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Chicago's 2010 Art Controversies
by Abraham Ritchie






Next week ArtSlant: Chicago will pick the "Best of 2010" but this week, you get an early present, Chicago's art controversies.  While I would have liked to include the egregious censoring of David Wojnarowicz's video by Smithsonian Secrety G. Wayne Clough at the Smithsonian's National Portrait Gallery's exhibition "Hide/Seek", this article will focus on Chicago's own debacles, though it should be noted that the Smart Museum at the University of Chicago will screen the censored work. Without further ado, here are the ten things that got us all riled up this year.


-Abraham Ritchie, Senior Editor for ArtSlant: Chicago



10. Bad at Sports Turns off Comments

Yes, this was from this year, remember?  Around April 14th, according to independent curator Britton Bertran, the ability to comment on contemporary art podcast/blog Bad at Sports was removed.  Responding to Bertran's lamenting the loss of the comment sections, the administrators said that managing the comment section had gotten to be too much work. If you don't agree with them, just take a look at the 284 comments accompanying the podcast with Derek Guthrie, a co-founder of the now-shuttered New Art Examiner.

And I can hardly blame them for turning off the comments option.  Certain individuals frequently dominated conversations which quickly devolved into something much less than discourse on contemporary art. As Bertran put it,"I was often appalled by what I read." So RIP comment section, we wait for your return in a better world.

9. Twitter

If there was one place in cyberspace where you could simultaneously take part in an interesting art debate, get pissed off by another one, be understood and misunderstood at the same time, or find out about a cowardly Smithsonian Secretary bowing to pressure from bigots, it was all happening on Twitter.  The site may be a lot of news about dog walking and Justin Bieber, but on Twitter Chicago art news spreads like wildfire, spawning several of these items on the list. Just search for #chiart


Join in the conversation, follow me @AbrahamRitchie, my staff, Erik Wenzel @artoridiocy Mia DiMeo @MiaDiMeo and ArtSlant @artslant .

If you are in the Chicago art world, here are some must-follow recommendations, #FF (that's Twitterspeak for "Follow friday," a form of recommending someone): art critic Pedro Vélez @jonesdistrict , independent curator Britton Bertran @kingstitt , artist Philip von Zweck @pvonzweck , artist/writer/blogger Steve Ruiz @Steveruizok , and artist Salem Collo-Julin @hollo .

8. City of Chicago Allegedly Cracks Down on Alternative Art Spaces

It was mostly just a whispered rumor at openings, especially quiet whispers at apartment spaces, but after Green Lantern was shut down for lack of a business permit and 65GRAND was visited by city inspectors and given cease-and-desist orders for the same thing it seemed like Chicago was after alternative art spaces that thrive on gray lines between business and pleasure.

But in the end it remains unclear what happened.  65GRAND's visit from the city was a result of an anonymous complaint to the city, and Green Lantern's visit was the result of having a sandwich board out front that a city inspector noticed--apparently you have to give the city its due even to put out a board on the street.

One thing is for sure, many people are wondering what Thomas Robertello, owner of his eponymous gallery, may or may not have had to do with this.  An article in the School of the Art Institute of Chicago's student paper, fnews, strongly implied he may have been behind complaints that prompted some of the city visits.

7. Monument 2 Holds in its Hand a List...53110monu2

On October 5th, Michael Thibault, the director of newish gallery Monument 2 decided that it would be in his best interest to drum up coverage for his fledgling gallery by sending an angry email to every single one of Chicago's few still remaining art critics. In it, the Director accused the receiver of "delegation of attention," we assume he meant "dereliction."  The letter ended with two lists, "Spaces We Love," with Thibault's own Monument 2 at the top, and "Spaces We Hate."  The whole thing was such fun to read, it's a shame there isn't room in this article to post the email.

Ironically, I had thought ArtSlant hadn't received the email at all since we did cover Monument 2, Erik Wenzel wrote about Tim Louis Graham and Diego Leclary's "We" exhibit at Monument 2 in May. But a week later, a coworker inquired about the email and forwarded it to me for my attention. Apparently, even those who had covered Monument 2 were "delegate" in our attention.


