October 22, 2020

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.

Art Institute of Chicago exhibit: Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test

There is a most unusual and fascinating exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago right now, Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test.

This large installation in Regenstein Hall illustrates the dramatic shift from Imperial Russian design to that of the Soviets after 1917. Literally everything was impacted by this cultural tsunami. Graphic design on posters, art direction in theaters and in film, fabric, dishes, furniture, mobiles and paintings all reflected this new vision.


Some of my favorite things in the exhibit include a replica of Rodchenko’s Workers Club including a black and red chess set, a 2 1/2 minute recording of Lenin giving a speech, a space that resembles an agitprop train compartment that features Soviet cartoons and documentaries as well as a 1926 exhibition room that features paintings by Piet Mondrian, Francis Picabia and El Lissitzky.

If you choose to be immersed in this stark and geometric world that has style implications in the present day, you have until January 15, 2018 to catch Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test.

Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, Caldwell Lily Pond and Waterfowl Lagoon at Lincoln Park Zoo

Having lived across the street from the Lincoln Park Zoo for ten years, I got in the habit of frequently visiting the country’s oldest free urban zoo, sometimes daily.  New exhibits, refreshed settings and old favorites were the draw.

Kids playing around nature forms and next to a glass barrier with a black bear on the other side

New to me was the Pritzker Family Children’s Zoo, featuring North American animals to the right of you as you enter from Stockton. One is immediately struck by the visual layers in the exhibit. Tree tops with nesting herons are in the foreground. Red wolves can be seen in the next layer, behind a barrier, of course. A service dog-in-training in the people zone was being intently stared at by one wolf as I reconfirmed that there were at least two fences between them. A few steps more and one can see lumbering black bears with one snoozing in a glass observation portal the day we visited. Other creatures featured in the exhibit are the American beaver, the American kestrel, the American toad, Blanding’s and Eastern Box turtles along with the Eastern screech owl and the Hooded merganser. Inventive play structures add still another layer of interest for families. Any child would love this engaging area, but I can attest that adults will be charmed as well.


The Lincoln Park Zoo Waterfowl Lagoon also appears to be newly landscaped with Chilean flamingos matching the orange tiger lilies surrounding their area. A bridge and an overlook allow the viewer to admire the swan geese and a pair of snow white trumpeter swans. In 1868, New York’s Central Park Commissioners sent the Lincoln Park Zoo two swans and those graceful birds continue to be a big draw in the zoo. Native Illinois wildflowers and grasses complete the idyllic scene along with Ruddy ducks, Baikal teals and red-breasted mergansers. 

One of my favorite areas continues to be the Alfred Caldwell Lily Pond. While you may exit into the zoo from the pond area, for entrance, you must go to Fullerton, south of the zoo. The Lincoln Park Conservancy is responsible for this serene setting with its Prairie-style rock structures, birds and diverse native plantings. If you meander upon the path that circles the pond, or sit in one of the pavilions to listen to birdsong and gaze at lily pads, you can forget that you are in the middle of a bustling big city. We were lucky enough to hear the big croak of a resident bull frog when exiting, as if he were giving us an exclamation point to our bucolic visit.

I frequent the Zoo less often since I moved out of that neighborhood but the occasional stop to the environs always introduces me to some new view of nature. A big thank you to the Auxillary Board of the Lincoln Park Zoo and the Lincoln Park Zoological Society for keeping this experience free to all!

GNOD – The Global Network of Discovery

I happened upon a site with the acronym gnod, quite by accident, while looking for authors similar to crime writers Donna Leon and Henning Mankell. Created by Marek Gibney in Hamburg, Germany, the Global Network of Discovery (gnod) features word maps to discover authors related to what you already like.

Not only can you look up networks of authors, but you can also fill out brief questionnaires that help the site learn more about people’s literary choices. The user is queried about whether you know, like or dislike a particular author.

The site also has sections on music, art, movies, and electronic products. In truth, the electronics portion seems to be the site’s commercial raison d’être, but this shouldn’t dampen your enjoyment of the rest of the site when you are looking for new authors, composers, films, and artists.

http://www.gnod.com/

Seven Magic Mountains outside of Las Vegas

Seven Magic Mountains

If you need a break from the casino culture on the Las Vegas Strip, consider a short trip outside of the city to view a special art exhibit, the Seven Magic Mountains by Swiss sculptor, Ugo Rondinone. The seven 30-foot brightly-colored totems are made up of large stacked boulders that give one the feeling of a psychedelic Stonehenge.
Ten miles south of Las Vegas, the art installation is near Jean Dry Lake and Interstate 15. The Mojave Desert becomes a free art museum with a short drive outside of Las Vegas well worth the trouble.
The installation opened on May 11, 2016 and will be viewable until May 11, 2018.

My niece, Maye and me

You can order Seven Magic Mountain prints by Gianfranco Gorgoni or “mini mountain” stone sculptures by Ugo Rondinone at:
http://sevenmagicmountains.com