By Jonathan Derr, English Faculty
This is picture of my grandson posing with some statues in a playground at the University of Chicago Lab School. Although they look like they should be sitting behind a rope in an exhibit space at the Museum of Contemporary Art, a playground is really a much better place for them. These statues were designed to be interacted with, since the artist left a space on one of the benches where they are sitting so that people can sit down and be a part of the exhibit. Kids climb on the statues, talk to them, share their lunches with them, ask questions about them and generally treat them like toys, playground equipment and imaginary friends. The statues are also really durable since they have been on outdoor exhibit in Hyde Park since 1986. In fact they have outlasted their old site in Harper Court. The property was bought by the University of Chicago and most of the stores and the local movie theater have either been completely remodeled or torn down. This means that for the past twenty six years they have been sitting outside, enduring Chicago’s winters and summers and all of the punishment that the kids of the south side can dish out. Their appeal is now spanning several generations. When my daughter was four or five she and her friends used to play with the same statues when they were still in their old location.
I think that this is a real lesson about how we should approach art. Often we are afraid to really engage with it since we have been trained to approach art with a combination of fear and reverence that children have not been infected with yet. Kids like art because they like it, not because they have been told that it is great art or that it is “good for them.” Probably the best way to get a kid to stop liking something is to tell them that it is “good for them.” After all, broccoli is good for you. In the adult world art galleries are nearly always as silent as a tomb, unless there is free wine and cheese, and people sit quietly and clap politely after even the most rousing performances of Shakespeare or Beethoven.
It may be a cliché but art is what endures. Even though their old location is gone, these statues are still around in their new, more kid-friendly environment. I hope that if my grandson has children he will be taking them to wherever these statues end up in the future so that his kids can climb on them too.