6. Chicago Police Arrest Street Artist Ray CRO Noland

Maybe you have seen one while driving by a beat up wall somewhere: a "Running Blagojevich" stencil of the impeached and disgraced former-governor/jogging enthusiast Rod Blagojevich, with his black tracksuit, his signature hairstyle and his anxious over-the-shoulder glance.  I know the first time I saw one, I stopped the car I was in so I could take a picture of it. Tumblr_l3eme4us7d1qbi21yo1_500

I had seen the artwork long before I met Ray CRO Noland, the man who designed it, but not the person who may have put it up. In our interview over the summer Noland was quick to point out that he can't control how his artwork appears in a location: "I don’t take credit for anything that’s on the street, but it is my work.  Oddly enough the way that started was pretty innocent, someone saw the stuff online and they put it up on the street to impress me.  That same dynamic has continued."

Apparently the Chicago Police didn't pay much attention to this since on October 19th the artist was arrested for suspicion of graffiti. The news travelled fast on Twitter, which also spawned the #FreeCRO campaign.  The best way to contribute to Noland's legal defense fund is to buy his artwork at his online store.


5. Chicago Art Magazine Creates a "No Review" List, then Gives up on Reviews, Criticism Entirely

I've enjoyed watching former ArtSlant contributor Kathryn Born create the website family that houses Chicago Art Magazine.  There have been a few interesting pieces, one monthly segment will make my "Best of" list next week, and a few terrible articles, but it's been extremely interesting to watch the website and small company grow, and best of all, new art writing be produced.  And hats off to Kathryn, she does it all very transparently.

But there can be such a thing as too much transparency, when Born took to Facebook in May to vent about galleries who didn't advertise and then did in fact create a blacklist of galleries that refused to advertise with her company.

Later that month Born decided to kill reviews altogether under the logic that if some get it for free, no one will pay.  And at some point later in the year, Chicago Art, a sister site featuring theoretically-based art criticism, was quietly removed from their links.  Though the site remains online, it does seem to answer the age old question: if a criticism website falls in the forest of the internet will anyone hear it? Apparently not.

4. Lauren Viera's Ghetto Tour

With the Chicago Tribune taking such a public beating from the New York Times in the beginning of October, it was surprising to have Lauren Viera, the Tribune's general assignments reporter covering the art beat, tweet something that managed to offend a bunch of people for different reasons: "on an extended bus tour of the ghetto: w.logan square to pilsen via bus. culturally interesting."  The actual tweet can be seen above.

The problem here is, of course, the use of "ghetto." I was unpleasantly reminded of the "ghetto parties" at certain colleges.

The backlash simmered for several weeks until Viera claimed she was using the term literally, which somehow made it all ok.  Maybe she was just recreating John Baldessari and George Nicolaidis' 1969 Ghetto Boundary Project?

3. "The 1700% Project" Defaced, Hate Crime Alleged

This Chicago controversy made national news.  For her Master of Fine Arts exhibition at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, artist Anida Yoeu Ali created a wall-based text installation that was the focus of a performance.  Several days after the performance, the artist discovered that the wall had been defaced by vandals, as seen above.

The artist immediately called police and reported the damage as a hate crime, noting that the vandals highlighted specific portions of the text, which was itself hate speech selected by the author and part of the original work. However the police have classified the incident as criminal damage to property and no arrests in the case have yet been made. By September, the incident had made it all the way to CNN.

2. A Very Unmerry Christmas to the Department of Cultural Affairs from Da Mayor.

Just in time for Christmas, Mayor Daley laid off 20 employees in Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA), effectively dismantling the department as described by Jim DeRogatis on WBEZ's website.  The department may be merging with the Office of Special Events, or it may be absorbed by the Chicago Tourism Fund, a non-for-profit entity that is related to the city in some way.

