Not Pier Walk, But a Short Walk From the Pier | On Culture | Chicago Reader

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Not Pier Walk, But a Short Walk From the Pier

With the annual Navy Pier sculpture show on hold, Joseph Tabet tests the waters at the nearby River East Art Center.


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Land Escape

WHEN Through Fri 12/1

WHERE Starr Gallery, 435 E. Illinois

INFO 312-321-1001

Hubbard Street Mural Tour

WHEN Sat 10/14, 5 PM

WHERE Corner of Hubbard

and Elizabeth


INFO 773-250-7771,

MORE A benefit art sale will be held at Sip Coffeehouse, 1223 W. Grand, from 6-9 PM; admission is $5.

Joseph Tabet has produced the annual Navy Pier sculpture exhibit since 2001, when it fell in his lap. But earlier this year he had to rethink it. The Pier Walk, which once stretched the entire length of the pier, had shrunk in recent seasons and been banished to the little traffic-circle park in front of the entrance. Art Chicago, Pier Walk's sister event, had decamped, its replacement had vanished, and it looked like the pier itself would soon be under construction. Given all this, Tabet decided to reinvent Pier Walk as a year-round series of overlapping solo shows, curated by Dave Hickey and David Pagel, which over the next three years would feature around 20 artists. Tabet says that plan is still in the works; it just didn't come together this year. Instead, with Pier Walk off the table, he surfaced a block west, curating a show that recently opened at the new Starr Gallery, 435 E. Illinois. That's the building that used to be North Pier Terminal, which has been reborn as the River East Art Center.

The transformation is the work of MCL Companies, which owns the building and the 13 acres around it that once belonged to the Chicago Dock and Canal Trust. MCL president Daniel McLean and a group of prominent local investors bought the property in the late 1990s and launched a condominium development there (with hotel, movie theater, and shops) that will include about 2,000 residential units by its scheduled completion in 2010. If things go according to plan, the terminal building will grow two stories and its offices will be converted to residential units, with 140,000 square feet on the street and lower levels devoted to an arts hub clearly intended to add character to the canyonesque neighborhood. There are eight gallery spaces on the main floor, six of which are spoken for: the tenants so far are Starr Gallery (owned by MCL), Inspire Fine Art, Thomas Gathman, Lora D, and Ogilvie/Pertl. The sixth gallery tenant will be Columbia College, and by January the center expects to complete 22 artists' studios that will come with subsidized rent, marketing services, and a resident artists' gallery. Center head Mikki Markowicz says she doesn't yet have firm rental prices for the studios, but she expects brisk interest and is setting up a jury process to decide who'll get them.

Tabet's show, "Land Escape," is the first in a Starr Gallery series by nonprofessional curators. A financial analyst by day, Tabet became a player in the local arts scene after he joined the Pier Walk board and was handed the job of running the show. Under its previous producers (artists looking to showcase their own and others' work), Pier Walk had grown to gargantuan size, showing as many as 178 large pieces at once.

It was a nightmare to manage and, after losing its corporate sponsors, was running a deficit. Enter Tabet, who caused consternation among local artists by making it smaller and installing an out-of-state celebrity curator who couldn't care less about local representation. Tabet's thinking was that a show that favored locals just because of where they live was a disservice to artists, audiences, and the taxpayers who helped to support it, and he set out to make Pier Walk both "totally open" and highly selective. (Still convinced that favoring locals is a mistake, Tabet says public art programs like "percent-for-art" that limit choices by setting aside commissions for residents should be abolished. "They're functioning as entitlement programs for artists," he says, when "they ought to be getting the best art for the taxpayers.") Of course it remains to be seen if the most selective Pier Walk yet will get on its feet; meanwhile, "Land Escape" consists of work by eight Chicago artists.

Strapped on the Mural Mile

The Hubbard Street Mural Project has also been on hiatus. Since 2001, HSMP has been painting and restoring work along the "mural mile," a concrete railroad embankment on Hubbard between Ogden and Desplaines. The murals were originally painted in the 1970s, but have been obscured or obliterated by time and embankment repairs. Working only Saturdays every June, July, and August, HSMP managed to complete 50 of 190 total panels before taking time out to "regroup." Board member Anne Marie Harm says the organization is down to a core of five nearly burned-out volunteer staffers and is desperate for money and new blood. Works of art recently commissioned for CTA stations are budgeted at $100,000, but HSMP has been painting 12-foot murals for $500 each and getting real community participation. Harm says the money covers only the bare bones: paint and liability insurance. If the project were able to double its budget to $1,000 a panel, it could pay small stipends to artists for their designs and for the time they spend working with the volunteers who paint them: kids' groups, adults, anybody who walks up. The extra money could also help pay for part-time staff.


Returning student Beate Minkovski was pretty sure her 1992 senior art project was too hot for the Northeastern Illinois University library (where student work was displayed), so she and a classmate rented a storefront in Ravenswood Manor to exhibit it. "Man-Made Women" had a statue of the Virgin Mary sharing pedestal space with a blow-up doll from Hong Kong, and it drew a crowd that lined up down the block. That was the start of Woman Made Gallery, which now has an international membership of more than 700, mounts 25 shows a year, and stands as Minkovski's crowning creation. She'll be honored by the Chicago Women's Caucus for Art at high tea, 4 PM, Thursday, October 19, at the Arts Club of Chicago. Admission is $25; info at

aWith construction still on hold and the state sitting on the cash he says it promised, Museum of Broadcast Communications president Bruce DuMont is touting "the opportunity of a lifetime": naming rights to the museum, with "perpetual recognition on State Street" running a mere $7 million, about what it'll take to get the hard hats back on the job.

aGay Games official Kevin Boyer says it looks like the Chicago games crossed the finish line about $200,000 short, but a donor has offered a $100,000 matching grant that will close the gap if they can meet it. To that end a Gay Games Chicago memorabilia sale, featuring an assortment of event souvenirs, will be held October 21 and 22 at the Brown Elephant locations in Lakeview and Andersonville.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Lloyd DeGrane.

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