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Chicago's Downtown Goes All 1980s With Immense, Fluorescent Art

Chicago's Downtown Goes All 1980s With Immense, Fluorescent Art
Chicago Loop Alliance

Taking a trip through Chicago's downtown this summer will be like reeling time back to the 1980s, or perhaps visiting a laser-tag arena. Artists at this very second are laying down bright, neon hues at the buzzing intersection of State and Adams, and when the painting's all done the block should look like an IED went off below the Culture Club tour bus.

The bold redecorating of the Loop is being performed by Jessica Stockholder, a canon-altering presence in the world of installation art who teaches at the University of Chicago. Her "Color Jam," running from June 5 to September, splashes building facades and sidewalks with so much bright purple, green and orange that pedestrians will think they're "walking through an animated film."

The Chicago Loop Alliance, the sponsor of this eye-fetching art bomb, describes the work thus:

Massive in scale and playful in its use of public space, “Color Jam” will place viewers in the middle of a work of art. As people approach a central Loop intersection – on foot or in a vehicle – flashes of color will begin to reveal themselves: a stripe on the pavement, an unusual shape on a high floor of a skyscraper. Closer to the corner, color will begin to intensify and overtake the field of vision. Geometric shapes will form as they spill from buildings onto the sidewalk, overtaking traffic lanes, joyously “jamming” the street. And in the middle of the intersection – a vortex of color and shape will mark the Loop’s latest destination.

In effect, it will be like touring all of Stockholder's previous installations. The artist works with a veritable Walmart full of cheap, colorful consumer goods in a riff on our product-centric society; a single piece of hers might include polymer bits, scraps of carpet, an old lampshade, a scraggly tree root and fake lemons. In 2010, for an exhibit at the Museo Reina Sofía in Madrid, she created a towering geyser of plastic using buckets and laundry baskets. When “Flooded Chambers Maid” went up in Manhattan the previous year, the blue mulch/Lego block-like installation was so wantonly tinted that kids used it as a playground.

In a way, "Color Jam" is already a letdown. Its title is flaccid compared to other works in the artist's oeuvre, like "Gelatinous Too Dry," "Recording Forever Pickled Too" and "Fat Form and Hairy: Sardine Can Peeling." But the visual impact is forceful. You can keep tabs on how far the coloring has progressed via webcam (so far it looks like only the orange/reds and blue have gone down).

"Color Jam" is the third annual public artwork backed by the Loop Allance. Chicagoans might recall Kay Rosen's titanic mural exhorting them to "GO DO GOOD" on a downtown building. And who could ever forget the vengeful peeper from hell that was "EYE," a 30-foot-tall entity in Pritzker Park by Tony Tasset? Chicago's got this public-art thing down pat. (H/t to The Pop Up City)

Top photo courtesy of the Chicago Loop Alliance.

Keywords: Chicago, Public Art, Chicago

John Metcalfe is a staff writer at The Atlantic Cities. All posts »

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