art history

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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Intern Introductions: Emily Cheetham

This summer, the DeGroot team includes a new intern, Emily Cheetham. Joining us all the way from Texas ahead of her senior year of college, Emily brings a variety of previous internship experiences in the art world–from Dallas to Rome. We are thrilled to introduce her to art consulting and the Chicago art world.

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My father is an architect. Growing up, I spent my summers at his firm’s office in San Francisco. When I wasn’t hiding under his coworkers’ desks, I played architect. A day in the life of my architecture business involved creating new sketches for my building that would leave a footprint on the Manhattan skyline. I rattled on about bathroom tiles to fit the pattern of blues in my new apartment complex and began designing the infinity pool that would soon fill the backyard of my dream house. As I got older, however, I became less interested in designing buildings–and more interested in the fine art that fills those walls.

In high school, I interned at the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas, Texas. This museum houses modern and contemporary sculpture. I served as the social media and event planning coordinator. One of my major projects involved developing an interactive feature for museum visitors to use with the photo-sharing app Snapchat. The project helped boost audience engagement with the museum, allowing young people to relate and respond to the physical artwork at the museum they may otherwise have only seen in textbooks. Because I was a young teenager who loved Snapchat, this was a great introduction to working in the art world.

I began my undergraduate career at the University of Georgia as an art history major. UGA offers many courses in this field, ranging from ancient to modern. While dabbling in every area, I have a passion for American and European modern and contemporary art. Mark Rothko, Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Pablo Picasso–to name a few–are artists that captivate me. I am interested in the sensory experience of viewing abstract pieces. For instance, the powerful blocks of color on a Rothko canvas completely engulf the viewer, heightening the senses.

Recently, I studied abroad in Rome. I was implausibly excited to leave my friends and family and venture out into a world I was unaccustomed to. There are very few cities with as much connection to European art history as Rome. Viewing the Sistine Chapel ceiling was a truly eye-opening experience. As cliché as it may sound, chills ran up and down my spine as I observed Michelangelo’s mastery.

While in Rome, I interned with a gallery based in the city. Run by Virginio Ferrari and his family members, Ferrari Studios is a collaborative gallery and shared studio space. Working with Italian artists and learning about different work culture was very interesting. I discovered that different countries and cultures have varied ways of working–even in the art world.

Now that I am back in the States, I am thrilled to be interning at DeGroot Fine Art for a summer. Art consulting is something I’ve always been attracted to and wanted to learn more about. I am interested in the business and project management aspects of art consultancy and I am enthusiastic to learn more. And, as I have many architectural building plans in my past, I am looking forward to seeing how architectural and interior design relate to art consulting. I’m sure my father would love for me to follow in his footsteps as an architect–but I think he’ll be just as happy for me to help adorn the walls that architects build.

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Exploring and Understanding Gouache

When it comes to paint mediums, many people are aware of watercolor, tempera, acrylic and oil, but one medium that is often overlooked is gouache (pronounced “gwash”). Gouache is seemingly a mix between watercolor and tempera paint. It can be used like watercolors–thinning the pigment down with water and layering the colors–as well as thick and heavy like tempera paint straight from the tube. As an artist myself, I found working in watercolor difficult at first. I was unable to figure out a fitting paint to water ratio without the paint being too thick and too thin. That being said, there are many strong watercolor and gouache pieces which take advantage of the ability to layer colors. Watercolor dries with a satin finish while gouache dries matte, so if that aesthetic is desired, gouache is an excellent option.

Comparing gouache and watercolor through wet on dry and wet on wet techniques, washes, and testing the opacity of the two mediums by layering paint on top of a line of graphite.

Comparing gouache and watercolor through wet on dry and wet on wet techniques, washes, and testing the opacity of the two mediums by layering paint on top of a line of graphite.

History

Gouache has been used in paintings since ancient Egypt. Egyptians used binding agents of honey or tragacanth glue with the pigments. Following that, the medium appeared on illuminated manuscripts in the Middle Ages. Although gouache was prevalent throughout the history of art, few acknowledged it or recognized its value. In 18th century France, the term gouache was developed and applied to the opaque water-based medium. Gouache was used by artists in combining different mediums to create a more unique surface in pastel paintings, as well as being used as a base layer in oil paintings. By this time, gouache began to include modern-day ingredients of gum arabic as the binding agent with an opaque white pigment, such as chalk. During the 20th century, the medium was manufactured in tubes, allowing artists to easily access it and use it outside of the studio.

