fine art

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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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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Sourcing Artful Design

A recent project in a Bank featured Cody Hudson paintings.

A recent project in a Bank featured Cody Hudson paintings.

As art consultants, we work hard to serve any art-related need a client may present to us. While much of our role involves advising on which artworks a client should purchase, we also help provide visual elements that may fall outside the definition of “fine art”. This could involve sourcing functional objects like furniture, fabrics, or accessories for a dining area that still require an artful touch.

A tea towel designed by Cody Hudson for Norden Goods.

A tea towel designed by Cody Hudson for Norden Goods.

Artists as Designers

Many artists use their creativity in a variety of fields, and can offer unique visual options outside of their fine art practice. Chicago artist Cody Hudson is an iconic example of a visual renaissance man. His fine artwork practice includes paintings on linen, steel sculptures, and screenprints. Outside the gallery context, he has also collaborated on graphic design for Target and Warby Parker, and partnered with Nike to design promotional materials and running shoes for the 2012 Chicago Marathon.

Art in Everyday Objects

Translating fine art principles into functional objects can elevate the overall experience of an environment; seeing how an artist’s mind approaches design can have a powerful impact. It presents an opportunity to connect to artwork in a new way. Having artwork on the wall adjacent to artist-designed accessories offers a chance to embrace the client’s art collection in alternate media, creating a dynamic dialogue between fine art and design in their space.

Collaborating with Interior Decorators and Architectural Designers

Many decorative and design-based projects require professionals beyond our immediate area of expertise, which is why we love to partner with interior decorators and architectural designers. Interior decorators bring a wealth of knowledge about the details needed to make a space visually cohesive, and artwork complements that. Occasionally recommending artist-designed details helps blend the vision of the interior decorators with the fine art collection connected to that space.

Similarly, architectural designers have extensive knowledge about how a person navigates through space and the structural components needed to execute the visual design of a space. We work closely with these designers to select artwork that balances the visual elements they’ve included, ensuring that all elements are harmonious and that the visual intent is clear. During these types of projects we’ll review furniture textures and color, materials used throughout a space, and aspirational goals of the client to best determine what artwork to recommend for the project. For example, clients with a crisp, modern design sense may benefit from artwork with organic texture, such as a wood sculpture, to add a warm element that balances their cool aesthetic.

Supporting artists who work in multiple visual fields provides a creative roadmap to make artwork accessible in non-traditional ways. It can also offer an interesting layer to the story of an art collection; artwork can appear in furniture design, textiles, and accessories as small visual clues that add a layer of interest to the experience of a place.  

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The Value of Archival Framing

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When approaching framing for a client, there are two main goals to consider: framing simply for ease of display or framing to protect an investment made in a work of art. As fine art consultants, we primarily focus on custom frames to protect the integrity of our client's art collections and maintain archival standards, ensuring long-term stability of the artwork.

Many factors contribute to the quality of a frame that we would recommend. Since DeGroot Fine Art is based in Chicago, we partner with local framers at the top of their field who work for elite organizations and museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago.

The framing process includes multiple custom components, including the profile, mat, glazing, and seal. For wood frames, each profile is custom built with hand-cut wood that can be stained to match existing design and furniture in a client's work space. We also collaborate with metal fabricators to create polished stainless steel frames when preferred. Once the frame is complete, they hand-cut mats to best support the artwork, using archival materials to ensure the long-term stability of the artwork. Next a museum-grade acrylic is selected and fitted to filter UV rays (notorious for fading pigments) while minimizing glare. Finally, the framer seals the back of the frame, protecting the interior space and artwork from dust and other contaminants. The framer's craftsmanship is consistent and meticulous through every step of their process.

"A framer's work can be just as much an art as the work of the artist themselves" says Dana McMahan for Apartment Therapy. Her recent article about the expenses of framing was insightful and added context to this topic; we recommend checking it out to learn more about the nuances involved in framing fine art.  

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