50 Aldermen/50 Artists, and the Mayor Harold Washington Painting

Part 1: Call for artists, the Meet-and-greet, and a History Lesson about Negative Portraits

Aldermen are important, they can make fois gras illegal and then legal again. Reason Magazine gave  Chicago the prize for most meddlesome city in the United States, based on our over-legislative wackiness

This call for artists, explained better on Gaper’s Block,  is about artists creating portraiture, in the largest sense of the word, about our fifty local aldermen.

I confess, the first image that flashed in my mind was this:

Image from: http://www.tjcenter.org/ArtOnTrial/officials.html

I had reservations inserting this image.  It was a hurtful and offensive image at the time, and it still seems disrespectful and irrelevant in terms of political statements – other than a show of disrespect for the dead, and testing freedom of speech. But there is a history here, and for all of us who were in Chicago at the time, we all instantly recognize this image.

For those of you who are new to town, however,  in 1998 an SAIC student painted this picture of the late Mayor Harold Washington and it was hung on a wall –  not too long after Major Washington died unexpectedly. People were livid about the painting, and with cameras rolling, they came in and yanked it off the wall. Under normal circumstances, a few dozen people would have seen the offending image, but with all the brewhaha, everyone in the city saw it.

I bring this up because this current show is clearly an exercise in aldermen letting the public, or one member of the public, speak freely. It will be interesting to see which aldermen are brave enough to show up and what the art will look like.  I’ve  being negative so far, so let me back peddle – I think this project is a good one.

This, to me, is real political art, it’s got a relational aesthetic vibe to it (as the meet-and-greet is clearly important), it showcases the power of art and message, and it’s also encouraging a core, and very real, connection between politics and the art process. I tip my hat to every single alderman who shows up and lets themselves be portrayed, allowing for a lack of control of their image.

So aldermen, be brave, show up, and you will earn the respect of me and my peers.

I had a couple follow up questions, Jeremy and Lori were kind enough to answer

What if the portrait is made in a manner that ridicules the alderman? Are there limitations on the artists?

The only limitations on the artist is the size. We want artists to come in to the project with an open mind and without preconceived notions, that is why we are making an interview or attempt to interview their selected alderman part of the process.

If 10 artists apply for, say, the Wicker Park precinct, then who does the portrait? I remember when Paul Klein rallied artists to call their aldermen, all the artists participating fell into a mere 10 districts.  How will that be handled?

We’re assigning aldermen to participating artists on a first-come, first-serve basis. If their favorite alderman is taken, they can choose another, or we’ll let them pick a name out of a bowl/hat/etc.

The kickoff event for 50 ALDERMEN/50 ARTISTS will be Friday, Feb. 5 from 7-9 PM at Debonair Social Club, 1575 N. Milwaukee. This event will be a meet-and-greet for all artists involved, and will be where artists are matched up with aldermen. This will also be an opportunity to answer any questions artists may have. $20 pre-registration required.

The exhibit will be Friday, March 19, 2010 from 7-11pm.  50 ALDERMEN/50 ARTISTS at the Johalla Projects Gallery, 1561 N. Milwaukee. Visit the website for more information and updates.

Ok, Jeffery McNary has agreed to cover it, so we’ll stick with the story and see where it leads.

[DDET (Notes for artists )]
Feb. 5: Deadline for artist registration
March 12: Deadline for art delivery
$20 entry fee, with 10% of sales going to cover costs of the event.
25% of sales for the League of Women Voters of Chicago.