Recession be damned, I bought some art. A vision of my city I had to own.

May 22, 2009

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Next stop, my living room.

I’d been admiring Joseph Spangler’s work for many years, after happening upon a show at Sternberg Galleries in the Drake Hotel. Then I was smitten but reluctant to pay Michigan Avenue prices. Why I did so now, during an economic crisis, I’ve no idea. Once again, I’d found myself perusing the artist’s online gallery. Many times I’d flirted there before. In a way, the site had become like an escort service, tempting me into fantasy. Today my obsession got the better of me.

While Spangler lived in Chicago he painted Chicago, capturing my city like few do, with expressionism and realism, which happens to be the way I see it, and have seen it, since childhood.

Despite Mayor Daley’s amazing efforts at beautification –the flowers and trees, Millennium Park, and more- it’s still the City of Big Shoulders: raw and red-bricked, of bungalows and squat police stations. The “El” trains rattle over and under it like so many metallic snakes. The Chicago River has actual fish in it now (a miracle) but it’s still the same artery that once caught fire from pollution. On St. Patrick’s Day they die it puke green.

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These are the colors of Chicago. And of Spangler’s palette.

Besides the artist’s fascination with cityscapes, their light and color, and public transportation he also had an uncanny way of isolating people within these desolate landscapes. Like Hopper, the artist captured people in repose; they are inured by their bleak surroundings, not threatened but not happy, alone but not lonely.

I know this sounds like art-school rambling; it is. But that’s the reason for art, isn’t it? So that we can get lost in it, seeing our world and ourselves in our own particular way. The artist “gets it” we rejoice, often privately, and therefore gets us.

Buying art has always seemed reckless to me, during boon or bust. I’ve never understood the exorbitant prices a canvas of oil commands. Subsequently, the many paintings in my “collection” were found in junk stores and flea markets. They are turn-of-the-century still-lives done by bored Victorian housewives and lesser students. I call them junk masterpieces. Very few, if any, have a pedigree. What they do have is a story and deep meaning. At once random and wonderful, they will now welcome a couple heavyweights into their midst, at least by my standards. I think we are ready.

3 Responses to “Recession be damned, I bought some art. A vision of my city I had to own.”

  1. The international art market is slipping due to the recession, but not nearly as much as some would expect. And it was bigger than ever before the recent crash.

    I’ve been reading about it online, and it seems that more folks are realizing that a noteworthy piece of art they resonate with has rewards on the balance sheet, and beyond. Sounds good to me.

  2. minigipson said

    Check out Mary Phelan’s urbanscapes (she was also born & raised in Chicago): http://maryphelanart.com/

    She was my life drawing instructor in college.

    -Jo

  3. Todd Piotrowski said

    Well done Steffan, my wife, Kathleen, and I have been collecting art together since just before we got married. We’ve gotten most of our pieces while on trips. It’s a great way to savor the memory of a place long after you leave. It always feels a bit reckless when we make a purchase, especially when it doubles the cost of a vacation. But we’ve never regretted a purchase. And as we walk through our apartment, we’re consistently reminded our travels around the globe. It’s makes being at home feel like a vacation. Nothings sweeter than that.

    Congratulations on the artwork. Enjoy.

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