The implications and aftermath of killing the DCA are far from clear, but this has certainly put a huge stain on Mayor Daley's mostly pro-art tenure (along with literal stain of the "graffiti blasters," the anti-vandalism squad that actively destroy graffiti art).  What is clear is that Chicago should continue to use the Cultural Center to mount significant and important exhibitions (like this year's Holis Sigler show) and should continue to fund art-related endeavors, like public art and art programming.  The Mayoral hopefuls in Chicago should also make it clear that art is a priority of their own, as it is fundamental to driving Chicago forward.

1. Art Loop Open's Disqualification-Reinstatement-Disqualification-and-finally-Reinstatement of Bernard Williams

By now it's old news that we've featured here on ArtSlant several times, but this was the first year for the popular-vote art contest.  Modeled on the ArtPrize in Grand Rapids, MI, this contest promised cash prizes to the winners, $25,000 to the artist with the most votes.  The only catch was that artists were forbidden in the rules of the contest from publishing their unique voting number.

During the first round of voting, Mr. Williams shared his voting number with a class at Columbia College, which was interpreted as "publishing" by the Art Loop Open organization. He was removed from the top ten finalists for that initially for verbally telling his number to a class of students, but he was reinstated.   "It's a pretty foul way to find out you're in the top 10, but I was pretty happy about that," Mr. Williams was quoted as saying about it.

The happiness was short-lived as later that afternoon Williams was again disqualified, this time a flier had been discovered at Columbia College with his voting number on it. Williams vehemently denied any involvement with the flier and protested via the Chicago press and his friends and supporters, now called "social media."

The Chicago art world was in an uproar at that point, the Art Loop Open Facebook page bears witness to that.  Four days later, in no small part due to this pressure from the artists and Williams' lawyers no doubt, Williams was reinstated, yet again, in the competition.

Unfortunately he had missed four crucial days of voting in the popular competition and did not win a cash prize.  Williams did however win a juried prize, the "Artropolis Prize" an extended exhibition in the Merchandise Mart through Art Chicago 2011.

At least then this is one controversy that ends 2010 on a slightly positive note.



Posted by Abraham Ritchie on 12/20/10

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Business subsidies are tricky since businesses employ people, and add to tax revenue in a myriad of ways. It's much less clear cut than say, the loafing Highway dept--we all know there's massive waste in the Chicago government, my point in the comments is that it's outrageous that the cultural producers take the hit. Also, Groupon got their subsidy before the offer from Google, not that it really matters much. Thanks for the clarification on Chicago
These state and county cuts are also frustrating if you look at it in the light of Groupon, which turned down a (supposed) $5 billion offer, got a 3.5 million dollar subsidy. Chicago Art Criticism closed because Brett Schneider moved to New York, and there was no replacing him. Thanks for remembering this! No one else even noticed... no complaints, no dip in readership... K
Hi Kaletts, glad to see you made it over to ArtSlant too! Let's hope it isn't a trend, the arts in all forms are too important to Chicago's civic fabric to have their funding cut. As I allude to here the evisceration of the Dept of Cultural Affairs is particularly egregious in light of the ENORMOUS civic government waste that goes on currently and has been going on for years. Ironically the day that this article went public, the Chicago Tribune reported on Chicago's Inspector General survey of the Cook County (Chicago's county for our out-of-town readers). I think the headline says it all, about how much waste there is while culture takes the hit: "Report: Cook County highway department a haven for loafers "
20130126220625-kaletts Chicago Art Controversies 2010
Thanks for the digest of art controversies in Chicago--seems I missed a few. I was particularly sorry to see the firing of 20 Dept. of Cultural Affairs personnel. As a recent artist refugee from Michigan (where I watched as public support for the arts withered away to nothing in the face of partisan politics and dwindling economic resources) the story gave me a sickening sense of deja vu. I hope this isn't the start of a trend...believe me, things could get much, much worse. Having said that, we know that artists are tough and resilient and will keep on doing what they do in spite of it all--because, well, what choice do they have? (see Kafka, The Hunger Artist)

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