Words by : Rachel Kaplan
Perhaps because it is so prevalent in contemporary discourse, it seems that everywhere you go these days there is a form of art trying to redefine an unconventional place. Artistic ideas are leaving the gallery and museum, extending beyond art fairs, and now, as a natural progression, are being displayed in malls. This summer, secretly hidden away in Rosemont, young curators and artists were feverishly working on large-scale art installations alongside construction workers, racing to place the final touches on the new Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont.
Arthur Weiner, chairman for major retail developer AWE Talisman and Macerich solicited acclaimed Miami based gallery and project space Primary Fight to fill the walls of the highly visual and trafficked space inside the mall. Under the umbrella of a series of similar projects, the new project, titled The Arts Initiative is “dedicated to placing highly interactive visual art in public venues.” Claiming to represent the future in artist-driven ideas, actively integrated into architectural framework, the curators selected some of the most prolific, creative, and color-based local and international artists to explore their work in a whole new context. Simulating a new interaction with something as formal, practical, and functional as a mall space, the project is, at its core, inspired by the array of ways art can activate and redefine a space.
Defying the limitations of who has access to art and where art can be experienced, the selected artists, Daniel Arsham, Jim Drain, Friends With You, Bert Rodriguez, and Jen Stark, among others, are known for the experiential elements in their work. Each artist composed their work to bring attention to entrances and passageways that are frequently overlooked in a mall – though paying no attention to them now would be somewhat impossible.
There is something fantastic about walking into a mall from a parking garage into a vibrant, all-encompassing yellow and pink room, like the gridded checkerboard of Jim Drain’s mural – a brilliant and playful use of space that feels almost virtual, complete with vibrant green garden snakes crawling up the walls.
Daniel Arsham has the ability to bring life to any object, drawing out the theatrical qualities of otherwise mundane contexts. Often arranging the material qualities of one substance into an unexpected framework, such as a passage of wall suddenly folding into fabric like a curtain, the latest project is similarly dramatic. As you enter into a stark white room from the parking garage, be sure to look up. Installed above is a cast of a falling man entrapped by an elastic ceiling. The descending character’s weight is heavy, his motions distressful; although this figure is trapped, the impression of force that he hits the ceiling threshold is excruciatingly convincing. To accompany this piece, along the interior wall, inside the mall, Arsham installed one of his signature works, a clock that is surrounded by a melting, rippling wall. These optical illusions are nothing short of compelling and intense. It is almost necessary to stand and stare at these sculptural formations and just wait for the moment they appear to move, as if the pieces themselves are able to wax and wane.
If you are familiar with Jen Stark’s work, you have seen the hypnotic, endless rhythms of color and shapes that appear to descend into infinity. Stark stages an optical and physical battle for those who approach the mesmerizing fields of color – across from the Fossil store on the first floor, “Wormhole” a staggering 8 ft by 20 ft rainbow cone emerges, suspended from the ceiling. Stark’s interest in mathematics and patterns found in nature manifest themselves in the gradation of color and shape; directly behind the piece, on under belly of the escalator, is a 2-d mural entitled “Drippy,” and it looks like what it sounds. Hand- painted, undulating, melting waves of color consume the escalator infrastructure, taunting those who pass by to forget their shopping mission and get lost in the synthetic, fabricated landscape.
Having had the chance to walk through the mall before it opened, while the walls were still all white, uncovered light fixtures descended from the ceilings, and hard hats were required, the space had an eerie and abandoned quality to it. While knowing this space was going to be a mall made it incredibly difficult to imagine the presence the artwork, the installations were serendipitously perfect for their locations – and although, personally, I’d rather not spend my whole Saturday in a mall, a visit to Rosemont is definitely worth the trip.