To celebrate the unveiling of Wolf Vostell’s colossal work, Concrete Traffic (1970), originally commissioned by the MCA in 1970 and subsequently donated to the University of Chicago, a backdrop of classic Cadillacs and cement trucks set the stage for a discussion between Curator Lynne Warren and Department Chair and Professor of Art History at the University of Chicago Christine Mehring on Vostell's work and its restoration process.
Lynne Warren: I am going to be asking Christine some questions; she’s really expert on this. My role is as someone who kept the flame going a little bit over the years. I started at the museum in the late seventies and was aware of this piece, and went down to U of C from time to time and look at it.
And also pull out a piece that’s a sketch for it, so to speak, that will be in your show, that is a representation—in a photographic form with some concrete on it – a representation of the whole project. And I would show that in shows and I would talk about the project but it was really Christine and her team who brought this to realization. And we can look down on it right now and see it sitting out there.
But before I ask Christine’s questions to get our conversation going, and we hope to have a little bit of time at the end, if you all have any questions, to have your questions taken. I have pulled from our archive a memo from the desk of Jan van der Marck, who was our director at that time when we opened. And by the way, we’re celebrating our 50th anniversary next year too, so it joins this, sort of, 50-by-50 project.
So, Jan van der Marck was our founding director when we opened in 1967, and he was friendly with Wolf and included him in many of our early projects, including our opening show. But what I have here is a memo from the desk of Jan van der Marck, “Vostell: Concrete Traffic” – and this is handwritten. Of course in those days people barely had typewriters, never mind word processing.
And it says, “Vostell: Concrete Traffic,” and there’s a wavy line under it, which is nice, and what it is is an accounting of the budget: “Artist per diem, $25 a day for 8 days, $200. Purchase and towing of Caddie 1959, $105. Lumber and miscellaneous materials,”—obviously to make the mold—“$250. Truckload, 10 square yards’ concrete, $100.”
[Laughs] Woah. “Services of welder, $85. Labor including anticipated January 15,” – which I think would be the actual pour date – “$1,200. Parking lot rental, two spaces per month, $60. A grand total of $2,000. Temporarily covered by sale, obtained as a gift,” so they got $2,000 donated.
And there’s a little note at the end. It says, “As soon as project is completed for the sum of $2,000, has to be found from someone who is willing to take possession of car from the parking lot.”
So with that, I want to dive right in. Oops. So, Christine, how did this all get started, your work on this sculpture and your interest in the sculpture itself?
Christine Mehring: I –
LW: Use your mic.
CM: Oh, sorry. I started chairing our provost campus planning committee, a faculty advisory committee, in summer 2011 and was asked what my priorities might be, besides looking at projects that were coming through the committee anyway. And I had always been really interested in public sculpture and I loved the public sculpture that we had on campus.
And so we started a conversation about that, and that seemed appropriate for this committee to take on, and someone was saying, “Well, there’s also a lot in storage.” And so I asked what, and of course the first work mentioned was, “well this car covered in concrete,” and I said, “Well, is that a Wolf Vostell?” And everyone stared at me saying, “Well, how would you know this artist?”
Now, I happen to be familiar with Vostell’s Concrete Traffic twin sculpture, as I like to call it, which is a sculpture called Ruhender Verkehr, a stationary traffic that sits smack in the middle of Cologne on a median on a very very busy street, and that is an Opel Kapitän cast in concrete. And so that’s how I knew, and I happened to work on postwar European and German art so I was a little familiar with his work.
So, of course I said, “Well, I’ve got to see it,” and within I think a couple of weeks, I was out at Methods and Materials seeing the sculpture. And I still remember walking out and coming through that door, Roger, as I did so many times since then, and just being so exhilarated.
