Friday, August 31, 2018

One person’s idea of public ‘art’ is another’s gangbanger-inspired graffiti

Perhaps this is a trend we need to be wary of – what with government officials inclined to think they can help beautify their neighborhoods by permitting artists to let loose and do create their work on the urban canvasses otherwise known as building walls.
'Questionable' mural while in creation. Photo provided by Lake View Chamber of Commerce
For there was an incident recently showing just how subjective the process can be.

IT SEEMS THAT city officials commissioned a mural intended to be visible to people waiting for ‘el’ trains along the Paulina station of the Chicago Transit Authority’s Brown line.

That, of course, is a train line running to the north side through the upscale Roscoe Village sub-neighborhood of Lake View – where the local residents have a certain expectation of the look they want to have for their community.

So when the “bear champ” mural went up on an outdoors brick wall, there were those who saw its bright yellow colors and thought it helped make the neighborhood more cheery.
Pilsen-based art. Photographs by Gregory Tejeda

But invariably, there was someone who saw markings on the wall and automatically jumped to the “graffiti” assumption – which usually means someone fears the gang-bangers are headed for the neighborhood.

THAT, ACCORDING TO the Chicago Tribune, led the ‘someone’ to call 3-1-1 and report an incident of graffiti in the neighborhood. City Streets & Sanitation officials went to the scene, found there most definitely was something other than plain brick wall present, and a crew painted over the scene with a dull tan color.

A “victory” for all those believing in law and order, along with a sense of morality – except that this particular piece of ‘art’ literally was commissioned by the Lake View Chamber of Commerce. Most definitely NOT any kind of subversive effort.

The group actually thought the mural by artist J.C. Rivera would add some color and brighten up the neighborhood -- particularly for those waiting for an 'el train to arrive. It might reduce the amount of cursing those passengers would be doing under their breath while waiting for the trains that never seem to run on time.
Outdoor advertising w/ artistic merit in the South Deering neighborhood
Based off the photographs I have seen of what the mural looked like during the few days it was in place, I’m not sure exactly what it was supposed to be. But it was a large splash of color that cheered up the mood. I’m sure whoever it was that made the call to the city to complain was a crank – who may also be the kind of person who calls animal control every time they hear a stray bark echo through the air.

THE PROBLEM BECOMES having to distinguish between the crackpots and people with legitimate complaints; particularly since I don’t doubt the crackpots think they have legitimate complaints.

Even though all they really have is a narrow vision of what their surroundings should be like.

As far as removing graffiti, I do comprehend the need to do so. Particularly since so much of it is ugly and nonsensical and whose only purpose is for one to “place their mark,” so to speak, on a public spot. As though their tag or other symbol can force all of us to recognize their legitimacy.
Maybe we're lucky nobody has called to report this 'eyesore' of public art
For what it’s worth, the neighborhood’s Chamber of Commerce actually used city funds to help create this particular mural that no longer exists. So it literally was the city that destroyed something it had created in the name of neighborhood beautification.

ARE MURALS ALL across the city going to have to be wary of some sense of ‘art police’ eager to erase their mark from the walls of Chicago? What about those who might have their own building and try to decorate it with something representing their business interest – will this be forbidden?

There is one aspect I do find ironic, and it is based off of a Chicago Tribune photograph depicting the painted-over mural. It seems someone saw the newly-created blank space and managed to fill it in by tagging it.

Meaning literally that someone’s effort to erase some nonsensical graffiti resulted in a piece of artwork being replaced by real graffiti – which most likely will remain place longer than the mural did.

That would serve the ‘idiot’ right who made the call to complain about the mural. The only problem is that the rest of us passing through the neighborhood wind up suffering as well.


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