Art Trip: Chicago | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

Art Trip: Chicago | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: On a nondescript
day in February, we got up and began our drive
from Indianapolis to Chicago. It’s not that remarkable
of a drive, which makes its remarkable
moments truly exciting– like when you see
the array of wind turbines off I-65. But then there’s really nothing
until you get to Gary, Indiana, where you see the remains
of the steel industry and the guts that fueled
the city of Chicago. Then the traffic
gets worse and worse as the skyline gets closer and
closer, and then you’re there. We went directly to the West
Side of Chicago to Pilsen, traditionally a Mexican
American neighborhood, and stopped at
Nuevo Leon bakery. You get a tray and some tongs,
and then the world is yours. We filled our tray with
delectable baked goods, including– yes, that’s
right– a giant doughnut, and felt like thieves
after paying only $5.62 for everything. We took our haul to
Assaf Evron’s studio, and had a great time
talking with Assaf and filming his
brilliant assignment. We talk about a lot of
things during our interviews, and so a little of it
makes it into the episode. But one tidbit that
Assaf shared kept resurfacing for me during the
rest of my time in the city. He said– When everybody asked
why I’m in the Midwest, I said like, because
of the boredom. And people look at me as
if, how can you say that? Boredom is very interesting and
a very productive environment for making. NARRATOR: We’ll
come back to that, but just hold it in
your mind for now. So by coincidence,
our second artist worked just five minutes
away, so we jumped over to the studio of the
delightful Maria Gaspar and filmed her assignment. It’s a testament to the health
of the cultural life of Chicago that you can travel
just moments away to experience the distinct
mini worlds of two successful artists with
vastly different practices. Afterwards, we were exhausted,
and found dinner close by at Dusek’s, a so-called
gastropub, which is really just a
term for a bar that serves food that isn’t bad. And this one was
really, really good. We had fries that,
they helpfully explain, are fried in beef
fat, unlike a bar that is not a
gastropub that fries in five-day-old
hydrogenated mystery oil. The cocktails were
creative and tasty, as was the root
vegetable cassoulet, and it was the perfect
end to the day. We woke up early to go to Xoco,
Rick Bayless’ Mexican street place, which is
usually super crowded. So weekday breakfast
is the way to go. The fresh churros were
fresh churro good, as were the poblano cheese
torta and chilaquiles. I’m glad we had a hearty
breakfast, because we were embarking on
an art marathon, and it was really
windy that day. I know, I know. Chicago’s the Windy City. But there’s definitely
something about the way the wind whips off the
lake and smacks you in the face with an
extreme ferocity that feels like the
worst insult that’s ever been directed at you. But even so, we made it to
the Chicago Cultural Center to see the Present
Standard exhibition curated by artists Edra Soto and
Josue Pellot, a group show of US-based Latino
artists whose works consider the concept of a standard
today– be it a flag, a symbol of
identity, or an idea. Walking through the
show, I was really affected by the
curatorial frame, thinking of each of these works as a
flag and the artist as a kind of absent standard bearer. I especially enjoyed this
work by Alejandro Figueredo Diaz-Perera, titled “The
Silence is Overrated,” made of a fan motor, a
broom stick, a microphone and speaker. I felt as if the
microphone had had enough, was tired of no one
speaking into it, and had to take matters
into its own hands. Then we zipped
over to the Museum of Contemporary
Art Chicago, which had some really great shows up. There’s no way the MCA
could have known however many months ago that the
current political race would be the unmitigated
circus that it is, but that’s why they
engage prescient artists like Katherine Andrews, whose
show, “Run for President,” is a glorious mash
up of the imagery and objects of Hollywood
and American politics. The show elicited for
me a simultaneous joy in this bright, dizzying,
and cheeky reflection on our celebrity-obsessed
society, and discomfort
with the pageantry we fall prey to in
our media consumption and in our political decisions. There were also excellent
shows of works from the MCA’s permanent collection, like
“Surrealism: The Conjured Life,” whose ingenious
exhibition design includes a spiraling wall at its center. Inside the spiral is painted
purple and displays works by the core surrealist, like
Rene Magritte, Max Ernst, and Jean Dubuffet, while
the outside of the spiral shows works by international
artists influenced by the surrealists. Then the outer gallery
walls contain works by Chicago artists,
past and present, who show an affinity
for surrealism. What I love about this
show is that it reveals how delightfully messy
this movement was, like all movements. Not a neat
organization of artists following a set of
rules, but a wide ranging, far reaching drift
of loosely-related practices. You nonetheless
emerge with a sense of the strange, dark,
fantastical phenomenon that is surrealism, and how
its presence can still be felt today. Then we stopped at
Intuit, a center that presents outsider
art, which they define as, “the work of artists who
demonstrate little influence from the mainstream
art world, and who instead are motivated by their
