Art and administration mix in final Hyde Park Art Society exhibit at del Prado

By Jenny Fisher

On opening day of the exhibit For Real, held by the Hyde Park Art Center, a leak sprung from the ceiling, gushing water onto an administrator’s desk and computer. Needless to say, the administrator wasn’t pleased. Yet one of the artists, Marie Krane Bergman, described it as “a beautiful moment.”

Bergman is a member of Cream Company, the collective of artists who designed For Real, the last exhibit to be held at the del Prado building on South Hyde Park Boulevard before the Hyde Park Art Center moves to its new location at 5020 South Cornell this spring. For this exhibit, which will be up until March 26, Cream Company moved the administrative offices downstairs into the gallery space, next to a collection of artwork by members of the collective.

Michael Kiresuk, one of the members of Cream Company, created Viewing Point, a place from which viewers can look at the administrative offices while standing in the exhibit. The spot is marked on the wall with a typical museum plaque, so that exhibit-goers are encouraged to see the administrators, computers, chairs, and file folders as they might see a work of art. For Bergman, the water gushing on the administrative side of the room on opening day was beautiful because it created an unplanned, yet meaningful juxtaposition between the “real” world and the art world.

By juxtaposing an exhibit space intentionally designed to mimic the “high art” atmosphere of the Art Institute with the administrative offices, Cream Company asks viewers to consider the relationship between the two, and suggests that art and its administration cannot be viewed separately. Curator Bill Brown goes so far as to say that the administrative side “gives life” to the art world.

Bill Brown is the Edward Carson Waller Distinguished Service Professor at the University of Chicago and a chair of the Department of English. In putting together the exhibit, he selected works by members of Cream Company that deal with issues of time, reality, and the position of art in the modern world.

One of the most striking pieces chosen by Brown is Big Poe, a giant painting of the face of Edgar Allan Poe, done by David Coyle. The painting is based on a daguerreotype of Poe that is now reproduced en masse on mugs, mouse pads, and dust jackets. The picture has become iconic, yet Coyle transforms it into his own original creation with broad brushstrokes in sickly greens and yellows. In so doing, he posits art as a generative force capable of superseding pop culture.

Like Big Poe, the entire exhibit raises the question of art’s position in the modern world. Because the administrative offices are included as part of the exhibit itself, viewers are never allowed to forget that art is always dependent on the mundane, inglorious problems of raising money and keeping records.

The del Prado building was built in 1918 as a hotel, and retains its old, ornate plasterwork, including carved and painted Indian heads. Inside, the Hyde Park Art Center is not easy to find, tucked in the back, past a front desk without an attendant and a locked bathroom. Even without the juxtaposition of administration and artwork in the For Real exhibition, it is hard to forget art’s position in the world while seeing the exhibit.

Although hidden behind plasterworks and office suites, the Hyde Park Art Center has long been an important part of the Hyde Park community and the art community in Chicago. The center was founded in 1939 and has always been a place for alternative art exhibitions. Additionally, the center offers numerous classes and conducts community outreach programs all over the city.

By moving to its new location at 5020 South Cornell, the Hyde Park Art Center hopes to engage the community more fully. Architect David Garofalo has designed a 128-foot video screen that will cover the front of the brick building. Artists can project their works onto this screen, and the Hyde Park Art Center can project messages about current exhibitions.

On February 11, two-and-a-half months before the opening date, the new building still looked unassuming. Construction crews had blocked off a freshly poured cement sidewalk, but the windows were covered in metal and the dirty brick walls were surrounded by trash. The building sits next to a BP gas station, abuts the Metra tracks, and faces the backs of much taller apartment buildings.

Imagining a façade projecting modern art into the streets of Hyde Park is hard to visualize right now, but the idea seems spectacular. Digital projections of the new building appear to be located in some otherworldly space, where everything remains clean and the weather is always nice. Situating this screen of art in the middle of Hyde Park will be another grand juxtaposition, much like that created by the For Real exhibition.