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Prêt-à-Manet

POSTED BY , ON September 09, 2010, 5 COMMENTS

I was as surprised as anyone at the news earlier this week that Mayor Richard M. Daley will not run for re-election in the next mayoral term. Daley has always been a big supporter of the Art Institute—coming to see exhibitions in the early hours before the public, attending openings, and always enthusing about the many projects we have underway. So selfishly, my reaction is . . . Darn!  I’m the curator of nineteenth-century French painting here at the museum, and one of my current pet projects is an exhibition exploring the relationship between avant-garde painting and the fashion industry during the Impressionist period. It was during this period—from about the 1860s to the 1880s—when the department store flourished, when middle class people could aspire to fashion and a new concept of “style” that had to do with the trendy silhouette (crinolined, bustled, and, for men, padded and cinched), and when an unprecedented awareness of fashion (as distinct from mere clothing) emerged through advertisements, popular press, and the many new public spaces in Paris where styles were seen and copied.

The mayor has long been a supporter of Chicago’s contributions to the fashion world, so at an opening for a major exhibition a few months ago I gave Mayor Daley the “elevator pitch” on the basic concept of this exhibition (which opens in Paris during Fashion Week of 2012, then travels to the Met, returning to Chicago in the summer of 2013). His eyes lit up at the prospect of yet another  “good for Chicago!” venture appropriate to our burgeoning reputation as a city à la mode. I intend to start blogging about this exhibition—the planning, the negotiations, and the huge learning curve for someone like me who has always worked in the “fine” arts of sculpture and painting but is now taking on the purview of fashion historians. But today I’m pondering the future of what this recent news means (on a personal level) for the exhibitions’ potentially wider public outreach and support, and, more significantly, what it means for the Mayor’s Fashion Advisory Council and its aspirations for Chicago fashion to make history.

–Gloria G., The David and Mary Winton Green Curator in the Department of Medieval to Modern European Painting and Sculpture

Credit: Édouard Manet, Woman Reading, 1879/80. Mr. and Mrs. Lewis Larned Coburn Memorial Collection.

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5 Responses to “Prêt-à-Manet”

  1. Bill Scanlon says:

    I am sorry to disagree, but Daley has been a narrow-minded hypocrite with respect to art and a threat to art in Chicago, at least since the early 90s when he started his all-out war against street art.

    Street art is the most accessible and progressive art in Chicago, as it is in other places. Just like much art in galleries, that is necessarily accessible to only a few, usually wealthy, people, much street art has little artistic merit. Just like some art in galleries, some street art is excellent. In comparison with excellent art in galleries, excellent street art tends to be fresher, more imaginative, more provocative or more directly challenging to establishment institutions, especially political.

    It is hardly surprising then that Daley, the kingpin of Chicago’s corrupt political establishment, decided to wage all-out war on street art, while feigning hypocritically a love and appreciation of art to the city’s gallery-confined art establishment.

    Daley’s war on street art has sought to destroy all of it, without regard to artistic merit, the beauty and value it often adds to drab or ugly spaces, or a space’s owner’s or neighbors’ desire to have it stay. Fortunately the war cannot possibly stop the creation of street art. All it does is prematurely destroy art that the people of the city should be able to see.

    Nothing fundamentally separates art in galleries from that on the streets except where the art is located. Daley’s war on street art has been a war on art itself. From the beginning it should have been adamantly opposed by all the city’s art lovers, but the gallery-confined art establishment has never raised even a peep of opposition to the war and has in some cases supported it. I wonder if there’s a Nuremberg defense for this.

    Daley’s government wastes over $9 million annually for political-patronage jobs and equipment to try to physically remove street art. It spends more in police and court costs to apprehend, prosecute and punish street artists. These artists include some of the city’s most insightful and creative people, who should be encouraged and celebrated rather than tied up in criminal prosecution because of creating art.

    Daley’s war against street art leaves the city much drabber and uglier than it needs to be.

    Daley’s priority to try to eliminate street art is not only crazy and bad for art but also dangerous for the people of the city. 600 homicides and countless other serious, assaultive crimes are committed in the city each year in part because funds are diverted from the inadequately funded criminal justice system and wasted trying to do something that cannot be done, eliminate street art.

    It is long past time for Daley to leave office and his crazy and dangerous war against street art to end.

    May his successor be someone who truly appreciates and encourages creative expression of all kinds everywhere, in galleries, on the streets and everywhere else.

  2. Phil says:

    Once again, someone is confusing “street art” with graffiti. Do give us your address, Bill, so we can come “make art” on your house, car, and anything else you leave in public view.

    Public murals (even free-for-all ones) are not the same as tagging.