unique personal visions.” They had up a show of sculptures
by Clarence and Grace Woolsey, Iowa farmers who began making
figures from their bottle cap collection in the early ’60s. The pieces were discovered
in a barn after their deaths and found admirers in
the outsider art market. The Woolsey’s called
them “Caparena.” And I was compelled by
these rusting, charming, discomforting figures,
which for me called to mind African figures, like
these from 18th to 19th century Congo, in their frontality
and totemic quality, as well as playful works like
Jeff Koons’ “Bunny,” drawn from American pop culture. We also take a peek in
the Henry Darger room. The Good Stuff just did an
excellent video about Darger that you should watch,
but in brief, he’s an artist of cult status whose
work also wasn’t discovered until after his death. He created a whole world of
characters and accompanying mythology, and his work is equal
parts mesmerizing and super creepy. Here’s a re-creation of a
room in his apartment, where you can see some of the source
material that inspired him, and interesting
little details like how he would pour tempera
paint into pot lids. And once hardened, use them
like little cakes of watercolor. At Intuit, you really do feel
the kind of intense drive and desire to make that has
brought all of these works into being it’s
a palpable desire not only to execute an
idea, but to compulsively do it again and again. We then drove south in the
rain to the Stony Island Arts Bank, which opened
this past fall, and occupies a former bank that
had been vacant for decades. They were in
between exhibitions, which made our appreciation
of the renovated building all the more profound. It was conceived by The Rebuild
Foundation, a not for profit started by artist
Theaster Gates that focuses on the creative
development of under invested neighborhoods. The bank is now a site for
contemporary art exhibitions, a community center,
events venue, and also the home to some
amazing collections, like the old slide collections
of the University of Chicago and Art Institute that they no
longer needed once digitized, and the astoundingly beautifully
presented magazine and book collection of John
H. Johnson, founder of “Ebony” and “Jet” magazines. It also holds the
record collection of DJ Frankie Knuckles,
and Edward Williams’ fascinating,
disturbing collection of what he called negrobilia,
racist collectibles he bought to remove them from the market. And there’s more to
develop, like the old vault in the basement, rusted over
by long-sitting flood water. The Arts Bank is warm and open
and vibrating with energy, offering the chance
for locals and not so locals to engage with narratives
of the past and present. We then made a brief
stop at the Smart Museum at the University
of Chicago, which consistently present engaging
and, uh, smart exhibitions. We had the chance to see
their current show that wasn’t open yet,
titled “Monster Roster: Existentialist Art
in Postwar Chicago.” The exhibition
brings together works of artists like Leon Golub,
June Leaf, Seymour Rosofsky, and Nancy Spero, whose
psychologically-charged work shared an interest in
the figure in the 1950s when everyone else was
thinking about abstraction. A number of these artists
served in World War II, and the intense images of
suffering that they presented were seen as processing
the horrors of that time, and also led critics to begin
calling them the Monster Roster, despite the
fact that they didn’t identify that way as a group. Anyway, it’s dense and dark and
dystopic, but in a good way. And I encourage you to see it. Then just to torture
ourselves, we decided to end our day by
driving through traffic and torrential rain
to the suburbs, to the Elmhurst
Art Museum, which was hosting its first
biennial of Chicago artists. The show focused on
the role of the artist as commentator or activist,
engaging with their communities and addressing social
and political issues. There was a lot of great work
here, thoughtfully presented. But some of my favorites were
Edra Soto’s Tropical American Flags, one of which
we’d seen earlier. Christopher Meerdo’s collection
of mobile phone photos, obtained from a server
via brute force attack. And Cheryl Pope’s
installation, which she created in collaboration
with Chicago students, hoping to, quote,
“preserve these voices, and confront the
complexities of systems that construct these experiences.” I was also happily
transported to another world within Lise Haller Baggesen’s
immersive installation “Mothernism,”
cleverly activating the Mies van der
Rohe-designed McCormick house attached to the museum. Now, any sane person would not
see this much art in a day. But even so, there’s
a lot we didn’t see. We didn’t go to
the Art Institute, which is sacrilegious. And we didn’t go to any
commercial galleries, nor did we visit any of
Chicago’s outdoor art for the obvious
seasonal reasons. But on the drive home,
as I was processing the tremendous variety of work
we saw all by Chicago artists, I kept thinking about what
Assaf had said about making art in Chicago and in the Midwest. And as we passed the
wind turbines again, this time in the
dark, seeing how the network of blinking
lights mapped the flat expanse of nothingness. I wondered about what it means
to make art in a given place, in any given place. Does the landscape matter? The weather? Or are we all just
fumbling around in the dark, concocting
stories inside ourselves that only start to make sense
when viewed from a distance? [MUSIC PLAYING]

