This summer the Chicago Loop Alliance will debut its first project for the new streetscape program that “celebrates, beautifies, and activates” nine blocks of State Street from Congress Parkway to Wacker Drive. The jury for this project included two Art Institute curators—James Rondeau, Frances and Thomas Dittmer Chair and Curator, Department of Contemporary Art, and Zoë Ryan, Neville Bryan Curator of Design. After reviewing proposals from five artists, the committee selected Tony Tasset, Professor at the University of Illinois Chicago in the College of Architecture and the Arts and a 2006 recipient of a Guggenheim Fellowship in the Arts.
For over two decades, Tony Tasset has created work that evokes laughter, empathy, and at times uneasiness in his viewers. In recent years public projects by the artist have popped up in the Chicagoland area and in nearby St. Louis. In 2006 he unveiled Paul, a larger than life recreation of Paul Bunyan at the Nathan Manilow Sculpture Garden at Governors State University. The artist’s first monumental figure, this work has become one of the most popular sculptures in the park. Visible year round in the west window of the Goldblatt’s building, 1613 West Chicago Avenue, is Tasset’s Snow Sculpture for Chicago, a perfect replica of a dirty snow pile, which is a familiar sight for all Chicagoans during our long winters.
For the Chicago Loop Alliance, Tasset will unveil two public works the weekend of July 4th: an installation of 156 banners of a cardinal in flight and a 30-foot sculpture of an eye. From Congress Parkway to Wacker Drive the computer-generated likeness of the Illinois state bird will unfold on the banners like a flipbook animation. Slated for Pritzker Park, 344 South State Street, the massive eye sculpture replicates a smaller 12-foot in diameter work that Tasset created for the Laumeier Sculpture Park in St. Louis in 2007. Made of fiberglass, resin, oil paint, and steel, this piece marks the third time the artist has explored this subject matter. In a piece from 2000 entitled The Eye, Tasset took a close-up photograph of one of his son’s baby blues. On a basic level for Tasset, the eye is a “kind of sign of consciousness, a window to the soul.” There are also numerous associations with the eye including: the use of this symbol on totem poles—for mystical purposes but also as a way of extending control over communities; its role in works by other artists such as Philip Guston and René Magritte; in sociological tests about cheating; and in writer Georges Bataille’s 1928 novel Story of the Eye. Rife with associations, Tasset views his “eye” for Chicago as a way to change the landscape and “anthropomorphize the city.” Whatever your associations are, be sure to keep a look out for this monumental sculpture this July 4th.