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Chicago's Top Three Art Controversies
by Abraham Ritchie

  • 3. Chicago Reader poll declares vandal Weed Wolf “Best established artist,” “Best tagger”

Simultaneously showing the problems with audience-generated polls and the irrelevance of them in determining artistic quality, the Chicago Reader named WEED WOLF, the prolific tagger of Chicago’s bathrooms, as “Best established artist” (beating out much worthier contenders like Jason Lazarus and William J. O’Brien) and “Best tagger” of 2011.  Regrettably, WEED WOLF is neither. I get what he's doing, putting the graffiti back in graffiti artist, but it's so boring.  Perhaps the Reader’s Miles Raymer put it best when Raymer named WEED WOLF best tagger in 2010, describing WOLF’s work like: “the notebook doodlingof [sic] an Endust-huffing thrash metal fan.”  Yup, and that isn’t a good thing. For some inexplicable reason, the Reader then followed the 2011 recognitions up by including a rambling essay from the WOLF in their “People Issue 2011” making the whole thing even more irrelevant.  There is a lot of really good street art in Chicago, but not the contributions from WEED WOLF. 


2. Bertrand Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital and the Threat of Demolition

2011 was a big year for modernist architect Bertrand Goldberg (1913-1997), with two major exhibitions on view concurrently in Chicago at two top venues: the Arts Club of Chicago and the Art Institute of Chicago.  Yet defying all logic, Northwestern University moved to demolish Goldberg’s Prentice Hospital, sparking architectural preservationists to action through the Save Prentice coalition. Pulitzer Prize-winning architecture critic Blair Kamin came out strongly for saving the building, making his position clear on the quality of the building calling it “boldly sculptural, brilliantly engineered,” and “the 36-year-old high-rise is unquestionably a major work in Goldberg’s career.” Oddly, the Chicago Tribune editorial board contradicted the expertise of their award-winning critic calling Prentice “not much more than a minor architectural gem.”  Personally, the opinion from the guy with the Pulitzer carries more weight.  Right now Prentice’s fate seems to be in limbo, the Commission on Chicago Landmarks deferred a vote on the building, which is pretty gutless. We hope to see Prentice last well beyond 2012.

A now-typical scene in Pioneer Plaza. I don't even want to know what gesture that guy on the left has in mind.


1. J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s Forever Marilyn

Who would have thought that an article I wrote in less than hour on J. Seward Johnson Jr.’s tribute to upskirt voyeurism and sophomoric titillation (see above photo) could start such a firestorm? Two U.K. papers picked up the story and my piece, the Guardian and the Spectator, with the Spectator inviting me to contribute a piece reflecting on the whole situation. By the time the dust had settled, the story had made it across the ocean, into the Chicago Tribune and other papers, onto the radio, and onto the television.  In 2012 we hope that the Zeller Realty Group, the people behind Marilyn's appearance, heeds the advice of Michael Darling, Chief Curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago: “maybe this preponderance of negative feedback about the Johnson is kind of a good indication of the sophistication in Chicago for prevailing tastes . . . maybe [the negative feedback will] make people think twice about what they put up. Maybe this city can handle more than that."  Not only can we handle more than that, we can handle better than that.


Abraham Ritchie, Editor ArtSlant Chicago 


(WEED WOLF Image courtesy of Entro Emcee.)

Posted by Abraham Ritchie on 1/2/12

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