The Flight of Daedalus and Icarus

The Flight of Daedalus and Icarus, 1991
Roger Brown
120 North LaSalle Building

In Greek mythology, Daedalus, a very skilled Athenian artisan, was called upon by King Minos of Crete to build a labyrinth to confine the dreaded Minotaur, a half-bull and half-man monster. Instead, Daedalus helps a young hero escape from the monster and the angered king imprisons him and his son Icarus in the labyrinth. To escape, Daedalus makes wings of wax for himself and his son, and he warns his son not to fly too low because they will get wet from the waves of the sea and not to fly too high. However, Icarus gets caught up in the thrill of flying and forgets all of his father's advice. He flies too high, the sun's heat melts the wax and he plunges into the Aegean Sea.
Roger Brown (1941-1997), a prominent member of the Chicago Imagists, was commissioned by the Ahmanson Commercial Development Company (a subsidiary of Home Savings of America) and the architectural firm Murphy/Jahn Architects, to create murals for the Helmet Jahn-designed building at 120 North LaSalle Street. The brilliantly-colored composition, with the father and son floating amongst pillow-shaped clouds, draws the eye up the granite fa├žade.
Born in Hamilton, Alabama, Brown enrolled in Bible school at David Lipscomb College in Nashville with the expectation of becoming a preacher, but he became diverted after taking a life drawing class at the University of Nashville. He moved to Chicago in 1962, studying at the American Academy of Design and earning a degree from the School of the Art Institute (SAIC). In the late 1960’s and early 70's, Brown was among a group of fellow SAIC artists, including Ed Paschke, Gladys Nilsson, Jim Nutt and others, who were inspired by European Surrealism. They developed the Chicago Imagist style, a version of pop art that worked to shock or excite audiences. According to the Renaissance Society at the University of Chicago, "Imagism became known as 'The Chicago Style' and it was this group of artists that put Chicago on the map for national and international art audiences."
In a 2012 interview with Time Out Chicago, Lisa Stone, curator of SAIC’s Roger Brown Study Collection, noted the 27-by-54 foot mosaic has several meanings, among them “[it] warns against the danger and futility of hubris.” Created from more than 900,000 tiles, it was assembled by a team in Shilimbergo, Italy, north of Venice. Made of colored, opaque glass and various metal powders, the mosaic took three weeks to install. Just inside the lobby is a smaller companion mosaic by Brown. It depicts an imaginative view of LaSalle Street, with planes flying overhead.

Communication X9

Communication X9, 1983
Yaacov Agam
In front of Smurfit-Stone Building
150 North Michigan Avenue

Israeli artist Yaacov Agam, a pioneer of kinetic art, was commissioned to create a sculpture for 150 North Michigan Avenue. It was dedicated in 1983 during a ceremony with Mayor Harold Washington. In kinetic style, the multi-colored work appeared to change, depending on the vantage point of the viewer and his or her movement past the piece. Over the years that followed, the harsh Chicago weather faded the sculpture and the paint began to peel. 
In 2005, Jones Lang LaSalle Inc., a Chicago-based real estate firm that manages the skyscraper at that location, took down the piece and hired an expert to restore it. While Jones Lang LaSalle Inc. stated that Agam was consulted during restoration, three years later, when the piece was reinstalled after completion of the $300,000 project, the artist was less than happy with the result. He believed the colors were not restored to the exact shades he originally used and alleged that the work was not a restoration but rather an unauthorized reproduction. In an 2008 telephone interview with the Chicago Tribune, the artist stated, "The public should know that this is not a real Agam." The son of an Orthodox rabbi, Agam considers himself a "visual rabbi." He urges those who view his works to view them as "visual prayers." 

UPDATE: This piece was removed and put into storage in 2018.

Alexander Hamilton Memorial

Alexander Hamilton Memorial, 1940
John Angel
Lincoln Park
North Stockton Drive at North Cannon Drive

Philanthropist and art patron Kate Sturges Buckingham (1858 – 1937) , best known for her donation of the Clarence F. Buckingham Memorial Fountain to the city, considered Alexander Hamilton “one of the least appreciated great Americans.” It was her belief that the first Secretary of the Treasury was responsible for securing the nation’s financial future, hence making it possible for her family to make its fortune in grain elevators and banking.  In 1928, she established a fund and pledged $1 million to the Chicago Park District with the intent to create a memorial honoring the founding father.
Hired to sculpt the figure was New York artist John Angel (1881– 1960), one of the most prolific and highly regarded sculptors of the day. Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen  (the architect whose entry for the Tribune Tower competition of 1923 was widely viewed as the best, despite Hood and Howells winning the commission) was brought on to create an architectural setting for the monument. However, his proposed shelter with 115-foot columns was not well received.  Buckingham, fearing the statue of Hamilton would be lost within the structure noted it, "shouldn’t look like a modern skyscraper.”
            By the time of her death in 1937, with at least $41,000 already spent on the project, the sculpture’s setting and location were uncertain. Her will directed the trustees of the Alexander Hamilton Trust Fund to complete the project and, if it was not completed with 10 years, the monies would go to the Art Institute. In 1943, a lawsuit was filed by the States Attorney for Cook County accusing the committee, which included two directors at the Art Institute, of purposely slowing the project. The judge in the case put a moratorium on the project until the end of the ongoing war. The courts later ordered the project to be completed by 1953. The trustees decided to gild the bronze statue that had been put into storage four years after Buckingham’s death and hired architect Samuel A. Marx (1885– 1964) to create a new granite setting for a site in Lincoln Park.  On July 6, 1952, 24 years after Buckingham made the original offer, the monument was finally installed. The gilded sculpture sat on Marx’s 78-foot-tall cantilevered granite exedra until 1993. At that time, flaws were found in the structure that made it unsafe and required demolition.  The re-gilded statue now sits on the only remaining element of the original structure, a red granite base.
Additional works by Angel can be found on the Cook County Courthouse as well as St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City and the Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C.

