A Private Museum of Public Art | On Culture | Chicago Reader

Arts & Culture » On Culture

A Private Museum of Public Art

Paul Klein's handpicked collection of tax-supported local art is not for locals.

by

comment

It looked like former art dealer and wannabe kingpin Paul Klein was trying to have it both ways back in June. Spearheading a protest of the city's proposed new public-art ordinance, he e-mailed a break-your-chains manifesto and posted it on his Web site, Art Letter. Klein was attempting to rouse art workers to support an alternate ordinance and flex their muscle at a rally at the foot of the Picasso. "Do you understand why the Mayor doesn't care about you--the Chicago artist?" he wrote. "Because you haven't made yourself seen and you haven't made yourself heard enough." Among the problems with the city's proposal, he said, was that the city gets "to keep their inbred selection process whereby they dip into their archaic database, pick whoever they want. . . . and [do] not have to tell artists why or how they chose." With the city's revisions, he warned, "a closed doors, patronage system" would be assured.

Klein's call to arms, quickly disseminated over the Internet, reopened a barely healed wound. His foe of a few years, painter Wesley Kimler, smelled blood and, despite a recent truce, went on the attack. In a series of long, nasty blog comments at badatsports.com, Kimler and others pushed for an answer to an obvious question: Why was Klein leading a protest against undemocratic selection processes when he'd quietly handpicked all the artists for one of the largest publicly funded art projects in the city's history--$2 million worth of commissions for McCormick Place West, which opened earlier this month?

Klein was hired in 2004 as art consultant (read: curator) for the McCormick Place West collection. But whatever time he wasn't spending on that was soon devoted to getting a Chicago artists' organization, the Chicago Art Foundation, off the ground. Started in 2005, it was the source of his feud with Kimler, who says the idea for CAF originated with him and artist Tony Fitzpatrick. Klein's aim was to create a brick-and-mortar museum for all Chicago artists with himself as executive director, while Kimler favored a more exclusive Web-based group (similar to the one he subsequently created at sharkforum.com). The name was eventually changed to the Chicago Art Project, the original pie-in-the-sky fund-raising goals were revised, and the envisioned freestanding building was scaled down to a pile of shipping containers on a postage-stamp lot downtown. When even that plan (and another) didn't pan out, Klein made an uneasy peace with Kimler, and CAP fizzled.

Klein defended himself on the Bad at Sports blog by asserting that McCormick Place--that island of perpetual publicly funded construction--is outside the purview of city and state "percent for art" laws, meant to apply to buildings open to the public. Despite the tax dollars behind it, Klein wrote, "McCormick is not a building that is open to the public the same way a library is and does not serve a neighborhood." Klein explained that he reported to a ten-member committee appointed by the mayor and governor, that he'd put out a call to artists, gallery owners, and collectors, and that he'd perused the Department of Cultural Affairs database (the same "archaic" system he reviled in his list of DCA follies). He said he'd narrowed a pool of "about 500 Illinois and Chicago artists" to 75 and then to 35, and the committee had approved 30 of his "top 31" picks. The budget included $1.4 million for the art (which was required to be thematically related to the city or state), $400,000 for installation-related expenses, and Klein's own $200,000 fee. Kimler wrote that he'd been offered a McCormick Place West gig but turned it down largely because the contract presented to him stipulated that the work be "uplifting." He predicted that the collection's large paintings would be corporate "office art"--risk-free and pretty.

Klein's selections were on view at McCormick Place West's official opening. Although two major works (including a $200,000 multimedia installation by former Klein gallery artist Sabrina Raaf) in the 50-piece permanent collection weren't up yet, everything else was in place, scattered throughout the building. In a promotional video created for the opening, Klein explains that he wanted the mostly massive works to be "diverse" and "accessible" and expresses his hope that the audience of conventioneers will "have a good time" with them. He has also said he wants to find a way for locals to see the art but hasn't figured one out. Right now--unless you're there for an event or unless public access is attached to the financial rescue package McPier has been trying to float for itself in Springfield--you'll have to slip past security to get a look.

There is in fact some delicious eye candy waiting: Nick Cave's sparkling fabric Universe, Scott Fortino's photograph of skyline across a glassy lake, Jason Peot's Intersect (102), a silly but lovely light sculpture with little boxes representing every county in the state. There are also some embarrassments. And there are a few pieces that are gorgeous but subversive enough to pack a punch. Among those are Patrick Miceli's confettilike sculpture of 10,000 Chicago souvenirs, Made in China, and Dan Ramirez's series of eight geometric paintings, each tied to a different passage from Nelson Algren's Chicago: City on the Make, mounted in the enormous central concourse. According to one of those passages, quoted in a wall label, "the masses who do the city's labor also keep the city's heart. And they think there's something fishy about someone giving them a museum for nothing and free admission on Saturday afternoons." As things stand, McCormick Place West is the closest we're likely to get to Paul Klein's vision of a museum of Chicago art. But watch out: Klein has heard that Lois Weisberg might be retiring, and he's got eyes for her job.

A New Force in Dance

Lar Lubovitch's dance company will celebrate its 40th year in New York in 2008. So it was a little surprising to learn that Lubovitch and one of his leading dancers, Jay Franke, are behind the new Chicago Dancing Company and the 2007 Chicago Dancing Festival, a free event at Pritzker Pavilion August 22 (see Laura Molzahn's Critic's Choice in Dance). Lubovitch, born on Maxwell Street and a Senn High School graduate, has main-tained a part-time home here since he returned to town to play himself in Robert Altman's 2003 film The Company. He says Chicago's on the brink of becoming a dance destination, and he and Franke want to help make it happen. The festival--featuring seven companies, including American Ballet Theatre and Alvin Ailey--consists of only one performance this year, but the plan is to grow it into a bigger annual event that will attract an out-of-town and perhaps even international audience. The Chicago Dancing Company staff includes former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago executive director Gale Kalver and former Joffrey dancer Greg Russell; the budget for the inaugural year is roughly $350,000. Most of that was raised through a series of dinner parties at the home of Franke and his partner, investment guru David Herro.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): Paul Klein with Jason Poet's Intersect (102) at McCormick Place West.

Add a comment