TheMART Becomes a Multi-Story Canvas for Artists t...

TheMART Becomes a Multi-Story Canvas for Artists to Showcase Their Work

TheMART (the building known to most by its prior name, The Merchandise Mart) has become the backdrop for Chicago artists to make a huge splash on the façade of the 25-story building.

Art on theMARTis a video installation that consists of vibrant colors and moving pictures on the side of theMART. Viewers can best enjoy the show on the Chicago Riverwalk on Wacker Drive, between Wells and Orleans streets. 

Art on theMARTofficially began in September 2018. The program runs for five days of the week, from Wednesday to Sunday, starting 30 minutes after sundown. This five to seven-day weekly programming is seasonal, and the current projection schedule lasts until the end of the year. New projections are shown each season, so the projections that were in the Summer program are different than the ones during the Fall program.

Currently, the program features different projections by various artists. Viewers enjoy the sight of bright flowers in bright vases against blue and purple backgrounds, designed by Petra Cortright, as they are plastered on theMART by 34 state-of-the-art projectors. Over the summer, viewers watched the playful performance piece “Limelight Parade,” that joins the people on the building with the people watching.

Cortright, a digital artist who attended the California College of the Arts, creates her paintings of these bright flowers in vases digitally, using Adobe Photoshop.

Cortright explained that using Photoshop allows her to “execute ideas quicker” and she doesn’t have to wait for the paint to dry. Photoshop also allows her to undo her mistakes easier and if she does something good, she said she “can copy it one thousand billion times.”

(Chinyere Ibeh, 14 East)

The main subject of her paintings were the flowers in her kitchen. In order to make the videos of her kitchen flowers, she filmed the flowers against different colored backdrops using a webcam from 2009. Due to the fact that webcams are low-resolution, Cortright had to “upscale them in Adobe After Effects to accommodate the high-tech projector array.” 

Julia Rhoads, the creative founder of Lucky Plush Productions and a choreographer, also had her work featured on Art on theMART with the performance pieceLimelight Parade from June 9 through September 20. She received her bachelor’s in History at Northwestern University and her master’s in Performance from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.  

In order to create Limelight Parade,” she had to test many processes. One was doing a few video shoots. A tricky part of choreographing for this type of display was the noises and colors. The team had to be strategic about how they captured the sequence.

“In the city, there’s so much coming out of the buildings and all around you, that there was a lot of testing to see what can achieve the most contrast, so that when projected that large scale…it’s legible,” said Rhoads.

Rhoads described “Limelight Parade” as something without a specific narrative. She said that the performers had a “subjective experience” as they looked out into the city and sense what’s around them.

The performance as a whole was separated into different parts. The first sequence of the performance includes the interactivity of the performers and the architecture of theMART. For example, the projection pushed the performers into a smaller space and sent them up the center tower.

The next part of “Limelight Parade” features what Rhoads described as the “dreamscape.” The projection was against a black background and dealt with the inner-dialogue of the performers. 

Rhoads explained that the footage was given a “heightened colorized treatment” which resulted in the “dreamscape-y” look into the inner space of the people.

“The piece speaks to the interaction of real people who are in a community together…and they are navigating shared space,” Rhoads said.

Her collaboration with John Musial, a theatermaker and filmmaker, made the process easier as they had worked on about three to four projects together in the last 15 years. Due to their working history, Rhoads said they know each other’s aesthetics and purposes.

Musial has worked with theater companies such as Chicago Children’s Theater, About Face Theatre, and American Theatre Company. He has also been nominated for a Regional Theatre Tony Award for editing and directing “Nelson Algren For Keeps and a Single Day” for television; he had been responsible for the projection design of the same theater production. 

Both Cortright and Rhoads understand the importance of art in Chicago in different ways. For Rhoads, the sharing of art and culture is the place where “we can genuinely provoke questions and curiosities.” Rhoads also described how art can move into beautiful and heightened abstract places.

For Cortright, she said she believes that “access to contemporary art for the public that can be passively viewed and not necessarily locked away in an institution is a nice thing.”

(Chinyere Ibeh, 14 East)

As Rhoads and Cortright described their process to prepare their art for the show, Cynthia Noble, the executive director of “Art on theMART,” explained how the show itself comes together.

Noble oversees all aspects of projection creation, which includes working with the Curatorial Advisory Board on artist selection, assisting selected artists with content development, collaborating with technology experts, and ensuring all projections translate onto the unique platform.

As the show’s projection programs rotate seasonally, there are more opportunities to engage new artists throughout the year. Artists are selected to feature their art through a process guided by the input of the Curatorial Advisory Board. 

The board is comprised of six leaders in Chicago’s arts community, including Cynthia Noble. Robyn Farrell is the assistant curator in the Department of Contemporary and Modern Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Tony Karman is the sitting director of EXPO Chicago, the International Exposition of Contemporary and Modern Art at the Navy Pier. Lydia Ross is the director of Public Art at the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events.Amanda Williams is a visual artist and trained architect from Cornell University. The last of the board, Edra Soto, is an interdisciplinary artist, educator, curator, and co-director of the outdoor project space THE FRANKLIN

“‘Art on theMART’ has a 30-year agreement with the City of Chicago, making the program the largest and longest-running digital art projection program in the world,” said Noble.

In order to pay for such a huge display, Vornado Realty Trust, the owner of theMART, makes an investment of capital along with operations and content. According to Noble, the company sees the show as a gift to the City of Chicago. 

While “Art on theMART” works with the city, it doesn’t cost taxpayers a penny. The artists still get paid, either by theMART itself or other private sources, according to Noble. 

Noble said this year’s programming focused on theater.

“‘Art on theMART’ partnered with the Year of Chicago Theatre for its spring and summer programming in 2019, which sought to explore how artists working across disciplines and mediums could engage with the unique façade of theMART.”

Noble said that “Art on theMART” has “become an integral destination within the city’s urban landscape” since its September 2018 inception as the city’s latest large-scale public art installation.

If you want to see the larger-than-life display of art, visit the “Art on theMART” website for dates and times.

Header Image by Chinyere Ibeh, 14 East