December 3, 2020

Anish Kapoor, Sculptor of Chicago’s “Bean”

In my quest to know more about my city, I have been noting public sculpture and what is more popular in Chicago than “The Bean,” or what is officially called “Cloud Gate,” in Millennium Park.

Anish Kapoor, sculptor, has a multi-cultural background. Born in Mumbai/Bombay, India to a Jewish mother and a Punjabi Hindu father, he spent time in Israel living in a kibbutz and studying electrical engineering. He had an artistic epiphany of sorts and moved to London where he has lived as a sculptor since the 1970s.

His sculptural work can be seen all over the world, most notably “Cast Iron Mountain” in Japan, “Simcoe Place” in Toronto, versions of his “Sky Mirror” in Nottingham, England and Rockefeller Center in NYC, “Earth Cinema” in Pollino National Park in Italy and “Cloud Gate” in Chicago’s Millennium Park. Kapoor also collaborates on projects with architects such as Arata Isozaki, Cecil Balmond, Herzog and de Meuron, Phhilip Cumuchdjian and David Connor.

Kapoor was knighted in 2013 and received an honorary doctorate from Oxford University in 2014. Chicago has bragging rights for having Kapoor’s “The Bean” be one of the artistic centerpieces of Millennium Park.

Cloud Gate

5 Major Works from Anish Kapoor’s Groundbreaking Career

Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

For years, I have made a mental note to check out the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park. These past few days of balmy fall weather seemed to be the perfect time to head to Skokie. From Dempster Street on the north to Touhy Avenue on the south, the path, completed in 1988, is east of McCormick Boulevard and runs along the west bank of the Chicago River.

I must admit I was a bit disappointed. The traffic noise coming from the busy street was an intrusion and view of the river is obscured by foliage. There was one riverside view, however, with a small amphitheater north of Touhy. (Please look for my duck photo taken on the banks of the Chicago River.) The Skokie Northshore Channel Park would be so much more inviting if the river were visible all along the two-mile stretch and if more trees could be planted to soften the street noise.

I saw joggers, bicyclists, casual walkers and children, however, so the park is well-used. It just could be even better with a little landscaping attention.

One word about the 60 pieces of sculpture. Amusing would be the predominant adjective. As a big fan of public art, I leave it to the eye of the beholder to assess artistic merit. Ultimately, this is yet another cultural and nature attraction within the Chicago area to put on your list.

Agora: South Grant Park Rust-Colored Statues

I was in the south Loop of Chicago and found myself drawn to another viewing of Polish sculptress Magdalena Abakanowicz’s work, “Agora,” in the south portion of Grant Park bordered by Michigan Avenue and Roosevelt Road.

The 106 headless and armless rust-colored statues evoke varied reactions. Some people have termed the installation, first installed by the Chicago District in 2006, as “ugly” and “depressing.” Abakanowicz grew up in Poland during WWII and had this to say about the figures in her large scale public installation: “brainless organisms acting on command, worshiping on command and hating on command.”

Agora is the Greek word for a public meeting place. As I walked through the figures and viewed them from different distances, I was struck that some statues face each other, while others are turned away. No matter what your reaction to the art work, it brings up ideas of democracy, community and differences of opinion.

Now that we are encouraged to limit our public gatherings, “Agora,” on permanent loan from the Polish Ministry of Culture, has new resonance. Small wonder since Chicago has the largest population of Poles outside of Warsaw.

Although public land was used for “Agora,” the sculptures were financed by private donors which included late actor Robin Williams. Fourteen years later, the statues seem right at home in Chicago’s Grant Park.

More Reality Shows of Note on Netflix

How is Netflix getting me to consider programs I would not normally watch? When I open the app, a show trailer starts playing above the list of selections. The clips are engaging, upbeat and often pique my curiosity. How else to explain my current viewing selections: “Love On the Spectrum,” “Restaurants on the Edge” and “Sugar High.”

