September 6, 2013:
At the Border

Posted February 11, 2014

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One of the dependable rituals of Goshka’s residency here at the MCA involves her being taken in for in-depth questioning by an indefatigable platoon of homeland security personnel every time she enters the country. The reason? Two Afghan visa stamps in her passport, reminders of her time in Kabul on the occasion of Documenta 13 in 2012 (the tapestry produced for this major international art exhibition’s satellite show in the Afghan capital was included in her survey at the MCA last year). “What were you doing in Kabul?” “I was invited to show an artwork in an international group show.” “Really? You can’t just go to Afghanistan like that.” (Etcetera.)

One of the achievements and triumphs of Documenta 13 was certainly the assertion that art is as important and fundamental a part of the slow and painful process of the healing and restoration of civil society as is food aid, increasing literacy and construction contracts—though this is obviously not so readily understood. (Goshka has been asked, but refuses, to get herself a new passport, free of the cumbersome Afghan visa. It is with her permission that this image has been posted online.)

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After peeking into the lobby of Louis Sullivan and Dankmar Adler’s grand Auditorium Building, which, on its completion in 1889 was the tallest building in the city of Chicago, we made our way west to another not-to-be-missed architectural landmark, Holabird & Roche’s Marquette Building.

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One of the earliest steel frame skyscrapers, the Marquette Building’s hexagonal lobby features an intricate mosaic freeze designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany and Jacob Adolph Holzer that depicts the building’s namesake, Jacques Marquette, who first travelled to the area with Louis Jolliet in 1674-5.

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Lost in thought and a mad jumble of new ideas, our walk back to the MCA is charged with inspiration and wild dreaming about what will come next. As we think back over the last two weeks—the various paths followed, people encountered and places visited—it’s unclear what all of this preliminary research will add up to. What we do know is that Goshka’s research and the residency project are ever-evolving—stay tuned for more sneak peeks into her process in the months to come!

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On our way to visit the Fine Arts Building we walked past the MCA’s former building, located at 237 East Ontario Street. Built in 1915 as a bakery and later home to the corporate offices of Playboy Enterprises, the Ontario Street structure which housed the MCA until 1996 was redesigned by architect Daniel Brenner and opened to the public in October of 1967.

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The Fine Arts Building, originally built as a showroom for the Studebaker Brothers Carriage and Wagon Company, was home to Chicago’s first artist colony. Lorado Taft at one point occupied an office in it, as did Frank Lloyd Wright, William Wallace Denslow (the original illustrator for Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz), and Harriet Monroe’s path-breaking Poetry magazine. Today, it is a predominantly musical place, although there are also quite a few yoga studios scattered throughout the building, and a great second-hand bookstore on the second floor that is owned, it seems, by a beautiful grey cat called Hodge. A series of stunning art nouveau-style murals adorn the walls of the building’s uppermost floor, one of which, painted by one Frank Xavier Leyendecker (who was born in Germany in 1876), depicts the classical coupling of Comedy and Tragedy.

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The 10th floor mural project was initiated by the brothers Frank and Joseph Leyendecker at the turn of the century and was executed by several of the building’s resident artists. Many of the artists renting studio space in the Fine Arts Building had moved to Chicago to work on Daniel Burnham and Frank Law Olmsted’s Beaux Arts inspired World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893. Oliver Dennett Grover’s Nymph with Angel and Bird is visible on the left, and Nude with Veils, painted by Martha Susan Baker, on the right. Grover, an Illinois native, painted murals in libraries throughout the United States and Chicago’s own Union League Club. Baker was one of four Chicago artists to exhibit at the Exposition Universelle in Paris in 1900 and also painted for the Union League of Chicago. If you walk down the 10th floor hallways, be sure not to overlook Frank Lloyd Wright’s former studio in room 1020.