I really felt like I had found this amazing artwork at my institution, at the University of Chicago, and was absolutely devastated at the same time because it was in bad shape in a way that was very visible. And interesting to me is that in some sense all the things that I felt were wrong just instinctually, which is not how conservators and art historians usually work, proved to some degree actually to be problematic, and were some of the problems. There were these very visible patches; they had been done with a compound that didn’t match. There was moss growing on the sculpture, there were cracks, and the concrete was falling. And there were these two I-beams that had been placed underneath to support the structure that raised the car way too high, and had the tires kinda hanging down in ways that just took all the magic away from the sculpture.
So, I was devastated because I saw that the sculpture needed help but also because I thought, “If I don’t do this, no one will do it,” and I didn’t know how to do this. And in some ways that’s why this day is so amazing; somehow this happened. But it really became about putting together a team of just incredible people, and certainly – at this point it’s kind of a core team of 15 people but many many others who helped.
And so the first thing that I thought I would do was write a fan mail to my main collaborator, Christian Scheidemann, who’s here, who is a conservator who specialized in working with non-traditional materials. And he was awesome; he said, “I’ll come out. Let’s look at it together,” and it kind of then started unrolling from there.
A lot of research, a lot of other team members. We have a Cadillac specialist, we have a couple of structural engineers, concrete specialist, that all came on board. So, that’s kind of how it got started.
LW: So, when you arrived at U of C you did not know that this was there?
CM: I didn’t know it was there, exactly.
LW: That’s kind of magical. [Laughs]
CM: And then it was placed in storage soon after I arrived and it’s – yeah.
LW: Yeah, it was interesting to me because I knew it was there obviously, and there had been some talk about maybe relocating it elsewhere, but I think it did just get put into storage at that point, when the Logan Center was being built.
CM: Yeah, I think there were some efforts collaborating with the CTA to get near a CTA stop or something like that.
LW: Yeah, I think there was a little flurry of interest at that time but I think it’s also quite fascinating to see it from above here and compare it with those Cadillacs there. Because it actually looks a little smaller than I recall it. When it’s in place and you’re looking at it at ground level, it does appear a little bit different.
But I am just really struck by the fact that this is a big car, and it’s so great to have actual Cadillacs there, too. So, especially younger people who may not remember our highways being clogged with these gigantic boats that would literally take up like three parking spaces if you have Mini Coopers these days. So, I think the contextualizing here is brilliant, and congratulations to whosever idea it was to bring actual Cadillacs here.
When you saw the moss and the concrete crumbling, you said it was a terrible sight, but did you really feel like it could be brought back to some kind of semblance of its original form? And should it be? I mean was the whole idea of Fluxus as something creating kind of temporary or ephemeral Happenings, so to speak, were you torn a little bit? Like maybe we should just let this crumble?
CM: Being torn came soon after but I think that I didn’t feel like it could happen, but I felt it had to happen. And I’m a little stubborn, so once I decided that it had to happen [laughs] – and that really was – it seemed because I knew the Cologne sculpture like something that should be preserved.
But you’re asking a really important question that actually became one of the most complicated questions in the project, and that I think still should continue to get debated especially if there’s another conservation campaign at some point down the line.
Fluxus was largely a performance-based movement. Artists often collaboratively staging Happenings—interruptions amidst everyday life—and Vostell was being invited at the MCA to do precisely that. So, he staged this performance of the making of this sculpture on this parking lot on Ontario Street where the Arts’ Club is now located, and that was the artwork.
However, Vostell was also at this moment transitioning really, as became clear as I was looking more at Vostell – I had not really worked on him that much until then. He was transitioning to making more permanent artworks at the same time, making sculptures, and I think was beginning to think about 13 years, say, into his career, what would happen to some of the artifacts of his performances.
He often started taking artifacts and things that were part of the environments that he created for his Happenings, and turned them into sculptures. He was beginning to think about that, and so he called it an event sculpture, and that hybrid became really difficult to deal with in terms of conserving it.
LW: Yeah, it’s interesting because I mentioned the work that we have – well, we actually have two works in our collection – that are very much along the Christo pattern of – Christo makes these ephemeral works but he raises money for it by making two-dimensional, often collectible items – hybrid sort of sculpture-paintings. And that’s what the Vostells we have in our collection are.