How Artists Use Gouache

Landscape and nature painter Albrecht Dürer utilized both watercolor and gouache in his paintings. Because these two mediums are similar, they can work together to improve one another. In Wing of a Blue Roller, c. 1500 or 1512, Durer rendered a hyper-realistic view of a bird’s wing by using the buildable properties of gouache and watercolor. In instances like this, an artist might first put down a watercolor base to draw and plan out the values, then build the composition up with layers of gouache, creating structure, color, and details. Watercolor and gouache work very well together and can be layered to create depth and realistic effects.

Gouache vs Watercolor

Gouache and watercolor share many similarities, but one of the key differences is that gouache is much more opaque and mud-like than watercolor. In fact, the word “gouache” is derived from the Italian term guazzo meaning “mud.” For the most part, watercolor and gouache behave in the same way, but with watercolor, there is no real way to apply thick paint without it still appearing transparent. Because watercolor is watered down pigment, it has a tendency to bleed into other colors blurring the edges whereas gouache allows for clean and crisp edges. Even if the gouache was watered down, the paint would still remain opaque. Watercolor dries relatively matte but if more paint was layered on, it develops a satin sheen, while gouache dries matte no matter what.

Casey Matthews

Casey Matthews

Gouache in Contemporary Art

Today, it is not as common to see paintings only using gouache as most artists use it along with other mediums. Casey Matthews is a Florida-based painter who marries many different types of mediums and household objects to create pieces. His work includes many subtleties in color and line variation.

Spanish painter Annabel Andrews uses acrylic and gouache by laying down thick layers of paint which builds texture. Her work is very geometric with solid filled shapes sometimes accompanied by lines or other elements to help tie the piece together. The shapes are painted in a quick manner, not overly concerned about uneven edges or misalignment with other shapes.

Framing works with gouache

Because gouache is almost always done on paper, it is important to limit the amount of sun exposure to the piece. With too much sun exposure, the colors may start to fade and become less saturated than when initially put down. A good way to ensure your gouache painting is fully protected is to frame with UV filtering plexiglass and avoid direct sunlight. To learn more about plexiglass for archival use, read our blog post here.

Rebecca Shore

Rebecca Shore

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Fiber Art – Past and Present

Victoria Manganiello

Victoria Manganiello

Humans have been making textiles for thousands of years. Clothing, fabrics, baskets, and carpets are often practical as well as decorative and expressive. Because of their use as functional objects, textiles have long been seen as a "craft" rather than a type of fine art, but things are changing.

In the 19th century, British and American members of the Arts & Crafts movement started to challenge that distinction. The Arts & Crafts movement was a reaction to Industrial Revolution and mass production, advocating for a return to handmade objects and the employment of artists in creating household objects. Famously, British designer William Morris created furniture, wallpaper, tapestries, and fabrics that blurred the lines between art and craft. "Have nothing in your houses that you do not know to be useful or believe to be beautiful," Morris once said.

A century later, textiles were used to transform the boundary between art and craft again–this time by feminist artists in the 1970s. Understanding that textiles and fibers were historically the domain of women, feminist artists reclaimed textiles in the 70s and pushed them into the realm of fine art. Now, we call this category "fiber art."

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Fiber Art Techniques

Weaving

Weaving involves an artist using a loom to intertwine threads. By threading different colors, artists can create patterns or images in the weaving. Contemporary artists are also increasingly exploring different types and thicknesses of thread to create dynamic, almost sculptural weavings. Some artists use lap-sized looms for small pieces, while others use looms the size of a room to create large-scale wall hangings. Chicago artist kg uses weaving and found objects to create pieces that play with dimensionality.

Knitting and Crocheting

These are two similar techniques, both using a hand-held tool to create stitches or knots. Knitting uses two needles, while crocheting uses a single hook, to form patterns. Often used to make things like scarves, blankets, and sweaters, knitting and crocheting are increasingly appearing in art. Artists use these techniques to interact with objects in novel ways. Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos creates sculptures by crocheting around animal figurines. 

