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“I predicted the success of a failed art installation.”

Last March, local artist Jessica Stockholder told me she was going to have to scale back her original idea for Color Jam, an installation slated to hit the...

Photograph: Courtesy Chicago Loop Alliance
Color Jam

Last March, local artist Jessica Stockholder told me she was going to have to scale back her original idea for Color Jam, an installation slated to hit the Loop in June. Stockholder, the chair of the University of Chicago’s Department of Visual Arts, had hoped to envelop the intersection of State and Adams Streets—building facades, sidewalks, pavement and all—in swaths of orange, blue and green vinyl. But the city was being stubborn about letting her cover the streets.

Still, in TOC’s May 17 issue, I predicted Color Jam would be my favorite project to date from Art Loop, a public-art series sponsored by the Chicago Loop Alliance. Stockholder’s plan seemed to capture the spirit of Art Loop completely, inviting pedestrians and drivers to take a closer look at the architecture and infrastructure of a typical downtown corner.

“I think it will provide a moment of happy surprise,” the artist told me during a February 2012 interview. “That corner will be very altered, even though it’s very much the same. I think it’s a little bit like in an animated film, moving from black and white to color.”

Unfortunately, the installation was doomed. Besides following the mandate from the Chicago Department of Transportation that confined Stockholder’s vinyl paint to the crosswalks rather than the entire street, the artist had to leave gaps in her treatment of the building facades so that passersby could still see the signs for Starbucks, CVS and Bank of America, which further limited the impact of her exuberant concept. Once Color Jam was in place, gobs of gum studded the installation, and incessant foot and vehicular traffic caused the vinyl to peel off its foil-backed adhesive.

The resulting eyesore bore little resemblance to Stockholder’s cheerful renderings. The CLA removed Color Jam—which cost $500,000—weeks before its September 30 closing date. So, my rave review was premature, but I still admire the CLA for taking a risk on a bold idea. I hope it continues to commission works that expand our notions of public art beyond bland sculptures. Next time, just don’t use vinyl—and I’ll more carefully consider the realities of a project before I hype it.

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