They’re not documents of the piece; they have elements of the piece – as I mentioned, they do have concrete in them – but it’s basically a photo. So, he was already making these objects which were meant to be preserved. They’re quasi documents, quasi happenings, ‘cause his stroke of the concrete across them is very important.
But they also were both to give to people as mementos, because one of the pieces came from Jan van der Marck and his wife, was gifted to us. But also to fund, fund his career because, after all, you do need to make a living. So, yeah, there’s a lot of hybridity to this and it’s really exciting to see this thing preserved I think. I think it’s really wonderful.
CM: Those works are actually really important that are in the MCA’s collection, and we’re borrowing both of them for the exhibition at the Smart Museum that opens, which is about Vostell’s work with concrete from ’69–’73, so right around this time when he’s starting to work with concrete.
And one of the things that is really great about those collages is that Vostell worked with photographs as we found or, or I should actually say one of my PhD students found out, Solveig Nelson. And we were trying to figure out what he had worked on. There were these police officers; there were clearly street protests. Early on we thought that maybe they were the DNC since he had made them in Chicago, and nobody could figure out what they were.
And I showed them to Solveig who works on civil rights and art in the 1960s and seventies, and she knew instantly that they were from Selma. And so Vostell had worked with source imagery from the 1965 Selma protest and then placed over one of the police cars the cement, and they’re absolutely gorgeous works.
And one of the reasons why I think that they’re interesting is because Vostell actually repeatedly in various books and contexts often declared basically political protests such as the Selma protest artworks in themselves. So, kind of a very provocative gesture.
LW: Yeah, and I think it’s interesting because all our press releases at the time, the MCA’s press releases, really talked about the concept of this piece being about traffic and traffic jams.
But I do see a huge political content in the work as especially being from Europe where cars are much smaller, and America being known as the place of the car culture, that it was very kind of overt – but maybe for some reason the MCA didn’t want to highlight that critique, political critique.
And I think at that time also was the beginning of lots of urban destruction through tearing down neighborhoods to put through giant expressways. So, there’s a definitely a huge political content to this piece that for some reason was not highlighted at the time it was made, not by the MCA’s publicity team anyway. And it did get a lot of publicity.
CM: Although that’s a positive side to it, too, and that’s actually one of the things that fascinates me about this sculpture and about Vostell, is that the concrete, this gesture of covering a Cadillac, it is a very negative, a very violent gesture in some sense. And yes, there’s certainly a kind of critique of rising car culture, of urban renewal, of concrete making cities all across the world, Europe, and the US the same.
And that, again, echoes also in this coexistence of the sculpture in Cologne and here in Chicago. But at the same time Vostell certainly also thought of concrete-defying objects like this Cadillac as a kind of mummification in preserving these objects for the future, which I think is really really interesting.
LW: Little did he know there are Cadillac clubs out there that preserves these cars. Yeah, and I know especially for younger art audiences they maybe don’t realize that basically saying the word Cadillac meant luxury, upper classes. There’s a very famous film called The Solid Gold Cadillac, which was about a mobster. It was a Judy Holiday movie if you haven’t seen it. So, just the word “Cadillac” had a lot of potency in a way that it doesn’t today.
CM: And I think it had especially for Vostell, so Vostell actually in the seventies drove vintage Cadillac through Berlin where he then lived. And again, this sort of ambivalence actually carries through in terms of how he thought about cars and about Cadillacs.
So, one the one hand, he produced a lot of work in the 1960s that was about Vietnam and part of many German artists being extremely critical of the Vietnam war, and equating that really with the US. But at the same time, Vostell so badly – as a European an artist in at that point a completely marginalized art market; everything had moved to the US – feeling really left behind and wanting so badly to make it in the US.
And so to get this invitation from the MCA was huge for a German artist and likewise, driving a Cadillac through Berlin was a cool thing. For that generation coming out of the war, Cadillacs and American vintage cars were in the Cold War context. They were a dream; they were the thing that everyone was striving for, while at the same time being extremely critical of the US, and that kind of went together.