The Four Seasons

The Four Seasons, 1974
Marc Chagall
10 South Dearborn Street

Born into an Hasidic Jewish family in Vitebsk (in present-day Belarus), Marc Chagall (1887-1985) studied art in St. Petersburg, Russia before moving to Paris, where he lived from 1910 to 1914. During his time in Paris, Chagall absorbed the influences of Symbolism, Fauvism and Cubism and combined them with his own childhood memories of Jewish shtetl life and mysticism to create dreamy, fantastic images that defied artistic conventions regarding space and perspective. Chagall returned to Russia in 1914 and, as a supporter of the October Revolution, in 1917 he was appointed Commissar for Fine Arts in Vitebsk. He returned to Paris in 1923 and became a French citizen in 1937. As a Jew and an artist whose work was ridiculed by the Nazis, Chagall found it necessary to leave Vichy France and he found safe haven in the United States between 1941-48.
            Although best known as a painter, working in oils, watercolors and gouaches, Chagall has also produced ceramics, stained glass and, as seen in this work, mosaics. Regarding the title of this piece, Chagall explained, “In my mind, the four seasons represent human life, both physical and spiritual, at its different stages.” Using a model created by Chagall in his studio in France, a skilled mosaicist was sent to Chicago to install the 128 separate panels, featuring 250 different colors, and then join them together with additional glass and stone fragments. The finished piece is 14 feet high, 10 feet wide and 70 feet long. Imagery includes symbols associated with his earlier works, including birds, fish, flowers, suns and lovers, all references to memories of simple, village life, interspersed with sunbursts and city skylines. Chagall’s signature “floating” figures and the absence of a consistent ground line contribute to the otherworldliness of the scenes even as they refer to quotidian activities associated with rural and urban life. As is the case with “the Picasso,” viewers already familiar with the artists’ earlier works are able to recognize each as typical of their style, even if the scale and materials have changed.
            Chagall arrived 2 weeks before the unveiling and realized that he needed to make adjustments to the areas featuring the Chicago skyline, as he had based them upon his memory of the city from 30 years before! The work was presented as a gift to the city of Chicago on September 27, 1974 and the protective glass canopy was added after renovations in the mid-1990s.
            Another major work by Chagall, the America Windows from 1977, is housed at the Art Institute of Chicago and were made in commemoration of the Bicentennial and as a reflection of Chagall’s gratitude for the safety and religious tolerance that he found during his stay in the U.S. during the 1940s.

Fountain of Time

Fountain of Time, 1922
Lorado Taft
Washington Park, west end of Midway Plaisance
5900 South Cottage Grove Avenue

Located in Washington Park, a 367-acre expanse designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, Lorado Taft’s Fountain of Time is the only realized portion of his grand beautification scheme for the Midway Plaisance, a mile-long and 220 yard-wide area linking Washington and Jackson Parks on Chicago’s south side. Originally, he envisioned an equally monumental “Fountain of Creation” to be erected on the east end of the Midway, consisting of figures emerging from the earth, acting out the Greek legend of Deucalion and his wife Pyrrha, who repopulated the earth following the Deluge by throwing stones over their shoulders. Visitors to the east end of the Midway will find, instead, the Thomas G. Masaryk Memorial, installed in 1955.
            The work is not a fountain at all but, rather, a massive 110-foot long sculptural relief of 100 figures behind a pool of water, traveling from birth to death before a 16-foot tall mantled figure representing “Time.” Taft stated that the lone figure standing across the water was  “watching with cynical, inscrutable gaze the endless march of humanity.” Taft found inspiration for the work in a passage from a poem by Austin Dobson:

            Time goes, you say? Ah, no.
            Alas, Time stays; we go.

The figures include dancing children, a priest, a poet, a conquering hero on horseback, soldiers, lovers, an old man reaching for death as well as a self-portrait of Taft on the back, striding with hands behind his back in a meditative pose. Viewers may find it hard to imagine that the work, commissioned in 1913 by the B. F. Ferguson Monument Fund, was intended to commemorate 100 years of peace between the Britain and America following the Treaty of Ghent, thus fulfilling the requirement that sculptures funded by the trust related to “important events in American history.”
            In addition to being a haunting and visually stunning work, the Fountain of Time was an incredible technical achievement for the time. As stone carving and bronze casting were ruled out due to expense and time considerations, Taft appealed to John Joseph Earley, a sculptor who had developed a pebble-finish architectural concrete to complete the casting. Over 4500 pieces comprised the finished mold but Earley was able to complete the casting in less than a year and the work was unveiled in 1922. Since that time, due to vandalism and the effects of harsh weather and pollution, the sculpture has undergone a number of renovations and repairs.

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