30x40in., Oil on Canvas, 2016-2017, Collection of Bryn Sherman
"My fellow Americans, we are and always will be a nation of immigrants. We were strangers once, too."
-- President Obama, November 20, 2014
The term “melting pot” came into full use in 1908 and speaks to a heterogeneous society becoming more homogenous, with all races and creeds and cultural norms coming together in accord. It is the peaceful integration of immigrants coming to the United States. I picture it as a type of stew in which all the different elements are thrown in. Each element on it’s own can stand alone perfectly and for good reasons, but when combined create something delicious and tantalizing. Music sounds excitingly strange to the ears, new words are peppered into our daily lexicon, art takes on a necessary, modernistic and refreshing visual language. In Obama’s tear-jerking farewell address on January 11th, 2017 he stated “If we decline to invest in the children of immigrants, just because they don’t look like us, we diminish the prospects of our own children – because those brown kids will represent a larger share of America’s workforce.” This couldn’t be more clear and pressing in our country now, and couldn’t be truer.
As an artist I personally believe in periods of ingestion or intake. This means I put down the brush and pencil or any act of “doing,” in order to look around me. Walking by this seemingly mundane scene of an air conditioner propped up by two weather worn and rusty Goya cans in Brooklyn one day, caused me to pause in my tracks. What was it.... what was it about this that struck me? Everything is truly political, down to the extremely banal. As creators of anything we cannot extricate ourselves from the social and the political. Stop right now and look at the tag inside your jeans. Then look inside your cupboards. Then find out how your house is luxuriously being heated and cooled. Then jump on Google to do some research. Find out who is clothing your body, who is feeding you, and who is keeping you alive.
Goya, founded in 1936 by Spanish immigrants Don Prudencio Unanue and his wife Carolina, is the nation’s largest Hispanic-owned food company. The company started on Duane Street in Lower Manhattan, moving to Brooklyn in 1958, with its still current headquarters stationed in New Jersey since 1974. There are 26 facilities in the US, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic and Spain that currently employ over 4,000 people worldwide. Please tell me that immigrants don’t create jobs for us! In 2012, Goya also worked with Michelle Obama and the USDA to set in motion the “MyPlate” campaign, an initiative to help educate Americans how to eat healthier.
Frigidaire, the brand of air conditioner these two Goya cans are propping up, was a company originally founded in Fort Wayne, Indiana in 1916. It was ultimately purchased in 1986 by it’s current parent Electrolux, based in Stockholm, Sweden.
The social undertones of poverty or income level are self explanatory in “Goya.”
As I’m sitting here in Siem Reap, Cambodia typing this, a man just walked up to me with a box of books. He is one of many badly mutilated and disfigured men and women who wander through the streets selling assorted wares in order to feed their families. Where his arms once were, now are stumps, blown off from a landmine twenty two years ago. He raised his shirt to show me dozens of scars creating a map across his torso. “America is the best nation in the world,” he said. “Our government, very bad.” And to contrast this shocking reality, many in the United States, in a self created “safe” bubble, are absorbed in media propagated turned self-imposed irrational fears of brown skin tones marring the ivory white of our skin. Isn’t this complete minutiae? Wouldn’t we be SHOCKED to know where we truly came from, under our sheath of flesh? I desire a golden hued, delicious, warm, exciting and diversified cultural melting pot for our nation because THIS is what makes us unique and great! The fact that we can offer a place of hope and safety for everyone in America, AND for those who risk their lives fleeing from their own tormented nations, in order to live a free existence in ours. It is more imperative than ever in our transforming United States political climate, that we honor our unalienable human right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, all of which governments should protect.
(Now go eat some Goya.)
48x28in., Oil and Swarovski Crystal on Canvas, 2013, Collection of Robert Brandel
24x24in., Oil on Canvas, 2012, Collection of Marc van der Aart
36x24in., Oil on Canvas, 2008
36x40in., Oil on Canvas, 2007-2012
8.5x11in., Oil on Paper, 2012, Collection of Annette Sollars
18x24in., Oil on Linen, 2013
30x40in., Acrylic on Canvas, 2006
36x48in., Oil on Canvas, 2007, (first oil painting ever executed), Collection of Bill Welter
14x16in., Oil on Linen, 2012
31.5x25.25in., Oil on Linen, 2007
48x48in., Acylic, Housepaint and Strong on Wood, 2006, (Best in Show at WMU, 2006)
36x48in., Oil and Goldleaf on Canvas, 2009
24x30in., Acrylic on Canvas, 2006, Collection of Kristen Snyder
20x24in., Oil and Paper on Canvas, 2011, Collection of Ralph Smith
11x8.5in., Oil and Archival Paper, 2011, Collection of Steven Conrad
5x7in., Prismacolor on Fibrous Paper, 2012, Collection of Joseph Madonia
17x24in., Prismacolor, Micron, and Goldleaf on Vellum, 2010, *a collaboration with KS Rives
By Julia Haw
As Governor Rauner attempted to partly “remedy” the $6 billion gap in the projected 2016 state budget, it was as if he took out a machete in the rainforest and began with many confusing and irrational “slashes.” One of his ideas to shave off a bit of annual cost, (6.29 million) was to strike at the hearts of many citizens, and threaten to close all five Illinois State Museum locations. At the start of the fiscal year on July 1st, 2015, none of the works housed in any of the locations had insurance, forcing the directors and staff to return all pieces to the artists. This is with the exception of the location in Springfield which houses some 13.5 million artifacts, which necessitate HVAC. My traveling series “The Western Veil,” previously shown in 2014 at the Thompson location (and then at the Lockport location), comprised of 36 works, was returned to me June 22nd. I promptly disseminated all the purchased works. I met with Lockport museum director John Lustig shortly thereafter, as he had just met with Lockport mayor Steven Streit. The mayor said “I really think you should still have an opening July 31, as I’m a fan of Julia’s work. Let’s figure out something.” We began planning theinstallation of “Chicago Relic.”