LW: And I think that’s one of the reasons why the piece remains so potently interesting, and I imagine you’re going to be using it for teaching down there on campus?
CM: Absolutely, that’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited about having it where it’s going to be in the campus north parking garage, just north of the Smart Museum and just north of CWAC, as it’s lovingly called, the Cochrane-Woods Art Center, which is where the art history building is located and where I teach.
We’re gonna be able to just walk out at any time and see it and look at it, and likewise, everyone who’s visiting campus. This is the main campus parking garage. Everyone who’s coming to the Smart Museum will be driving by and parking and stopping by to see it.
LW: That’s fantastic. So, do you have any stories that you could tell us about that whole elaborate conservation procedure that –
CM: How long do you want to be here?
LW: – that went on for five years?
CM: So, I guess maybe I’ll talk a little bit about some of the complicated decisions that we had to make. So, maybe let’s start with these patches that I mentioned. Very interesting in the sense that it became clear as we discovered historic photographs, the few that there are in the MCA archives, that these patches were there. These patches were this non-matching concrete compound that looked so wrong because there were no stones in it and it was much darker. But it became clear that they had actually been done at the time, and Jan van der Marck actually kept writing to Vostell promising they were gonna patch soon.
So, it was clear that Vostell knew about that but we didn’t know whether Vostell then actually ever ended up seeing the sculpture with the patches, whether he had left any directions about how to patch – none of that we ever found. So, it was patched before it came to the University of Chicago, making these patches historic patches.
So, while they looked wrong, that’s not good enough to kind of say, “Okay, let’s take ‘em off and make it match because we think that that’s what should happen.” So, we spent a lot of time discussing to what degree the sculpture seemed compromised in terms of what we knew about what Vostell actually wanted out of the sculpture. And we were hesitant to remove them.
LW: Just to interrupt for just a second, Jan van der Marck actually left right around the time that the piece was going down to U of C, and it’s really unclear if Vostell ever came back to Chicago.
CM: Exactly. So then, though, really several years into the project, Christian Scheidemann found documentation at the Museum Ludwig where they had kept documents related to Ruhender Verkehr, the stationary traffic sculpture that Vostell had directed later in life to match with a compound that matched – to patch with a compound that matched.
So, at that point we felt comfortable removing those historic patches and then our amazing concrete conservator, Amanda Trienens, did lots of testing to actually get a matching compound with mixing rust into it – getting the color just right, sourcing stones that she was adding to the compound from the same quarry that they had sourced the stones from in 1970 – all those kinds of wonderful things, to get it just right. So, I think that has been a really really great story.
LW: Do you know which quarry it was? Was it a local quarry?
CM: Who knows? Someone here knows.
LW: Because we had Robert Smithson do a local quarry piece around that time.
CM: That would be amazing if it’s the same one.
LW: Yeah. That pricked up my ears, about that quarry.
CM: And then I think another really difficult aspect – how are we with time? – was the structure that ended up going underneath the sculpture. So, as I said, it was an event sculpture so that made this thing very ambivalent in terms of what it was. On the one hand, if it were an event, if it were a performance, it meant that it actually in some sense was an artifact.
In Fluxus’s performances there were lots of artifacts – fliers people would throw in the audience, et cetera – and we could keep them and you, kind of, take license conservation-wise to preserve these. But if they were artworks, you would be much more careful in terms of how you would intervene.
And so it became clear that our structural engineers and really anyone that we talked to said, “Well, you have to support it. If you take these I-beams away, something has to be underneath it otherwise the whole thing’s gonna collapse onto itself.”
But the historic photographs didn’t really give us any information about what was underneath. And worse, the three people we talked to – David Katzive, who was the first curator at the MCA, Jim O’Hara, who was the art handler at the MCA, and basically made the sculpture together with an assistant named Milan. Milan is, I think, maybe here, who filmed the whole lifting of the sculpture yesterday with his drone, which was fantastic.
