Urban Art of Chicago

A thousand apologies for being away from Ellipsis! I have a good excuse: a traveling one. I've been almost in a different place every other week, and while it's been crazy, it's been incredible too. Recently, I made a hop-skip-and-a-jump to Wisconsin (a first!) for a family wedding, and made a pit-stop in Chicago. I had been to Chicago before but only briefly for a business trip which was arduous and confining to a convention center (no fun!). This trip was also lightning fast. Zipping around the city on foot and bicycle, I experienced much of Chicago's incredible urban art.
We went to Millennium Park to see the Bean of course, but we're in for a much more interesting and unexpected surprise.
Mike's micro-momentary reaction to Ines. Bewilderment! Wonder!
Jaume Plensa's "1004 Portraits," resin and marble dust sculptures that despite being almost 50ft tall aren't domineering. The portraits, of four girls (Paula, Ines, Awilda, and Laura) from Barcelona, are peacefully asleep, eyes closed, in a sweet dream state intended by the artist. Looking at them, you feel meditative and somehow a part of their innocence. Can you imagine if the girls' eyes were open? Like you were being watched! The installation would exhibit an entirely different emotion on the viewer.  

"Filming the people in the town I discovered how beautiful it is to penetrate into a person through the face," Plensa said in an interview. I couldn't help but think about this concept in terms of writing fiction. In the craft of fiction, describing a character's emotional state through their facial expressions has become passé. In other words, it's become more uncommon to see a sentence like "Tears rolled down the woman's face" in literature, and I wonder what has caused our turning away from the face. Is the face no longer the window to the soul? Has the decrease and absence of our faces, face-to-face interaction, led us to become suspicious or skeptical of facial expression? Or perhaps, unpracticed in our translation of it. Is it still possible to "penetrate into a person" through the face? Is a character whose tears roll down her cheeks believable in her sadness? These were the questions that Plensa's work had propagated for me, but I'll save you from the rest!

2015 is the 10th anniversary of The Crown Fountain! These portraits are monumental: blinking, smiling, and even spitting water into the reflection pool below them. Crowds of children gathered around hopping about with anticipation and impatience for one of the portraits to open their mouths and soak them with a stream of water. These are real people, I thought, somewhere in the city. And then I realized, we all are. 
The Chicago Cultural Center is probably best known for the world's largest Tiffany stained-glass dome and it's palatial ballrooms, but the center also houses art exhibits that are quintessential to the city's cultural history. Valmor Products was a quiet southside beauty company between 1920-1980 that targeted the city's minority population (blacks and latinos) with its graphic art when most of America's commercialism ignored them. The company's owner believed in the mystic, and much of the products' advertising promised magical transformations, success, love, and luck to its consumers. While Valmor was one of the first beauty companies to cater to a minority audience, they offered products that straightened curly hair and whitened darker skin, characteristics the company believed, women wanted. Valmor's advertising may seem outdated (and racist) for today, but how much of our beauty standards have really changed? I'll be the first to admit that in high school I felt compelled to straighten my kinky curly hair!
And look! I found a little piece of home in Chicago! Turns out, the Tribune Tower has a little piece of every important arcitecthural landmark in the world. Can't make it to Roman ruins in Italy or to the Forbidden City in Peking, China? Go touch a piece of each in Chicago! ;)

Thanks for interrupting your regularly scheduled programming on Ellipsis to have a thoughtful conversation about art! Would love to hear your thoughts about the art in Chicago or elsewhere, and suggestions of more places to visit, in the comments below! 

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