshow in his East Village apartment in 2004. According to a New York Times article, “He was surprised when 120 people arrived, obligingly toting home-cooked dishes as well as images of their work. The event mushroomed into a kind of open-mike night for photographers and other artists, who would show up with trays of slides or CDs to show.”

As Slideluck Potshow’s own website says, “Slideluck has become something of a global phenomenon, as they are now taking place everywhere from Berlin to Minneapolis, Mexico City to Washington, DC.”

And now, Chicago. Chicago’s show was heavy on the photography—no surprise, since Kelbaugh is a photographer. The work was a real mix of images, ranging from beautiful to compelling, disturbing, amusing, lyrical and sometimes just plain strange.


Particularly moving was a series of paired images by Chicago Tribune photographer Scott Strazzante. He began visiting an Illinois family farm 13 years ago, taking thousands of pictures of the husband and wife, their land and their animals. In 2002, the farm was sold and became a subdivision. Last year, he returned to the area and began shooting the new life there. He was surprised by what he discovered when he did. “I just started to watch and to shoot and I began to realize that there were so many similarities in what I was shooting to what I had shot,” Strazzante said. “When I think about it now, it’s really eerie.” Here’s a link to a Tribune piece that includes more of his wonderful photographs.

As with any group show, there were a few clunkers in the bunch. But they were greatly outnumbered by real gems. At the end of the evening, we left happily sated, our bellies and brains equally full.

How the wild things sound

January 30, 2008


Maurice Sendak’s Where the Wild Things Are is one of the great works of children’s literature. Playful, inventive and completely inside kids’ heads, it tracks young Max’s journey from getting into trouble for making mischief in his wolf suit through anger and back to the familiar comfort of home.

The story begins with this deceptively simple, delightfully run-on sentence: The night Max wore his wolf suit and made mischief of one kind and another his mother called him “WILD THING!” and Max said “I’LL EAT YOU UP!” so he was sent to bed without eating anything.

As Max stews in his room, it transforms into a jungle, and the illustrations grow from small, contained, wide-bordered images to full-bleed spreads spilling off the pages. As his anger subsides and the comforting smell of dinner reaches him, the fabulous Sendak illustrations shrink back down.


So when I read recently on New York magazine’s website that ‘Yeah Yeah Yeahs front woman Karen O is writing “pretty much the whole” soundtrack’ to an upcoming movie version of Where the Wild Things Are [with a script by Dave Eggers and Spike Jonzes, no less], I thought it was one of those counterintuitive but brilliant choices.

Having seen the Yeah Yeah Yeahs live a couple of times, I know Karen O is capable of genuine wildness, of careening right up to the edge of out of control and dancing on it. She’s also capable of playing wild thing dress-up and throwing herself into it with abandon. Just as important, though, there are also occasional balancing moments of vulnerability and smallness in her performances. The YouTube video below demonstrates her ability to channel Max’s command to the other wild things, “Let the wild rumpus start.” [You’ll have to take my word on the vulnerable side.]

All of which makes me think she can give this live action film the genuinely wild edge it needs. As much as I love Randy Newman’s music [I really have to talk about him in the Kitchen Boombox sometime], this film is not Toy Story. It has the opportunity to go places much darker, much deeper. I think Ms. O may be just the person to get it there.