art consulting process

Public Art in Downtown Chicago

Since the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, building a better city has been a top priority for Chicagoans. Celebrated architects like Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan flocked here to build the city that we know today. Alongside architecture, public art has been a fixture of Chicago aesthetics for decades. The city’s public art includes some exemplary pieces of modernist art. Here are the stories behind four sculptures that define public art in downtown Chicago.

THE PICASSO

Designed by Pablo Picasso in 1967, this piece is technically unnamed, but is colloquially referred to as “the Picasso.” It was one of the first public sculptures to be placed downtown and sits in Daley Plaza inside the Loop. Commissioned by the architects of the Richard J. Daley Center, Picasso refused the payment for the piece, instead creating the sculpture as a gift to the city of Chicago. The Picasso looks a bit like a jungle gym and it is not uncommon to see visitors of the plaza climbing on and around the sculpture.

ALEXANDER CALDER’S FLAMINGO

Head a few blocks south in the Loop and you will find yourself dwarfed by the Flamingo, a large vermillion abstract sculpture sitting in the Federal Plaza. Alexander Calder designed this sculpture in 1974, clocking in at an epic weight of 50 tons. Calder wanted his sculpture to wind and arch, a curving pop of color surrounded by monumental steel buildings. Flamingo was the first sculpture to be unveiled under the Percent for Art program—a program which administers a percentage of the city budget to public art. 

Left: Pablo Picasso, Untitled, 1967. Right: Alexander Calder,  Flamingo , 1974.

Left: Pablo Picasso, Untitled, 1967. Right: Alexander Calder, Flamingo, 1974.


JOAN MIRO’S CHICAGO

Down the street from Picasso’s sculpture is a work by contemporary master Joan Miró, fittingly titled Chicago. This piece was unveiled in Brunswick Plaza by Chicago’s first female mayor Jane Byrne in 1981. Miró’s sculpture is a 40-foot statue of a woman tucked between two skyscrapers. It is a mixed media sculpture—steel, wire mesh, concrete, bronze and ceramic tile produce Chicago.


ANISH KAPOOR’S CLOUD GATE

 Known to all Chicagoans and visitors as “The Bean,” this sculptural feat is one of the most recognizable landmarks in the whole city. Contrary to popular belief, the actual name of Anish Kapoor’s sculpture is not The Bean—it’s Cloud Gate. Kapoor’s design was based on liquid mercury and consists of 168 stainless steel plates welded together. The highly polished structure is a mirror to Millennium Park and the buildings that surround it. The bean-shape bends and curves giving viewers a perfect photo opportunity as the reflections are distorted. The sculpture was the product of a design competition and debuted in 2004.

Left: Joan Miró,  Chicago , 1981. Right: Anish Kapoor,  Cloud Gate , 2004.

Left: Joan Miró, Chicago, 1981. Right: Anish Kapoor, Cloud Gate, 2004.

Chicago is known for its public art, from sculptures to murals to interactive pieces in parks. Public art is meant to be enjoyed by the people and be accessible to all. Sometimes that accessibility leads to rare acts of vandalism. Just last week, Cloud Gate was tagged with spray paint. According to the Chicago Tribune, workers were able to remove the graffiti quickly and restore Chicago’s iconic sculpture.

In our work as art consultants, we have worked on a variety of projects involving public art or conservation. We have coordinated the moving and storage of large-scale outdoor sculptures. We also work with talented conservators to restore artwork when accidents happen. Helping companies find, install, and protect art for the enjoyment of their employees, customers, and the public is one of our chief joys as a company.

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Looking for a Sign

Firm Principal and Founder, Jaime DeGroot, reflects on three years in business–the ups and the downs, the chaos and the accomplishments.

Jaime and our new office sign

Jaime and our new office sign

Our company was born out of necessity and therefore, in a rush. We quickly put together the best framework we could just to get up and running. Since then, we have slowed everything down and made a business of carefully considering everything that goes into art consulting. We try to plan for everything, obsess over the smallest details, overpack, and overthink every turn before we make it.

Although we work in a visual industry, a lot of our work is invisible. Behind every piece of art hanging on a crisp wall is a myriad of unseen considerations: construction schedules, transportation, insurance, hardware, and proper cleaning, to name just a few.