So, they all said there was nothing underneath. Our engineers said, “Well, that’s not possible.” So, that was a really difficult thing to then make a decision about, so in the end, in order to bring it back we had to support it because it was going to collapse. But that meant that we were intervening in a sculpture in a way that was something that was going to be very visible. And so the way we negotiated this – you know, with an artifact, you might feel comfortable with that; with a sculpture, you might not.
But the decision was to make it as little visible as possible. But it was going to be visible and so the structure that we have underneath there, I think we’re all very very happy with it. It will be visible but to a very minimal degree. It’s black, it’s kind of set in. It will be in the parking garage.
So, that was a challenge, and then related to that, once we had decided it was going in the parking garage, we thought that was gonna make it easy, great conservation-wise, because it was gonna be covered—no snow, no rain, no snowplowing. All these things we had worried about if it was gonna go on the street or outside.
But this parking garage has a level underneath it, and it was never built to hold this monstrosity. So, we had to do more engineering to figure out whether the garage was gonna support it.
And to avoid intensely cost-intensive shoring from underneath, our engineers, especially Chris Rockey, who’s sitting here, had to do fairly complicated calculations and work with the engineers for the parking garage to have this sculpture hit just at the right points, and to have the weight distributed equally, to actually make sure that the garage was not gonna collapse.
LW: That’s amazing, and that evokes another famous artwork, the Cloud Gate, "the Bean," the Anish Kapoor bean, which was relocated to its current place. It was originally supposed to be over on Monroe because it’s over a parking garage, and it wasn’t gonna be able to be supported where it was. That’s so fascinating. Are you worried about algae or moss still growing on the piece though?
CM: We’re gonna coat it so that graffiti, anything else will be more easy to remove than it was before. I think it probably will not be as bad as it was. I mean, after all, it had really never been treated in 40 years so it should be okay.
LW: So, I’ll open the audience to questions, but I have one other question still. I read somewhere that this piece, while it was parked at the parking lot gathered a bunch of parking tickets. Is that apocryphal? Because there’s nowhere you would put parking tickets; there’s no windshield wipers.
CM: It’s in the papers but that’s about all of the evidence that we found.
LW: I mean, maybe in the old days they gave parking tickets to cars in parking lots but they don’t –
CM: I would imagine what the MCA – I mean, I think that at some point someone was telling me the MCA had actually paid a fee to have the sculpture there. But you know, before we open up to the audience –
LW: This invoice does say that they paid $60 to the parking lot –
LW: – in order to be parked –
CM: Then before we open up to the audience –
LW: – which is like two days now.
CM: Can you say just a few words – because I think this is one really important piece of the history of all this is Jan van der Marck was a big Fluxus fan. And it was really because of his Fluxus interest and the fact that he even knew about these artists who really weren’t that well known at that point, that this came about. And the MCA is really important in terms of the history of Fluxus.
LW: Yes, I mean the early years were mostly shows that Jan developed and helped – David Katzive, who helped him curate them. But most of the artists were contact that Jan had through being from Europe, and the very first show Wolf was in, it was a show called Pictures to be Read, Poetry to be Seen. And then he was also in the very famous Art by Telephone show, which was in 1969.
The first time that he was worked with just as an individual artist was in a show called Two Happening: Concepts and that was done also with Allan Kaprow, and that show actually traveled. So, Jan had immense influence on bringing these artists over, giving them opportunities, and pairing them with American counterparts like Robert Smithson, who did that pour piece in a quarry for the Art by Telephone show, right? Where’s Mary? Mary Richardson – yeah.
So, that was just his habitat, our first director’s native habitat, was working with these type of very forward-looking artists and it got him into a bit of trouble because he did leave sort of abruptly in the mid-1970s.
But those early years are now looked back on as prescient really, because the type of art that these artists were doing, which was highly experimental, bringing together different media and different types of disciplines. And being ephemeral, being performance-based or being very conceptual is really the way the art world has turned in recent decades.
