Jan Tichy: aroundcenter
Chicago Cultural Center, February 1 – April 27, 2014


Combining photography, sculpture and video projection with civic engagement, Jan Tichy’s work reveals contradictions and hidden truths in our lived environment and the larger cultural, social and political sphere. Since emigrating to Chicago in 2007 (from Israel and the Czech Republic), Tichy has constructed artworks that engage a variety of Chicago buildings and spaces, including Mies van der Rohe’s Crown Hall on the IIT Campus, the John Hancock Center, Louis Sullivan’s Carson Pirie Scott Building, and the recently demolished Cabrini-Green public housing complex.  

For aroundcenter, Tichy focuses on the Chicago Cultural Center – formerly Chicago’s main public library, and now home to the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events – where thousands of free cultural events (exhibitions, performances of music, dance and theatre, lectures, tours, and workshops) take place every year within its calm and classical beaux-arts exterior.  The nine installations located throughout the building stand on their own as individual artworks, but they also act in concert to illuminate the identity, history, and symbolism of one of Chicago’s most unique public places.  Many of the works are also about Chicago, and our common impulse to document, portray and understand it.  The works in aroundcenter can be encountered in any order; cut-away maps on the following pages, as well as Build Your Own Cultural Center (2014) – designed by Matt Bergstrom in collaboration with Tichy—are provided to assist with navigation of the exhibition and the building.  

Addressing visitors and passersby on Randolph Street is Chicago Nature (After Nauman) 2014, a neon sculpture that responds to the pulse of the city via its connection to a police scanner, turning on and off as the dispatch opens and closes the radio transmissions to the officers on the street. The title refers to Bruce Nauman’s dark and frenetic neon, Human Nature/Life Death, 1983, a work formerly installed in the same window in the 1990s.  A gift to the city from Arthur Anderson and Company, the Nauman was considered too costly to maintain and protect, and was acquired from the city by the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004.  The harsh reality of life in Chicago is also conveyed by War Memorial (2014), two-channel projection of the names of homicide victims in Chicago over the last seven years.  On the dark north stairwell, in close proximity to the Civil War memorial on the second floor, GAR Hall, the names glowing from the marble remind us of the persistence of violence.

Library (2014), at the base of the stairs in Randolph Square, acknowledges the building’s past and present uses, as a public library and a place of free assembly and access to the arts.  The artwork consists of two parts: on one side a collection of exhibition catalogues, pamphlets and announcements drawn from the building’s archive, and on the other a pop-up library of art books donated by the artist’s friends and colleagues.  The books in the library may be perused on site or taken away, and will be replenished until the supply runs out. 
For his installation Changing Chicago (2014) in the “Chicago Rooms,” Tichy has created an exhibition-within-an-exhibition.  In response to Changing Chicago, a 1986-1987 project to document life in Chicago through the work of 33 photographers, Tichy created his own nine-channel video piece, Changing Chicago (2012),and worked with Chicago-area high school students to create their own single channel versions of Changing Chicago, also on view in the space.  Complementing these works are selections from the original Changing Chicago, and two other Chicago documentary projects, Landmarks Chicago (1999) and CITY 2000 (2001).

Tichy’s interest in archives, collections and the histories they represent, is embodied in History of Painting (2014), comprised of more than 9,000 slides from the School of the Art Institute’s art history teaching collection -- rendered defunct by the advent of the digital age.  Edited by their predominant hue into color fields, yet still legible as single units, the slides parallel the opulent, mosaic and stained glass interior spaces of the Cultural Center.

Two works illuminate and expose confusing or inaccessible parts of the Cultural Center.  Installation no. 19, (bridges) (2014) uses a slowly moving video projection of light and shape to activate and make newly visible one of the oddest spaces in the building–created by a glass enclosed series of ramps that joins the north and south halves of the building in a 1974 renovation.  In Untouchable (2014), Tichy provides access to a non-public and practically inaccessible space above the old Library comptroller’s office: a vault for important documents, cash, and paychecks.  The title of the piece refers to the space’s secrecy and security, but also to director Brian De Palma’s 1987 film, “The Untouchables,” shot in Chicago and at the Cultural Center.  The film, shown on a monitor placed in the vault, is the sole source of light in the room; a closed circuit feed to a monitor on the second floor allows us access.

The final work in the exhibition is, like many others, collaborative.  Accessible via smart phone, Audiowalks (2014) are recorded tours, memories or impressions of the Cultural Center, provided by seven Chicago friends and acquaintances of the artist.  The collaborative, shared and public nature of Tichy’s investigations into the spaces and meanings of the Cultural Center—through means of light, video, photography, sculpture, and the spoken word—are extended in the Programs and Workshops listed below, designed and developed by students in the Arts Administration and Policy program of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in collaboration with the artist. 

-- Daniel Schulman, Program Director/Visual Art



City of Chicago - DCASE

Richard Gray Gallery