Art Loop Open invades downtown this week. Should we welcome it?
Until this summer, I couldn’t imagine the Chicago Loop Alliance doing anything more shocking than erecting a 30-foot-tall bloodshot eyeball. During the July 7 unveiling ceremony for Tony Tasset’s Eye, however, CLA executive director Ty Tabing announced that his organization, which launched the ongoing Pop-Up Art Loop program in November 2009, would support yet another public-art initiative—Art Loop Open—in collaboration with the nonprofit Chicago Artists’ Coalition. The exhibition/competition is remarkable for its size—it will bring works by more than 190 local artists to ten venues in the Loop—and its stakes: The top three winners will take home $25,000, $15,000 and $10,000.
ALO begins Friday 15. In the annals of Chicago’s public art, will we remember it as a humiliating sequel to Cows on Parade or as a classy crowd-pleaser like Anish Kapoor’s “Bean”? Let’s review the details.
Bean: A solid jury chose the ALO artists. In the 1980s, Mary Jane Jacob, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibitions director, served as chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art and of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles. In the early 1990s, she oversaw Culture in Action, a Chicago public-art program that was unusually progressive, if not universally loved. Susan Aurinko has been curating exhibitions for the CAC since September 2009 and didn’t shy away from showing controversial artists such as Wafaa Bilal when she ran Chicago’s FLATFILEgalleries.
The other jurors—MCA associate curator Tricia Van Eck; artist Theaster Gates, who serves as the University of Chicago’s coordinator of arts programming; and Jim Lasko, Redmoon Theater’s resident artist and former artistic director—have excellent taste. While the jury didn’t give contestants any feedback this year, CAC executive director Carolina O. Jayaram tells me she hopes this will change in the future; CLA has agreed to support ALO for at least two years after 2010.
Cow: The public chooses ALO’s winners. From Friday 15 to October 28, the same people who guessed that Michelangelo is the artist who created Alexander Calder’s Flamingo in TOC 278 will be the ones voting for the top three ALO artworks.
Bean: Participants include respected artists. Samantha Bittman, Terence Hannum, Paul Nudd, Betsy Odom, Colleen Plumb, Sabina Ott and Edra Soto are among the contributors who regularly exhibit their work at Chicago museums or galleries.
Cow: Given that ALO’s host venues approved the art, the work might be too tame. Nudity’s banned. And I doubt that Block 37, Macy’s, the Merchandise Mart, Chicago French Market/MetraMarket and six downtown hotels would welcome anything else controversial.
Bean: Jayaram assures me that no venue rejected art because of its content. Several artists tackled weighty subjects such as the BP oil spill, she adds. While all of the artworks are for sale—prices will be visible after October 29, when ALO’s winners are announced—many aren’t particularly commercial, according to Jayaram.
Cow: Though they aren’t determined by popular vote, some of ALO’s eight additional prizes are embarrassing. TheWit Hotel’s staff will determine which artist deserves $5,000 for “best [reflecting] the concept of ‘WIT.’?” Guess I can’t blame an ALO venue for milking publicity.
Art Loop Open begins Friday 15, 5–8pm, with an “Artini”-fueled self-guided Art Crawl. For more information, visit artloopopen.com.