So, it’s quite a nice history I think we have. Fluxus, just because of the way they were, it’s always a little hard to pin it right down, which is as it should be because these artists were a loose cooperative. It wasn’t like a group like the Hairy Who or some other artist group where they really formed their own self-identity.
So, it’s just ripe for exploration, and we – I should just give a plug – we’re doing a show of Merce Cunningham coming up in February called Common Time, where his contributions and influences from Fluxus and all the ideas of individual artists working together in common time, each doing independent projects and supporting each other’s creativity – which was very much the Fluxus model – will be another way to approach this group.
So, as I notice a Monarch fly by on its way south to Mexico, and it actually is going north for some reason right now –
But are there any questions about this?
Ann Meisinger: And we do have a microphone for questions. They’re in the back.
Audience member 1: Do you have a photograph of the original vehicle?
LW: We do.
Audience member 1: And secondly, what about Rachel Whiteread and how it might have inspired her? And I apologize if I missed your answers ‘cause I was a few minutes late. Thank you very much.
LW: No, we didn’t mention Rachel Whiteread. Do you know if Rachel Whiteread – I have no idea.
CM: No, I’ve been wanting to ask for, that’s for sure, and when I meet her, I will ask her.
LW: There is the piece in Cologne – it’s Cologne, right? That’s –
CM: The Rachel Whiteread?
LW: No, no, by Wolf.
CM: Oh, it’s in Cologne, yeah.
LW: – that is fairly well known but I fear he is not as well known, even within the art world, as he should be. So, whether Rachel knows about it or not, I don’t know.
CM: Vostell, in turn, saw some Bruce Nauman work with concrete in 1969 at Wide Wide Space in Antwerp in Brussels, and that’s how he started getting interested in working with concrete.
And with respect to your other question, yes, we do have a photograph, actually a film, that, thanks to Mary Richardson here at the MCA, was restored that documents the making of Concrete Traffic. And that starts with this very Cadillac in the parking lot where the MCA purchased it for Vostell for the Happening.
LW: I think it cost $89, right?
Audience member: It looks like the original wheels are on there, and then it went into the shape. It looks a bit more modern than it did – I’ve seen a photograph of it too; it looks a lot cleaner. I mean, of course, this is concrete. How did he arrive at that shape?
CM: So, the shape is based on the mold. So when you build a mold around a Cadillac out of wood to basically create a shape that can then receive the concrete, you’re gonna sort of abstract it, right? So, in the end there were some decisions made actually that were probably made as far as we know by Jim O’Hara, who was the person who built the mold and started building it before Vostell was actually here.
So, the sculpture in Cologne, where Vostell was there from the very beginning, is much cleaner. It’s much more abstracted, whereas here the ___ show the fins et cetera, which is really nice I think actually, because given Vostell’s admiration for American cars, I think it’s important that one still sees that Americanness and that this is a vintage car underneath there.
And then the tires show exactly, so the tires to me are fascinating. So they’re showing; in Cologne, they’re not showing. In Cologne, he actually cast a baseplate out of concrete, drove the car on top, and then it’s completely sealed with concrete.
So, you kind of know that’s maybe a car because it’s placed in traffic et cetera, but not really. And this is one of the magical things about this sculpture, is that the tires are there but that’s also what has made it so difficult to –
Audience member: They must have put a rod into it?
CM: They must have what?
Audience member: Originally, they put a rod in it?
CM: I don’t think you can drive it.
Audience member: I mean the tires have to be [unintelligible] –
CM: Were the tires replaced is what he’s asking?
Oh, as far as I know, not, no. And that’s actually a nice thing, I talked to one of the Cadillac drivers this morning, so the tires don’t match. I like that too, right? So, they don’t match because in 1970 this was a 13-year-old car and the tires had already been replaced, and so it was $89.
It probably wasn’t driving anymore or it wasn’t worth much anymore, so they had just put other tires on and no one had bothered to match them in a way that – I know Cadillac drivers today take pride in having matching tires.