Because each project is very different, we start fresh every time and build on our arsenal of knowledge to make sure everything goes as smoothly as possible. Inevitably, there are things you cannot plan for and unexpected mishaps–but finding the best solution for any situation we face during a project is our forte. It is this experience in problem solving that defines the work we do for clients as well as the small business hurdles we face daily and in unexpected ways.

I know there are many people out there who can relate to the sleepless nights, financial bottlenecks, and the heartburn that comes with running a small business. I try to remember that everyone is facing struggles on some level–big and small. When we have had a particularly stressful day, when the challenges are new or completely unexpected, I am left looking for a sign that I am doing the right thing. That sign was literal this past week: the signage for the new office we moved into this year arrived, just in time for our third anniversary.

Taking stock of these past three years, I can certainly say it was sometimes tough. But on a daily basis I am reminded of how much easier it is when you are working with a team of passionate and capable individuals. Add to that a roster of clients that are increasingly passionate and pleasant by the day, a community of talented artists, and a network of incredibly knowledgeable vendors, and you have yourself a wonderful job. When people learn about our occupation, they usually say how fun it sounds, and mostly, it is.

As I look down on this small sign that took a village to hang (Thanks, Aron) showcasing a logo that was essentially procured overnight (Thanks, Joel), I am astonished at what my community has accomplished during these three years. Many thanks to our new neighbors for welcoming us into the 1709 W. Chicago fold and especially to my team members, Brontë, Julia, and Keiko who will forever hold an office in my heart. It is only by your grace and skill that we have been able to hang the DeGroot Fine Art sign–and a lot of beautiful art.

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Handling Artwork During Construction

Whenever you are renovating or undertaking construction projects in a home or office, it is important to have a plan for protecting your artwork. We assist clients with managing artwork relocation at any scale and there are a number of considerations to keep in mind when planning changes to your space.

When to Remove Art

Making structural changes to your space? Make sure to remove artwork before starting construction.

Making structural changes to your space? Make sure to remove artwork before starting construction.

In any environment, renovations can be messy and pose risks to artwork. Any scale of renovation will create dust, a common culprit in artwork damage. Drywall dust contains abrasive particles, including fiberglass, which creates scratches or blurring on the surface of plexiglass, a common material used in archival framing. Because these dust particles often spread a large distance during construction, our rule of thumb is to remove all the artwork on the renovated floor when possible. Best practice is to take the artwork off the wall before construction begins.

We work with a team of professional art handlers to review the construction area and remove all artwork that could be affected. When removing artwork we carefully document each piece of art, noting its size, condition, and any inventory or asset number associated with it. This helps us strategically plan how best to reinstall the artwork once the space is fully renovated.

We carefully wrap all of the artwork and relocate it elsewhere onsite, or transport the artwork to a secure art storage facility.

Reinstalling Artwork

Supervising an art installation

Supervising an art installation

Executing a construction project to completion is complicated, and as the process ends numerous questions arise. We are often asked when artwork should be brought back to the space. To help clients navigate these final stages, there are a few key considerations when deciding a timeline for reinstallation. First, you should ensure that all electrical work is completed before art returns to a space. Lights must be installed and operable, and no wiring should be loose. If the ceiling is open, or if wires aren’t fully integrated into the wall, the space is not yet safe for artwork.

Next, all walls must be fully completed, sealed, and painted before reinstalling artwork. This ensures that the source of dust is eliminated and that the artwork is safe from scratches or paint drips. Best practice is to remove artwork for any amount of painting, even touch-ups.

The final phase before a space is ready for artwork is installing or reinstalling furniture and large appliances. In both commercial and residential spaces, moving furniture can easily scratch, bump, or knock over artwork in its path. Mistakes happen, even with the most diligent of movers. Artwork should be the last thing that moves into a space before people occupy it. It’s the final touch of color, texture, and personality that completes a newly-renovated or constructed space. By waiting to install artwork last, you are protecting your investment and the aesthetic of the new space.

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Conserving A Family Heirloom

A portion of the damaged frame

A portion of the damaged frame

While the majority of our clients are corporate entities with large collections, we also collaborate with a select group of private clients to assist with their personal art collections. A recent connection from a previous project reached out to us to discuss a number of updates needed for their artwork. After a few conversations, we met with the client in their home to reappraise their collection and look into potential acquisition options.