73 thoughts on “Art Trip: Chicago | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios”

  1. So much art in one place! We recently went to Chicago for The Brain Scoop exhibit opening. I was so sad that we didn't get to go to the art museum next door, and I now know how many other places we miss out on too.

  2. Beautiful video. I live in Chicago and haven't been to all these places. Now I have a list of things to do on spring break 🙂

  3. LOVE this little vloggy episode 🙂 it was really nice as an SAIC undergrad to see my professors and hear more about the art scene in the city I'm attending college in!

  4. I know it's cultural difference but sarah's concept of "heavy traffic" is literally what's called no traffic in the philippines :)) a bit alienating for me.. Love the bottlecap sculpture tho! Really endearing

  5. This video was so energizing for some reason. I appreciate that you took the viewer to lesser – known galleries and exhibits.

  6. Ooooh Chicago! I suppose the mid-west is pretty boring especially the rural places. So few people want to develop our culture. Still that doesn't mean it is devoid of creativity.
    "All good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow." Grant wood.
    The above quote is one of the answers my brother gives when people ask him why he still lives in the mid-west when he has been offered to work in California.
    There is also a noted painter in Maquoketa who decided to settle there and paint portraits of as many of the town's citizens as possible. My sister couldn't believe someone like her would choose Iowa of all places to open her gallery. It may well go unappreciated, but artistic flowers bloom here adored or not.

  7. Sara, this video was amazing. And as a resident of Chicago, I am so happy to know about many places to see art that I did not even know existed before. Thank you for your amazing work.

  8. I <3 Theaster Gates' work so much. I will have to visit the Art Bank next time I go to Chicago.

    I can relate so much to Assaf's and your sentiment on "boredom is very interesting and a productive environment for making." I've been trying to come to terms with this idea for so long and it's so good to know I'm not alone and not crazy lol. It's almost like – you need to let your life slow down in order to appreciate the beauty and fascinating aspects of the seemingly mundane world around you.

  9. Great video as always. Love seeing all of the places one can visit in a certain city. Next time I'm in Chicago i'll be sure to check some of these institutions out

  10. Amazing!! I really connected with the existentialist art you shared – I think about existentialism a lot, plus I'm re-reading The Stranger for my literature class. I've gotta see how long that exhibit will be open, I'd really love to see it! Thank you for sharing!!

  11. I really enjoyed this video, which showed a lot of Chicago-area venues I had barely heard of. My only quibble is your use of "activating" in regard to Lise Haller Baggesen's "Mothernism," as that word is curator/critic jargon. I'd suggest "enlivening" or "transforming" as better choices.

  12. Sarah! I work at the Smart Museum. I'm glad you enjoyed it–the education department there does a great job asking thoughtful questions on the placards that accompany the art. Come back in the summer time and see all the wonderful outdoor art we have downtown (and the murals in Pilsen!).

  13. You should come to Dallas Fort Worth! Some lovely museums over here. I particularly love the Kimbell Art Museum.

  14. I'm thinking about making my birthday an art trip! thanks for the inspiration! I always love exploring new things 🙂

  15. Thank you for exhausting yourselves for our viewing (/feeling/thinking) pleasure.

    Regarding the Blowup assignment, do you guys ever check EyeEm? I'll tag my blowups TheArtAssignment when I post them…hope to see you there.

  16. And now to show my girlfriend the doco on Henry Darger and watch as her reaction goes from 'Ooh that's pretty' to 'Ergh..'

  17. Haha, when I was in high school I did my project to on Henry darker for Chicago history fair. Nice to see you guys in my city, albeit I am much more north than the places you visited

  18. ahhh – chicago-land !  the memories / the  hospital visits… makes me happy to be in Boulder, colo >> fumbling around in the dark….with the skylight as my guide…cheers AA

  19. Great video! Chicago has so much to offer! We're happy we give people the opportunity to visit this great city!

  20. I just got back from my trip to Chicago from Indianapolis yesterday 🙂 My mom and I went to the Art Institute and saw their Vincent Van Gogh exhibition about his bedroom paintings. It was so fascinating! I loved seeing some of the same views I saw on my drive up and back in this video.