LW: But note that one of them is a Whitewall. Yeah. [Laughs] Remember Whitewall tires? Yeah. This question in the back or in the middle there?
Audience member: Hi, how much does it weigh? And do you have an approximate value of what it’s worth today?
CM: Really good question. So, it weighs 32,400 lbs., the whole sculpture.
LW: That’s 16.2 tonnes. How many elephants is that then? Like eight?
CM: The car weighs just a little over two tons and there’s close to 14 tons of concrete poured over it, and there’s a wonderful fact sheet actually that we have posted on the website for Concrete Happenings, where you can get all these numbers.
So, what is it worth today? Amazing, fascinating question I think, because basically we don’t know, and the reason why we don’t know is because it hasn’t entered the market. In contemporary art an artwork is worth what someone pays for it, and so you really only know when an artwork goes on the market what it’s worth.
There’s no comparable work other than the Cologne sculpture; that hasn’t been on the market either. There have been other concrete works by Vostell that have gone on the market but they’re much smaller. So, happily the University’s not intending to sell this sculpture so we will probably never know.
LW: I think it’s priceless.
Audience member: I had a question –
LW: Yeah, maybe one more question.
Audience member: – about whether or not you know if Wolf had any kind of dialogue with the artist who did the Spindle in Berwyn, Dustin Shuler, that was recently removed because it was voted to be removed from its location? That car spike spindle where there’s a big metal rod and it’s like a pinwheel of stacked cars, which was also kind of a quintessential car culture sculpture from the ’60s, and also –
CM: Yeah, someone’s mentioned it to me; I don’t know. We haven’t found any information about it.
Audience member: Or if you know what happened to that sculpture when it gets removed – where it is? Or maybe that’s a project in the making?
LW: The Spindle?
CM: I’m not taking on another one.
LW: Yeah, my understanding is that was private property so they could do what they want, and I – yeah, Roger just confirmed. My understanding was it was all scrapped and Roger’s nodding, and he’s the Materials and Methods expert. One more question maybe, quick question?
Audience member: I see you up there.
LW: Someone in front here?
Audience member: I’m curious, how passionate were the debates about the restoration and whether the patching – or how much of the under – the supporting grid to show? You have __ kind of excited talking about it, but were these passionate? Were there arguments? Were people screaming?
CM: Oh, there were lots of arguments. We got 15 people on the team and everyone brings a different expertise to the table, and everyone comes to the sculpture from a different way. Even our structural engineers at various points disagreed with one another. Those were the exciting moments. They were agonizing at the time but I think that that is really in the end what made this project fun.
And in fact, it started from the moment Christian arrived from the first time. He and I were talking about whether the muffler should be restored, replaced or not and how, but in the end I think that’s how good decisions are made for me. That’s what I love about the debates and the arguments and the challenges and people disagreeing, that by the end of it you know somehow you’re gonna have to come to a solution everyone is happy with.
And you know it will be better than it was if you had just done it by yourself. I would have never been able to pull this off by myself. Just the decision-making in itself, it’s just so important to have these different perspectives at the table.
LW: And to jump in, having just reviewed some of the press, and there was, as I mentioned, a lot of press on this piece when it was first unveiled and recently there’s been a lot of press, some of the comments from the public have been very similar; obviously not being passionate and invested in it, and thinking, “What the heck is this thing?”
And that’s a little disconcerting that after all these years we get some of the same reaction to people on the street. But hopefully what you’re all doing down at U of C in all the current publicity now that the piece is unveiled, they’ll be greater understanding of the value of this.
CM: And for me, actually in some sense that’s what so wonderful now about having this institutional relationship with the MCA through this sculpture. And the University of Chicago is a museum of contemporary art; of course, by nature it will present challenging art. It’s very recent art that doesn’t have a discourse yet, that you still need to figure out, and that’s what a university should be doing too.
It should be putting itself out there with challenging public art, and we should face those challenges and ask the question, and help answer the question, of why might this be art? I’m not expecting that everyone will agree with me but we should have those conversations.