Helmut Jahn's State of Illinois Building is in a state of disrepair. Chicago Tribune architectural columnist Blair Kamin points to rusted columns, chipped paint, and duct tape holding faded carpets together. There is also the smell of fast food grease wafting through the atrium from the food court below. All of this mirrors the State of Illinois' pitiful financial condition, which will continue to plague the state despite the band-aid tax increase signed into law 10 days ago by Governor Bruce Rauner.
Unfortunately, but appropriately, Jean Dubuffet's Monument with Standing Beast, which is located at the building's southeast corner, is in similar disrepair. The 10-ton sculpture has faded in parts from white to cigarette-finger yellow. It appears to be chipped, with parts of it covered in graffiti, which serves as another reason why we can't have nice things.
But like Jahn's building, the sculpture is an important artistic statement as one of three the major Dubuffet sculptures commissioned for display in the United States. It is said to represent an animal, a tree, and an architectural form. I have never been a huge fan of this work. To me, it feels compressed, lonely, and vastly understated in relation to the building. On reflection, I don't think it is any different from any other of Dubuffet's signature doodles, but typically his two-dimensional work shows many of these doodles interacting. It is the dance and interlocking curves that make those works lyrical. Regardless of my opinion, it is one of Chicago's many important public art works, which include sculptures by Picasso, Calder, Miro, Moore, Kelly, Kapoor, Oldenburg, and Plensa, as well as the Chagall mosaics in the plaza of the First Chicago Plaza.
So how to photograph it in the chaos of ugly cars and schlubby pedestrians that come between the sculpture and my lens? That question has plagued me for some time. Today the solution became apparent. Stand in the center and shoot up. To me, the sculpture now looks like the white flames of the Jinns consuming the Chicago Title & Trust Building. It does not look like Snoopy in a blender, as some Chicagoans have claimed. While dubbing Kapoor's Cloud Gate the Bean works, Snoopy is a stretch.
Talk continues about selling the building, officially titled the James R. Thompson Center. If that happens, there is a good chance that this early work from Jahn's storied career may be torn down, which would be unfortunate. A sale, particularly if it is followed by demolition, raises an obvious question: What will happen to Dubuffet's work? To find out, we would have review the deed from the Capital Development Board of Illinois, which funded the sculpture. Does the artwork run with the land, or is there a residuary clause designating where the it goes if the building is sold or demolished? In my view, it should be recast anew, if that is permissible under agreement governing the commissioning and the Visual Artists Rights Act (droit moral). Sort of a Dan Flavin florescent tube installation, sold with a certificate that states that the work remains an authentic Flavin even if the tubes are replaced.
Vandalism, or Why We Can't Have Nice Things?