When I ruminated on a response painting to this whole political mess, my mind kept returning to the Chicago pay boxes for parking. I found the whole idea ridiculous, ugly and somewhat upsetting. Why was my intuition turning to this object, of all the objects in Illinois? Who would want to look at this it, let alone find it at all precious or beautiful? And how was this internally hounding idea connected to the current conversation? I have always been one to run into the heart of discomfort. I had to do it. I realized “Chicago Relic” is not just a response to governor Bruce Rauner’s threats to close all five ISM institutions, it is a response to the state’s ongoing and historical responses of permanent, often horrible, solutions for temporary issues. Furthermore, the piece acts as an imagined depiction of a recreated alter, as seen from a future vantage, an installation 500 years from now, in a museum. Similar to the way we greet a Lingam (a spiritual token, image of God, or emblem connected to the penis) the Chicago Pay Box glitters, replete in it’s 23K regalia, a symbol of our contemporary visual alphabet. We must offer foreign coins, power objects and flowers to the relic of the past. We must light “money” incense and Copal as offering. We must remember the pay box. It is what I imagine we would revere and study if most of our cultural institutions continued to disappear, the artifacts washed away in political leverage and budget balancing. We have to accept, this IS our current language here in Chicago particularly, and we all know what it means.
Chicago and the state of Illinois is infamously known for corrupt mayors, governors and political figures. This is classic Chicago: “a reliance on long-term debt to cover short-term expenditures.” (Heather Gillers, Chicago Tribune) To further explain the pay box mess, Mayor Daley privatized and sold all 36,000 meters to Morgan Stanley in 2008 for a sum of $1.157 billion dollars for a 75 year lease. He shirked the alderman, who weren’t given the information until a few short days before the deal was cut. Even then, most of them didn’t understand what this would mean. Alderman Scott Waguespack, pointed out the seemingly obvious, that the company would make far more than 1.2 billion dollars over the next 75 years. Upon the closure of the deal, Morgan Stanley promptly went to two third parties, one in Abu Dhabi (The Abu Dhabi Investment Authority) and another, Redoma SARL, in Luxembourg, (thewire.com). Each year these foreign companies make incrementally more money. Even Rahm has said "A city normally known for its differences has come together in universal anger over the deal.” (DNAinfo.com, 2013)
We must also acknowledge Mayor Daley sold the Chicago Skyway in 2005, for $1.83 billion to the Cintra-Macquarie Consortium, based in Spain and Australia, for 99 years. Then in 2006, “Daley leased four parking garages under Millennium Park and Grant Park for 99 years, to a division of Morgan Stanley for $563 million.” (Ben Joravsky, chicagoreader.com, 2009)
Looping back in, the conversation of Chicago’s longstanding financial woes and short term solutions merely continues with Governor Rauner’s proposal to close all five Illinois State Museum buildings. Sadly, no shock here. But where do all these decisions lead us as a unique culture? The more we deny our cultural platforms - essentially our historical language, the more we are left with a very flat and lackluster discourse, devoid of the richness that has brought us to where we exist as a society. We drift through the streets each day. We see trees, and brick stones. We see the beautiful lakefront, and AL’s Beef. We see the river and the Hancock. We see the Chicago skyline. We see parking boxes. This is our daily visual language. These are our totems.
Thank you for reading and LONG LIVE CULTURE!!!!!
“Chicago Relic,” was on display through July-November 2015 in the Illinois State Museum, Lockport, IL. With sincere gratitude to the real sponsors: The City of Lockport, Illinois and Mayor Steven Streit with Mrs. Wendy Streit, and sincerest thanks to Claire Molek and John Lustig.
36x48in., Oil, 23K Goldleaf and Swarovski Crystals on Canvas, 2015