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Are Politics Driving Programming in Millennium Park?
by Abraham Ritchie

The sub-par exhibition from Yvonne Domenge in Millennium Park raises questions about the motivations behind the exhibition itself and the civic body in charge of programming.  In December, 2010, the City of Chicago reorganized the Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) laying off a number of workers (and in the process making spot #2 on my “2010 Chicago Art Controversies” list), somehow shifting jobs over to the Chicago Tourism Fund to avoid the Shakman Degrees which forbid politically-motivated hiring, while merging with the Mayor’s Office of Special Events.  The reader must forgive me if this is incomprehensible, even Lois Weisberg, the recently retired commissioner of the DCA, described the merger as “not easy to explain.”  Not surprisingly the city hasn’t come forward to clarify the merger.  Also not surprisingly Chicago’s newspapers haven’t dug into the story either. But given the situation, one must wonder who’s really in charge of Millennium Park’s sculpture program?

It could very easily be outgoing Mayor Daley, the man whose word rules Chicago.  In 2008, right as the Beijing Olympics were on the way and Chicago was planning a bid to host the 2016 games in what turned out to be a high-profile failure, it was widely rumored that Mayor Daley wanted the city to celebrate China in anticipation of the Olympics.  In April of 2009, Millennium Park hosted  “Conversation with Chicago: Contemporary Sculpture from China”. Curated by Wu Hung, it was an exhibition that had a curatorial vision and interesting art and artists, even if I didn’t love it.

In 2010 the political imperative is even clearer, an early press release touted that the exhibition would “[coincide] with Mexico’s 2010 bicentennial celebrations,” never mind that was in swing last September.  The City of Chicago hosted a slew of events under the “Mexico 2010 in Chicago” banner, complete with a website.  This was unmistakably the work of Mayor Daley who issued a proclamation declaring 2010 “The year of Mexico in Chicago.”  And in April of 2011 we end up with Yvonne Domenge in Millennium Park, who is expressly presented as a “Mexican sculptor” on all press materials.

Obviously I’m not saying that we shouldn’t celebrate other cultures in Millennium Park, that would be an extreme misreading of this article. We absolutely should celebrate other cultures, Chicago is an international city and the home to many cultures.

What I am saying is that it seems that Mayor Daley’s political whims seem to be driving the programming at Millennium Park along with the rest of the city.  The focus of a public contemporary sculpture program should be, you know, showing the best contemporary sculpture with a strong curatorial vision.  Currently the programming smacks of Chicago politics.


-Abraham Ritchie, Senior Editor ArtSlant: Chicago


Posted by Abraham Ritchie on 4/11/11

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