While reviewing the artwork, we were immediately drawn to a painting in the living room that looked like it had a story behind it. Hanging above the fireplace mantel, this traditional oil painting depicted a lively scene with a mother and child, who seemed to be dancing in a kitchen. An impressive, ornate frame that expanded out from the canvas encompassed the painting. The artwork, while stunning, seemed to have suffered a bit from age and had a dim surface over the composition. The frame, too, was a bit worse for wear with one of the intricate ornaments snapped off and sitting next to the painting. The frame’s gold foil seemed a bit dull and chipped.

Our client told us that the painting was a family heirloom, collected by his grandfather, who immigrated to the United States at 13 years old. A beautiful work of art that was clearly much beloved, we were quick to suggest that conservation help enliven the painting again. Painting restoration is a great option for protecting an artwork over time. You can read more about artwork restoration and conservation here.

The Conservation Process

The newly conserved painting

The newly conserved painting

We were delighted to bring the painting and frame to a local and well-established conservation firm. A family business, it seemed especially fitting for revitalizing a family heirloom. The skilled conservator first stabilized areas where the paint had cracked. The surface of the painting was then cleaned, removing dust as well as an older layer of varnish. A few small areas were retouched with paint specifically formulated for restoration efforts. Once this phase was complete, a thin layer of archival, reversible varnish was applied to the surface of the painting. This specific type includes a layer of UV protection, which helps to preserve the colors in the artwork over time. Reapplication of varnish enhances the details of a painting, illuminating delicate brushwork and subtle changes in color. This process can make artwork look brand new again.

The frame was repaired as well. The conservator was able to reattach the broken ornamentation and reapply the gold pigment. By the time the work was complete, the artwork looked like it had traveled back in time. After reinstalling it back above the mantle, the client was able to enjoy his artwork and connection to his family’s history.  

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Finding the Right Fit

Steven Cox

Steven Cox

In fine art consulting, unfortunately there isn’t a single comprehensive resource with all available artwork across the board. While the internet allows access to more resources than ever, and we maintain extensive files of artwork options, for each acquisition project we essentially begin with a blank slate for what to present to a client.

Details to Keep in Mind

To become familiar with our client’s style, we go through a tastemaker to learn about their interests; you can read more about that process here. The next step is to find artwork options that work with their design aesthetic, collection goals, and fit the scale needed for their space.

When working with a designer or renovated space, we look for artwork that appeals to our client's taste while complementing the style of its location. Customized details like framing, labels, and display cases are effective ways of making a space look cohesive. Many clients with contemporary interiors will gravitate towards gallery-esqe thin white frames, while more traditional companies may opt for hearty, custom-stained wood frames. The design aesthetic of an office also helps us determine the type of artwork to pursue. A large atrium can be a great opportunity for sculpture, while large open walls are an inviting setting for paintings. If the location is public-facing, we suggest work that will make a memorable impact. For private, employee-facing areas, we focus on artwork that's meaningful to the people who work there, and might be works on paper or prints. 

In the process of finding artwork options, it's relatively straightforward to determine what people like and dislike; the consistent challenge is finding work that the client loves, but still fits their budget and is the right size to balance out their space. Most of the time spent researching includes procuring this information and balancing these factors, and we have a wide network of fine art resources that we call upon to find options that will work. 

The Research Process

The best way to find artwork is by going out into the art world and looking for it. The consultants in our firm are regularly visiting galleries to see new work by new artists, as well as attending exhibition openings. These events are a great opportunity to network with gallerists, artists, and collectors. Investing time into these relationships makes working in the art world enriching and enjoyable, and it helps us access information more easily. We make it a priority to work with art organizations that we've built relationships with whenever possible. 

Another great way to find artwork is by visiting artists at their studio. It's fascinating to see the individual drives and methods an artists uses to make their work. Art consultants are like translators between the art and corporate worlds, and when we visit a studio we learn how best to illustrate what makes that artwork special when presenting it to a client. We schedule studio visits throughout the year to steadily grow our network and artwork knowledge.

Technology is a steadily growing presence in our personal and professional lives, and one effective tool for finding artwork is through resources like Instagram. While artwork is best viewed in person, Instagram provides a quick and comprehensive look into what artists are making and what galleries are exhibiting. We use Instagram for preliminary research and often find new work that way. It keeps us up-to-date on visual trends in our local network and in the broader international art community. 

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