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Mark di Suvero at Millennium Park

April 16, 2008

For the first time in a long time in Chicago it feels like Spring. I imagine that people in New York must flock to Central Park when Spring first arrives much like we migrate to the lake front when it gets even a little warm. Walking to the lake, or just walking around downtown, make sure to walk through Millennium Park and see Mark di Suvero’s sculpture, there until October 12th (oh, and if you go to this page, don’t believe that the sculpture is up to April 1st, the dates have been extended).

As far as I know these are the only di Suvero sculptures downtown, in Chicago’s open air museum of public art. It is fantastic seeing di Suvero downtown in Chicago and it is too bad that the work will be leaving. Although not within line-of-sight of each other, the exchange between di Suvero’s work and permanent Chicago resident, Flamingo (1974, seen below) by Alexander Calder is quite evident in the way each uses steel, color, space, etc.

Photo: JeremyA (2003) via Wikipedia.

There are a total of five di Suvero sculptures on view, three smaller pieces (relatively) in the South Boeing Gallery and two large pieces in the North (again, don’t believe the online press releases that say there are four sculptures, and kudos to di Suvero for adding another one). To begin with the South Gallery, on display there are two kinetic sculptures Shang and Yoga (1985 and 1991, respectively). What makes these sculpture kinetic is of course their moving parts, Shang has a suspended platform that visitors can sit and swing on (there is a picture of me doing so in “Seen around Chicago”), and Yoga is atop a pole and supposedly will move in wind, though I haven’t seen it move.

The author swinging on Shang.

Shang is exceedingly heavy looking and somewhat resembles a Japanese torii, the traditional gate to a Shinto temple (di Suvero was born in Shanghai, China), though the title pays homage to the Chinese Shang dynasty . This heaviness is balanced by the suspended swing and its motion that makes what is otherwise a very static and massive piece, lighter. The third piece is Rust Angel (1995) which is fully on the ground and smaller. The sculpture utilized a single sheet of steel that has been cut into a swirl shape.

It’s very important to realize that there is another gallery, the Boeing North Gallery, on the other side of Millennium Park, next to the grouping of Doric columns (the peristyle). I never realized there was more sculpture over there, until Winter when the trees were bare and one of the pieces was clearly visible.

Mark di Suvero, Orion, 2007 (Photo: Bram Ritchie)

The North Gallery holds the two best pieces of the di Suvero show, Johnny Appleseed (1989-93) and Orion (2007). Orion is what I think of when I think of di Suvero, huge, bright orange I-beams that meet at a specific point twenty-something feet in the air. It is a great example of balance, force and restraint. Di Suvero’s technical concerns in his sculpture are echoed in the skyscrapers behind it, both rely on the physical possibilities of steel.

Mark di Suvero, Johnny Appleseed, 1989-93 (Photo: Bram Ritchie)

Johnny Appleseed is also an excellent sprawling sculpture that is raw whereas Orion, due to the paint, feels finished. It utilizes two steam shovels, and their arms, in the main body of the sculpture to great effect. Just as the titular character changed the natural landscape, so have steam shovels, and their relatives, changed the urban landscape. Again this sculpture interacts very well with the towering building surrounding it, it is almost like the method of their creation rises with them.

Unfortunately, both works in the North Gallery suffer immensely from the lack of room around the sculpture to properly view it. The work seems shoehorned into a very small space, with a small hill on one side and planters on the other. These are the best photos I could take, without bumping up into the other sculpture the planters, or falling into the street. The South Gallery would have seemed a much better choice, both for the work and its visibility. These are the largest, most complex and best of the grouping and their placement in the slight North Gallery makes little sense, as they compete with each other for breathing room and even with the trees for visibility. Come Spring, I am sure that the leaves of the trees will once again be a hazard to properly viewing the work. However, I guess that’s what happens when you lack a curator, the interaction between work and space suffers. Really, these issues are such a problem it nearly ruins the viewing experience. I left with the feeling that I had only seen half of these two pieces. For the future Millennium Park: the big work goes in the south, the small work goes in the north.

All in all though, it is great to see di Suvero in Chicago and it really begs the questions when the MCA, the Art Institute or simply just the city will have one of his pieces on permanent display. Maybe we can get Milwaukee’s since they don’t want it anymore. . .

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