  21. my dorm is next to the smart museum she was in my back yard practically! i wish i coulda ran into her.
    oh well. thanks for showing me places I didn't know were so near me. now its art trip every weekend!

  22. Would you ever consider taking Art Trips international? Sorry if you've already answered this, and I know it would be expensive, but I live near to Birmingham in the UK, and there's several art galleries and museums there, and there's some beautiful places in Amsterdam, and of course there's lots of art galleries in London, and plenty of public art installations around.

  23. Thanks for introducing me to some fascinating places in my own city, just in time for my own family's spring break stay-cation! We visit the MCA and the Art Institute several times a year but we clearly need to branch out!

  24. I pass by the wind turbines at night from time to time and love it. I always imagine that loud bass-y music from movies and I sync it in time with the blinking lights. It reminds me of an alien invasion because you just see hundreds of these floating lights that look like they're coming out of the sky all lighting up simultaneously. Its a creepy synchronization.

  25. I am so so glad you make the 'Art Trip' videos. I used to live in DC and the previous episode made me nostalgic; the Chicago episode made me realize I should go visit again… I am curious as to which location you will highlight next, love these videos and something I always look forward to. So thank YOU.

  26. I am so thrilled that you did an Art Trip to Chicago. My friends and I are planning to go for a weekend trip to go to the Lyric Opera, we were just last night talk about what else we wanted to do!! Thank You so much for the ideas!!

  27. I'm really loving this series. There's not much art available here and I can't afford to travel. I use the internet to view museum collections and enjoy visiting them through Art Assignment eyes. Thank you!

  28. Have you guys ever considered taking an art assignment from a teen artist? I understand that the artists featured on this channel have worked long and hard to be were they are now, but I think it would be really cool to have some maturing artist give assignments every once and a while.

  29. The Stony Island Arts Bank looks like a wonderful adaptive reuse project! The magazine/book collection room, with its wall of rough books matching the rough structure, looks especially engaging. Seems like it was a packed and exciting trip, thanks for sharing it, and especially for sharing Assaf's pointer on boredom. It reminded me that it is from boredom that imagination springs forth… faced with nothing it creates. Maybe I should get myself bored more often. 🙂 And, maybe visit those wind turbines — their lights at the end were strangely mesmerizing!

  30. I think it does matter where you make art. I'm from Hong Kong and I remember one artist saying that Hong Kong artists tend to work on a small scale because there just isn't any space to exhibit it/ store it. I think that it's also partly down to the dense and claustrophobic cityscape , it just seeps into tour subconsciousness.

  31. This just reminds me why The Art Assignment is the greatest show on YouTube. Every episode makes me feel like making something, traveling somewhere or just going out and take the world inn! Thank you!!

  32. I live in chicago, and as an artist, I love it here. From the busy city filled with amazing art and architecture, to the quiet suburbs filled with Victorian homes and barking dogs. Illinois is an amazing state to live in and to be creative in.

  33. I love this Art Trip series, especially how you include restaurants and lesser-known galleries. You've inspired me to write about my travels to museums for a blog. Do you let institutions know you'll be coming and filming in advance? How much research do you do before hand?

  34. Is it just me who thinks what Assaf Evron said is kinda BS and condescending? not the part about boredom being an inspiring and productive space, the part about the Midwest being inherently boring. You can become bored anywhere and conversely can keep yourself entertained anywhere. Chicago is just as boring as New York/London/Tel Aviv/ect.

  35. god i cant stand her voice, and i know exactly why… it seems as if she is trying her hardest to not seem condescending to her audience yet bits of condescension seep through as she desperately tries to create an undertone of intelligence in her structure.

  36. That was fun but form me no trip to Chicago is complete without a stop at Billy Goats for a lousy cheez burger and weak beer.

    Also, I’ve never stopped to see “Nighthawks,” which is now kind of an obsession to see.

  37. Bonjour si vous souhaitez voir des œuvres d'art contemporaine incroyable et d'un style unique au monde regarder.

  38. well curated tour .. glad the elmhurst art museum was included .. food, traffic, weather, art — captured a perfect chicago day

  39. I spent years… doodling at a breakroom table out of boredom. Three breaks a day in a small boring factory. In turn, I discovered my passion for art.

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