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April 24, 2013:
4001 N Clark St

Posted April 24, 2013

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Laszlo Moholy-Nagy is one of the undisputed greats of 20th century avant-garde art—why is the stone marking his final resting place in Graceland Cemetery so small, so hard to find?

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Moholy-Nagy, who was instrumental in directing the Bauhaus back to its original utilitarian goals—in his best-known portrait, he is shown donning an austere-looking overall of his own making, and he does not appear to smile much—first came to Chicago in 1937 to head what was then called the New Bauhaus, and later became known as the Institute of Design (the photographer Harry Callahan took over from Moholy-Nagy after his premature death in 1946; his most important patron at the helm of the Institute was Walter Paepcke, CEO of the cardboard-box-producing Container Corp. of America). He was actually born as Laszlo Weiss, the cousin of a certain Gyorgy Stern—another adopted Chicagoan, destined to become world famous as the conductor (of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra among others, for a staggering 999 performances) Georg Solti.

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The grave stone for Adrienne Françoise List Sullivan, Louis Sullivan’s mother—placed just a few feet away from her son’s grave and next to that of her husband, Patrick Sullivan.

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After a series of exploratory trips to the places and spaces that contain traces of Chicago’s history, it seemed only fitting to shop for articles of clothing that may or may not have been a part of Chicago’s past (Goshka is an avid collector of outrageous vintage clothing items). We made a quick stop at Knee Deep Vintage on 18th Street in the heart of Pilsen’s commercial district and then continued south to look at the graffiti on the walls surrounding the Crawford Steel Factory in Chicago’s Brighton Park neighborhood.

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After hours of traversing treeless streets in the rain, Dieter’s hopes were dashed when a rare patch of green space, guarded by a statuette of Mary, mother of Jesus, proved inaccessible to the team.

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The artist seen from the back, rummaging through her purse in search of an electronic cigarette—Goshka is trying to shake a twenty-plus-year smoking habit during her tenure as the MCA’s 2013 artist-in-residence.

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This book is very important to Goshka’s current research. A University of Chicago Library copy of Mark A. Russell’s monograph Between Tradition and Modernity: Aby Warburg and the Public Purposes of Art in Hamburg, 1896-1918 (published by Berghahn Books in 2007), it is the only source of information currently at our disposal on Aby Warburg’s elusive “Hamburg Comedy,” the basic premise of which currently propels Goshka’s creative process—her MCA residency will eventually result (or so we hope, for now) in a “Chicago Comedy” modeled after Warburg’s original “Hamburg Comedy.” Only one essay in this book has the comedy (fully titled Hamburg Conversations on Art: Hamburg Comedy, 1896), penned in December 1896 for his family’s New Year celebrations, as its subject; Russell informs us that “the action of the three-act comedy centers on an argument over the worth of contemporary art; the protagonists are a young Impressionist painter and the art-loving uncle of his fiancée” (it is useful to note that Warburg dedicated the play to his own fiancée, Mary Hertz). The play itself, which none of us have even laid eyes upon, is held in the vaults of the Warburg Institute in London—it exists only as a manuscript and has never been translated, much less staged.

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Driving up Lake Shore Drive on a cold and rainy afternoon, lake-effect fog obscured the city skyline and Lake Point Tower (the only skyscraper in downtown Chicago east of “L.S.D.”—how did this urban anomaly come to be?).

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Leaving the car to visit the Chicago History Museum, where we visited a terrific fashion exhibit (still on view!)—Inspiring Beauty: Fifty Years of Ebony Fashion Fair. Goshka is a great connoisseur of fashion, and an avid wearer of occasionally outrageous outfits herself. Not this time around though—it was too cold, and frankly too miserably wet.