  3. Bill Scanlon says:

    Phil, it is Daley and his buffing squad that never distinguish “tagging” (sic) from “public murals.” They’re out to remove it all.

    And, unfortunately for crime control in the city, Daley’s police and the city’s municipal court system (including prosecutors) are also not allowed to make the distinction.

    Beyond that, many tags are indistinguishable from “public art.” The last people I would want to have making the distinction are Daley, his minions on the City Council, his buffers, the police, prosecutors, judges, some Art Institute official, or people who share your narrow-minded views about art.

    Apparently you adhere to the myth shared by the supporters of Daley’s anti-art program that street art, guerrilla art, graffiti, tag art, tags, or whatever else you choose to call it is made regularly on private houses, cars, or other “private object[s,]” whatever they might be, left by their owners in “public view,” whatever that might be. The myth is patently false. Surely it happens occasionally, but it is rare. The reality is that almost all street artists, guerrilla artists, taggers, or whatever you choose to call them do not without the consent of owners make art on private houses, cars, or “private objects.” Daley would remove it all whether or not the owner has consented. Daley does, and apparently you would, throw the baby out with the bath water.

  4. jack says:

    hil I think you are confusing graffiti and street art with Vandalism. Daley has been on a war with graffiti since the 90′s. Its obvious with every brown wall you see on the train line to work.
    Think about what your saying, “Public murals (even free-for-all ones) are not the same as tagging.” So anything that is not an open mural space is tagging? Phil you are just another part of the Daley system. You are generalizing a diverse community of artists to taggers and gang bangers. Its just so funny to me that we’d rather see brown blasted walls then the mark makings and images created by its own community . Is it that we’d rather be censoring our selves than actually looking and seeing what people are saying? Honestly what it comes down to it is its inhibiting growth for chicago’s art community.
    When was the last time river north art district actually had a challenging art show?! the pod’s in the pilsen district kicked out anyone of worth and historic merit to the community because he jacked up the rent up so high they had no choice to move. the west loop only has a handful of galleries actually getting anything of worth out their. And most of all when was the last time the mca put out anything challenging! Honestly challenging.
    Chicago is missing a very vital part of its art community. It’s something that SF has LA has, and NY, but chicago just can’t find it and part of that is because of its policies and laws about the public art space. Its limited its self for years, and part of that is in the ego rubbing between the major art museums and chicago politicians. particularly with mayor Daley, So I can only hope that with this changing chicago winds that their will be more public art space for general public. Not public art space that you must go through ten miles of red tape to access but freedom to add color to our lives on all blank walls!
    If that color angers you so much Phil you can call graffiti blasters to your house to paint ever part of your house brown:)
    then I’ll ask you what you like better.

    I’m not blaming you, its been implanted in you to think like this since 1990 when daley began his graffiti removal program.

  5. theres no way home says:

    of course many of us are aware of the the antiwar protests and events in chicago during the 1968 democratic national convention..and how horrible daley’s father was in concern to that. well the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. daley jr. didn’t do anything as bad as his father..well, in my opinion..but his successful efforts to thwart underground cultural movements has lagged our city behind in some ways compared to a place like for example modern day berlin, germany..he made a statement about chicago artists..i am paraphrasing..he said something to the effect that the artists in chicago are the heart and soul of the city. seems like the epitome of a political spin there.

    funny he supports something like the rolling stones playing soldier field yet he shut down maxwell street and that’s where the stones influence came from. according to respected music journalist jim derogatis..daley single-handedly prevented many internationally respected musical artists from playing millenium park such as radiohead. daley jr.’s big so-called mission is for chicago to be a world class city and he tried to host the olympics here and similar sorts of things..i don’t know whether these efforts were for self-ego reasons, economic reasons, or the world class city for everyone reasons..i don’t know i’m not in his head..but if it is truly meant for the world-class city explanation i can say that he doesn’t realize that one of the things that make the other great cities great are some of the greatest minds often rise up from the underground. when people who try and throw their own non city permitted cultural events and are shut down under the ‘promoters ordinance’ it lags chicago behind as a place for the natural progression of good cultural ideas put into action. on the topic of graffiti i think what bill scanlon is saying is correct..that good graffiti can be extremely progressive and who doesn’t know that it’s not all anti-intellectual,purely territorial or for the sake of defacing? i guess probably a bunch of people don’t know this..but i do believe that more people ought to learn to see a differentiation between the good stuff and the bad stuff. even some of the bad stuff is good i think when it’s not blatantly on peoples personal property. that is another thing many don’t understand..that the more intelligent graffiti artists have a filter of where is a good place to put their art.

    anyway who knows..the next mayor could be far worse for chicago’s art and culture. it seems we will find out in 2011.