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Modern Art. Made You Look.

By Laura M. Browning in Arts & Entertainment on Feb 25, 2010 8:40PM

Photo by rpongsaj
If you walked by the Art Institute’s Modern Wing earlier this week, you might have wondered if they were promoting a new exhibit on street art. Bright graffiti stretched for 50 feet along a light stone wall, bookended by the words “Modern Art” and “made you look.” While Chicagoist in no way condones illegal activity of any sort, we have to admit that this graffiti raises some interesting questions about the accessibility of art. It’s unlikely the tagging was gang-related, and it seems to be a pre-meditated, self-referential joke about art.

Though somebody should have told the graffers that the Art Institute is free for a few more days, it’s normally $18 a pop, which, for many, is prohibitively expensive for more than the occasional visit. And most of the art is, of course, inside a building, itself a barrier to the arguably more high-brow artistic undertakings within. Though the smooth lines of architect Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing are perhaps less intimidating than the original building’s lion-guarded doors overlooking Michigan Avenue, the graffiti certainly gives a new spin on the building’s tagline, “circa now.” It pokes fun at the high esteem we hold museum architecture in (see: just about any Gehry building and the surrounding hype), and it suggests that we can have a meaningful artistic experience just about anywhere. And, more importantly, it questions what we consider to be art. Is graffiti “circa now”? Does an object become art just because it's inside museum walls? Would the museum have felt differently if the tagger had been Banksy, whose easily recognizable, humorous, and often incisive style has placed him on the strange pedestal of anonymous international art superstar?

The graffers took less than half an hour to complete their work along the Modern Wing, and the entire affair was caught on the museum’s security cameras. This comes just a week after a similar tagging along a brick wall on a Gold Coast coach house in the 900 block of N. Clark Street, which, like the Art Institute’s graffiti, was also apparently not gang-related. The museum, at least, has a sense of humor about the tagging. Even as it was being sandblasted off the wall, Public Affairs Director Erin Hogan told NBC5 that the 50-foot-long graffito showed “a good use of color.”

And to the graffers: point taken (and, yes, we also like your use of color). You made us look, and you made us think. But next time you crack a joke, you should think about the actual cost. The architects and museum didn’t include your design in their plan, and we’d hate for your work - and the subsequent sandblasting - to be responsible for the next Art Institute fare hike.

What do you think? Irresponsible vandals, or thought-provoking jokesters?