Without a doubt, Millennium Park with its location in the heart of downtown Chicago is the best place in the city to show sculpture. The park itself has been widely praised by critics and is beloved by Chicagoans. Within the park are now-iconic works by Jaume Plensa (Crown Fountain) and Anish Kapoor (Cloud Gate). The site is surrounded by a virtual who’s-who of 20th century sculpture: to the south in the Art Institute of Chicago’s free sculpture gardens are works by David Smith (Cubi VII), Alexander Calder (Flying Dragon) and Lorado Taft (Fountain of the Great Lakes); to the north is Harry Bertoia’s Sounding Sculpture; and to the southeast is Richard Serra’s Reading Cones. In a truly unique and progressive move, Millennium Park also hosts rotating exhibitions of contemporary public sculpture that change after eighteen months.
I think highly of Millennium Park. It has world-class sculpture in it and around it. It has ambitious programming that is committed to the exhibition and ideals of public art. There are high expectations surrounding Millennium Park and that’s why senior curator Lucas Cowan’s current exhibition of sculpture by Yvonne Domenge is so disappointing.
Installation view of Yvonne Domenge's Tabachin Ribbon and Wind Waves at Millennium Park.
The South Boeing Gallery of Millennium Park is the main event of the exhibit featuring three works from Domenge. Even with three pieces on view, they are all undistinguishable from each other. They’re shiny, large, colorful and round; there’s no significant formal device in any of the works to separate one from the other. Lines swirl around in each one in undulating emptiness. If the aesthetic is interchangeable, so are the titles, the piece entitled Coral could just as easily be titled Wind Waves or Tabachin Ribbon.
The less-visible, less-visited North Boeing Gallery contains one work with two “companion” pieces (read: can be sold separately) that represent seedpods. This is Tree of Life, which is the tallest piece on view at sixteen feet. Here also the work is sinuous and flowing, done in glossy red metal, with the seedpods in orange tones.
Installation view of Yvonne Domenge's Tree of Life at Millennium Park.
The Tree of Life along with works like Coral are ambitious in what they intend to represent, respectively, an ancient religious concept and an incredibly complex organism. The execution falls far short of that ambition, however, settling for pleasing and easy.
Instead what we receive in Millennium Park for the next two summers is definitional Plop Art; it’s not rigorous aesthetically and it has no connectionsto Chicago nor does it create such connections. That’s too bad, because Millennium Park is a site of possibilities. The works by Kapoor and Plensa revel in their populist elements, but crucially those elements are deployed to create community within the park, which translates directly into a sense of being part of a larger community. Friends find each other in Kapoor’s reflective surfaces and they ultimately find themselves within the city as the skyline reflects around them. The faces of Chicago citizens are represented on Plensa’s towering video columns while children play below them in the reflecting pool.
With Kapoor’s work and Plensa’s, after visitors take their photo they linger with the sculpture. They may take off their shoes and walk through Plensa’s reflecting pool, or they may wander in wonder under the Kapoor. Likewise, Domenge deploys the populist elements of slick surfaces and bright colors, but they only attract photographs, not further thought.
Click. Snap. Done.
-Abraham Ritchie, Senior Editor ArtSlant: Chicago