publication of the International Sculpture Center
Walk: Shrinking, Shrinking
by Victor Cassidy
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Cragg, Stainless Steel Pillar.
Pier Walk, the annual
outdoor sculpture exhibition at Chicagos Navy Pier, shrinks steadily
as commerce invades places where sculptures once stood. Originally constructed
in 1916, Navy Pier is a long, shed-like structure, surrounded by a spacious
pedestrian promenade that extends 3,000 feet out into Lake Michigan. The
pier was largely derelict and threatened with demolition in the 80s
when the City of Chicago modernized it into a multi-use structure with
amusements, restaurants, shops, theaters, and exposition halls. Fabulously
successful, Navy Pier now attracts millions of visitors yearly and delivers
millions of dollars in fees and tax revenues to the city.
The first International
Art Exposition was held at Navy Pier in 1982, bringing dealers and collectors
from all over the world. Artists organized to exhibit on Navy Pier during
the expo, and, in 1995, two Chicago sculptors set up Pier Walk. Three
years later, 178 outdoor sculptures were installed at Navy Pier from May
As Navy Pier expanded
commercially, management filled open areas with hot dog stands, beer gardens,
picnic tables, and the like. Today, these interferences have driven public
sculpture off the pier. Kiosks are now appearing in Gateway Park, a grassy
area at the base of the pier where sculptors still show. This park is
boxed in, with no room for expansion in any direction.
Rogers, Weightless 1.
The result is a dramatic
reduction in the number of works exhibitedfrom 178 in 1998 to 80
in 2001, to 23 pieces by 15 artists in 2004. Joseph Tabet, the investment
counselor who chairs Pier Walks Board of Directors, says that theres
no official limit to the number of pieces, but 25 seems
about right. Pier Walk is much more exclusive now, he
states. It means more.
Pier Walk has almost
zero administrative overhead because Navy Pier provides office space and
public relations support without charge. Pier Walk has no paid staff,
and Board members volunteer their time. But Navy Pier takes away with
one hand what it gives with the other. Hot dogs generate revenue, after
all. Public sculptures do not.
Pier Walk commissioned
New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl to curate the 2004 exhibition.
Schjeldahl sees Pier Walk as a festival and an experiment
in possibilities and problems of serious artistic pleasure outside the
walls of museums and galleries. In choosing work, he looked for
crowd-friendliness, variety, and surprisenothing on
a pedestaland admits that his selection criteria made him unfair
to much good art whose character is more contemplative than gregarious,
or whose style seemed familiar from past Pier Walks. The show is
temporary so Schjeldahl felt free to take some risks. His selections include
Richard Deacons five flower-like metal structures (Infinity); Erik
Geschkes Safety First, a white, cube-like construction of steel
sheet with many handles; Actual Size Artworks' amusing Trojan Piggybank,
history's fattest pig made from cedar boards over a steel armature; and
Zoran Mojsilov's granite Grandmas Mountain, a very people-friendly
work since the artist wants the public to sit and climb on it.
Deacon, Infinity 13, 14, 15, 16, 17.
Artists like the
exposure that Pier Walk gives them, and they enjoy the attention from
a prominent art critic. Though Gateway Park is less than ideal, they shrug
and make the best of it. This is a quality show with a good reputation,
says the Australian Andrew Rogers, whose cast bronze Weightless #1 looks
like it just floated down from the blue. In an urban setting, you
have to be good enough, strong enough to stand out. Mojsilov has
benefited tremendously from his six appearances in Pier Walk and doesnt
fret much about the surroundings. Artists are like weeds,
he says. The more you kill them, the more they grow back.
Pier Walk 2004 remains
open through November 8, 2004.
For more information, visit the Web site <www.pierwalk.com>.
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