Joana Vasconcelos

Joana Vasconcelos

Yarn Bombing

This is a new form of street art that has emerged in recent years. Artists "yarn bomb" by knitting or crocheting around an object in a public space, much the way a street artist might use stencils or stickers to interact with spaces. Polish artist Olek yarn bombed an entire house Finland in 2016. 

Sewing

Sewing is the act of connecting fabric or objects with a needle and thread. Sewing can be used to create garments, often exploring the boundaries between craft, fashion, and fine art. This technique is also used with a variety of materials to create sculptural pieces. Chicago-based artist Nick Cave is famous for his fiber work, called "Soundsuits" which are both wearable by dancers or static sculptures in galleries.

Embroidery and Quilting

Embroidery is another type of sewing, which create images and patterns on the surface of fabrics. Quilting involves sewing different fabrics and fillings together to create patterns. Pia Camil creates large scale pieces from different fabrics, as well "wearable paintings" in the form of ponchos. Learn more about Camil and other pioneering fiber artists on Artsy.

Collecting Fiber Art

There are many reasons to collect fiber art. Acquiring fiber art pieces for your collection can allow you to engage with new mediums. Fiber art can add texture to a space, complementing furniture and color in a unique way. Many pieces of fiber art are "2.5D" or somewhere between two and three-dimensional works. If you are looking for a piece that can hang flat on a wall, but still has three-dimensional elements and utilizes space in engaging ways, fiber art wall hangings are a great option to consider. Fiber pieces can also have excellent acoustic properties, dampening sound in large, echo-prone spaces. Fiber art pieces of all types can add depth and texture to your collection and space.

Pia Camil

Pia Camil

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Meet Our New Team Member: Brontë Mansfield

Brontë Mansfield.jpeg

At the start of the New Year, Brontë joined the DeGroot Fine Art team as a Project Assistant, focusing on marketing for new projects. Here’s how Brontë came to the art world and our company:

In 2010, Chinese conceptual artist Ai Weiwei unveiled a new installation at Tate Modern in London. The installation, Kui Hua Zi, spread 100 million porcelain sunflower seeds over the floor of a single gallery. Each seed–every one of the hundred million–was shaped, fired, and painted by hand. It took over a thousand workers in a Chinese town more than two years to produce all of the seeds.

And there I was, 17 years old and standing in front of all of those seeds, the first time I set foot in an art museum. If I had scooped up a hundred of the porcelain seeds in my hands, I would have held more seeds than there were people in my hometown in rural Wisconsin. Another handful and that would probably be more than all of the people I had met in my life.

After years of cornfields and football, I did not know what to do with myself in a bustling foreign city. But then I found subways, coffee shops, bookstores, and–mostly importantly–all of the free art museums in the city. Even at seventeen, I knew I wanted to spend the rest of my life around art.

I returned to the states to go to college at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. As a freshman, I was hired as an assistant to the Curator of Prints, Drawings, and Photographs at the Chazen Museum of Art. One of my first days at the museum, I was tasked with helping reframe a six-foot-long ink drawing by another famed Chinese artist, Xu Bing. I am proud to say that I didn't buckle under the high pressure and have been professionally handling art ever since.

During my time at University of Wisconsin-Madison, I specialized in Victorian art history and literature, writing my thesis on nineteenth-century paintings of mermaids and Darwinian theories of evolution–but also wrote for the school newspaper and worked as an editor at the campus magazine. In 2014, I was awarded a Beinecke Scholarship to study at the graduate school of my choice. I decided to leave academia and pursue journalism, to help share stories of art and culture to as many people as I could.

In 2017, I received my Masters in New Arts Journalism from School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC). During graduate school, I worked in the school's Marketing & Communications department and was also asked to assistant teach a class on contemporary art history. Even though the art I knew best was made before the Titanic sank, I threw myself into the world of modern and contemporary art–and even started working as a studio manager for a Chicago-based artist.

During graduate school, I focused on audio production and storytelling. In addition to my work as a freelance audio producer, I have worked as a production & recording assistant for the Art Institute of Chicago and recently joined the faculty at School of the Art Institute of Chicago, teaching podcasting and video essays.

I am thrilled to be able to merge my background in both fine art and journalism in my new role as Project Assistant at DeGroot Fine Art. I look forward to sharing more stories from the world of art consulting with our clients and anyone interested in collecting, preserving, and supporting fine art.

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