I have been a fan of “Sugar Rush,” a cooking competition using sweet ingredients. When I exhausted those episodes, Netflix automatically cued up a related show from the same producers, “Sugar High.” Stone-cold professionals compete to make sugar creations that delight the tastebuds and the eyes. Much like sculptors and glassblowers, the chefs skillfully fashion shapes using ingredients like sugar, isomalt and paper wafers. I would not have the heart to destroy these artistic creations by eating them, however.

“Restaurants on the Edge” is a bit sleepy in its pacing, but features scenic restaurants in different countries that need help with their menus, decor and promotion.

Three restaurant gurus arrive in the area and find local beverages, food stuffs and decorating ideas to refresh the dining establishment in question. The show tries to defy the adage that the better the view, the worse the food.

“Love on the Spectrum,” an Australian documentary series, introduced me to young people who are autistic and in search of what we all want: love and romance. Cian O’Clery, the series’ creator and director, films men and women as they openly discuss being “on the spectrum.” We watch them go on first dates and interact with their families. The show accomplishes something rare as we feel genuine empathy for young couples who have found love and for those still searching for romance. “Love On the Spectrum” finds the balance between documentary and reality show which impels you to keep watching. At just five episodes, the series leaves you wanting progress reports on all of these endearing people.

During these stressful times, Netflix has carried many serious scripted shows, but I am keeping my streaming subscription because they are offering fun, reasonably intelligent programs that emphasize food, fashion, art, travel and love.

Great Big Story on CNN and as a downloadable app

When all of the negative and scary news starts to get you down, consider visiting the Great Big Story initially launched by CNN.

Short documentaries on various POSITIVE topics might just keep you from slipping over the edge. I especially like to have these clips playing when I exercise, cook or clean.

The link I included will send you to a Great Big Story on Hungarian piano-maker David Klavins who is veering away from Steinway, Fazioli and Bosendorfer in a big way.

https://www.greatbigstory.com/stories/piano-maker/?xrs=CNNHP

The Great Big Story site hosts short films on a myriad of topics that will amaze and uplift you. For kicks, type “Paris,” “London,” “China” or “Italy” in the subject line which will bring up short films for those of us who would prefer to be traveling the world right now.

Politics, illness, floods and bad economic news will become background noise, at least for a few minutes.

You can download Great Big Story from your app store or go to the GBS link:

https://www.greatbigstory.com

Genius & Anxiety by Norman Lebrecht

This has certainly been a time for book-lovers to get immersed in history and large novels. While some book reviewers have suggested picking up War and Peace or One Hundred Years of Solitude, I chose books to learn more about Jewish and Irish history.

Norman Lebrecht has written a jam-packed history book entitled Genius & Anxiety – How Jews Changed the World, 1847 – 1947. Freud influenced how we view sex and psychology. Einstein pioneered concepts of time and physics. Marx mapped out the elements of communism versus capitalism. Kafka and Proust changed how we view literature. Sarah Bernhardt revolutionized acting and celebrity.

Less well-known people also contributed to our modern world. Karl Landsteiner helped make blood transfusions and major surgery a reality. Paul Ehrlich helped formulate chemotherapy. Rosalind Franklin paved the way for genetic science. Siegfried Marcus may have created the first motor car.

Lebrecht frequently writes about music so there is ample mention of seminal composers like Mendelssohn in the 19th century and Kurt Weill and Leonard Bernstein in the 20th. He highlights Korngold and Eisler on the West coast and Leonard Bernstein in the east. In truth, what would Hollywood or Broadway look and sound like without Jewish creativity? Name three famous American composers and one reels off George Gershwin, Aaron Copland and Bernstein.

The book’s brilliance is particularly in Lebrecht’s description of what was happening in the world as he profiles these creative people. Industrialization, the World Wars, the Russian Revolution, the rise of the Nazis, the McCarthy era, the creation of the state of Israel, all figure into this expansive canvas. Lebrecht does not argue that Jews are genetically smarter and more talented than others but that they have a strong tradition of culture and education. Historically being outsiders may have also caused them to think “out of the box” and push new ideas in everything from science, politics, business and the arts.

Genius & Anxiety is the type of book you could either absorbingly read cover to cover, or skip around in, according to your tastes.