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New Deal-era murals created throughout the city of Chicago as a part of the WPA’s Federal Art Project in the 1930s were inspired by the murals of Mexican artists including “los tres grandes” —Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros. The spirit of community activism and belief that art is a socio-political instrument of collective change can be traced from the Mexican Mural Movement of the 1930s to the public murals created in neighborhoods on Chicago’s South and West sides during the late 1960s and 70s. Goshka is perhaps best known internationally for her large-scale tapestries—three outstanding examples of which were on view in her exhibition at the MCA—which she has often referred to as “mobile murals.” Furthermore, it should be noted that as a teenager in mid-1980s Poland, the artist initially dreamt of a career (if we can call it that) restoring Russian Orthodox mural paintings and icons.

In preparation for an afternoon spent exploring murals on the South and West sides of Chicago, we stopped in for a quick lunch at Consuela Oceguera’s Taco Palacio. Arguably the best spot in Pilsen for tacos al pastor and a quick comida corrida, the tiny storefront seats only five people. With Consuela cooking just a few feet in front of the counter, it’s hard not to feel like you’re sitting in your grandmother’s kitchen. One of Pilsen’s true hidden gems, Taco Palacio also contains an even more hidden back space—a BYOB pool hall tucked behind the kitchen.

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Walking west from Halsted along the 16th Street railroad embankment toward Ashland, we stopped to look at murals ranging from graffiti art to Ray Noland’s now infamous stencils of jogging, black track suit-clad Rod Blagojevich—Run Blago Run. Moving away from Halsted, contemporary street art starts to mix with murals that were painted in the mid-1970s during the peak of the Barrio / Mexican Mural Movement in Pilsen and Little Village. Architect Adrian Lozano, who painted a twenty foot mural in the Benito Juárez Club at the Jane Addams Hull House in 1940-41, was instrumental in forming a partnership with the Pilsen-based Chicago artists group MARCH (el Movimiento Artístico Chicano) and Benito Juárez High School in Pilsen that resulted in the creation of neighborhood murals by Chicago artists including Mario Castillo, Aurelio Díaz and José Gamaliel González.

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Goshka photographing just to the east of one of the oldest surviving murals from the 1970s, Aurelio Díaz’s series of profiles, Caras. Located at the corner of 16th Street and South Blue Island Avenue, the Caras mural was created with the help of area students and residents in 1976 as a part of Díaz’s Galería del Barrio. Díaz moved to Chicago from Michoacán, Mexico in the early 1970s, and initiated community-based mural projects in the city through the 1980s. His murals can be seen at Casa Aztlán and on the playground wall of St. Pius V Parish School, among other locations in Pilsen and surrounding neighborhoods.

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Murals between South Carpenter Street and South Allport Street along the 16th Street corridor. We’re curious who painted these and when—contact us if you have any details!

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What is Mother Teresa doing here? As is well enough known, the life of the Albanian nun born as Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu in a Western outpost of the former Ottoman Empire unfolded primarily in the slums of Kolkata, where she came to embody a deeply flawed “theology of suffering.” The late Christopher Hitchens wrote an especially scathing critique of the diminutive Sister titled The Missionary Position. “A dirty job but someone had to do it,” as one sympathetic reviewer in the Sunday Times put it. Oh yes, the Missionaries of Charity do have a base in Pilsen we hear.

April 20, 2013:
3300 S Indiana Avenue

Posted April 20, 2013

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Another half-forgotten marvel on the South Side—the Pilgrim Baptist Church on the corner of South Indiana Avenue and 33rd street, originally built by Adler & Sullivan in 1890 as the Kehilath Anshe Ma’ariv Synagogue, home to Chicago’s oldest Jewish congregation (Dankmar Adler’s father had been its rabbi from 1861 to 1883). Known as the birthplace of Gospel (thanks to the musical directorship of Thomas Dorsey, who at some point counted Mahalia Jackson among his protégés there), the church also hosted the funeral of world heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson in 1946. In January 2006, the church was destroyed in an 18-minute blaze reportedly started by a team of careless roofers. According to one news report at the time, “It was built like Mount Ararat, the place where Noah was said to have landed when the flood was over.”

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