We spent the day exploring the social geography of the city under the guidance of one of Chicago’s most knowledgeable guides, Don Davis. We learned about Don from MCA curators Julie Rodrigues Widholm and Steven Bridges after he took Colombian artist Doris Salcedo on a tour of Chicago in June of 2012 that focused on the history of public housing in the city—preliminary research that will feed into a public art project that Salcedo is developing in conjunction with her forthcoming MCA exhibition in 2015.
Only later did we realize that this sculpture on the corner of Armitage Avenue and Burling Street has actually been in the news for quite some time—and according to the latest, it will soon be taken down (a pity). To anyone unsuspectingly traipsing around Lincoln Park, it stands out in a way that only art can. (“What is it?” “It must be art.”) This 40-feet tall bright blue sculpture titled Chevron is the work of American artist John Henry, who has a stretch of North Cermak Road renamed in his honor (he is an alumnus of the School of the Art Institute, and currently a curator of the Outdoor Museum of Art at Chattanooga State College, Chattanooga, TN): another of Henry’s signature neo-constructivist assemblages, titled Arris—and this one a sunny bright yellow—graces the corner of Cermak Road and Indiana Avenue, adjacent to McCormick Place. There are plans to move Chevron to the campus of Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, where it is unlikely to cause comparable neighborhood upheaval.
In front of the James R. Thompson Center on West Randolph Street (another John Henry sculpture, titled Bridgeport, is installed inside the lobby), photographing Jean Dubuffet’s iconic Monument with Standing Beast from 1984, one of the celebrated art brut (“raw art”) pioneer’s last great public works before his death in 1985. Dubuffet first visited Chicago (a city for which is said to have felt a “special affection”) in December 1951, an occasion marked by a lecture, titled “Anticultural Positions” and given at the Arts Club, in which he listed his various deep disagreements with western, or what he called “occidental” culture.” (“Fourth: Occidental Culture is very fond of analysis. I have no taste for analysis and no confidence in it. One thinks, everything can be known by way of dismantling it or dissecting it into all its parts, and studying separately each of these parts. My own feeling is quite different. I am more disposed on the contrary to always recompose things.” This sounds familiar—it is pretty much how Goshka conceives of her own practice: recomposing, recycling, revisiting, rewriting.)
Here we are visiting the Haymarket Memorial—a sculpture by Mary Brogger inaugurated in 2004. This seems a bit late for an event of such momentous consequences and epochal proportions: the “Haymarket Affair” (a peaceful workers’ protest, a bombing, a string of sentences and executions resulting from a trial now regarded as one of the worst miscarriages of justice in American history) dates back to the 1880s. The Haymarket entry in the Encyclopaedia of Chicago has this to add: “Inspired by the American movement for a shorter workday, socialists and unionists around the world began celebrating May 1, or “May Day,” as an international workers’ holiday. In the twentieth century, the Soviet Union and other communist countries officially adopted it. The Haymarket tragedy is remembered throughout the world in speeches, murals, and monuments. American observance was strongest in the decade before World War I. During the Cold War, many Americans saw May Day as a communist holiday, and President Eisenhower proclaimed May 1 as “Loyalty Day” in 1955. Interest in Haymarket revived somewhat in the 1980s.” It should be noted that Labor Day, which takes place in September, was first celebrated in 1882, three and a half years before that fateful May 1, 1886.
A lonesome symbol of the long-since vanished Union Stockyards, at 850 W Exchange Avenue—a massive arching gate made of stone, a bull’s head (not shown here, though we do know the prize-winning animal’s name—it was Sherman) staring down on the occasional urban heritage tourist. The gate dates back to 1879, a mere fourteen years after the Union Stockyards, which would go on to become the world’s largest meat-processing complex, opened its doors (on Christmas day!). The market definitively shut down in August 1971, and it is estimated that some one billion animals lost their lives here to become bacon, hamburgers, sausages, and many more things we did not realize had animal fat in them (Goshka lives a quasi-vegetarian life). The Stockyards occupy a fair chunk of the Back of the Yards neighborhood, which until the early 1970s remained strongly Slavic and Eastern European in character.