If you’re ever seen these, you’ll probably remember them:
They’re a pretty sizable installation in the southwest corner of Grant Park – near Michigan and Roosevelt, a few steps away from the Museum Campus Metra Electric stop, and a little longer walk from the Field Museum and Soldier Field.
The question I’ve always had about these statues is – are they meant to somehow make fun of the people walking by them? Like we’re just so many mindless commuters? And if so, why did the city possibly give it the thumbs-up? At the same time though, it’s pretty effective for that same reason: it’s a surprisingly confrontational work of art to place in such an expansive public space.
The dedicatory plaque is the best clue for investigation:
AGORA by Magdelena Abakanowicz/108 cast iron figures created in Poland/at the Srem Foundry, 2003-2008/Assistants to the Artist:/Anna Goebel/Tomasz Piatowski/Stefania Sgouka/Engineering: Jan Kosmowski/Consulting: Artur Starewicz”
The Wikipedia article cites two different interpretations. The first is Abakanowicz’s own:
Abakanowicz, who grew up during World War II, has said that her art draws on her fear of crowds, which she once described as “brainless organisms acting on command, worshiping on command and hating on command”.
The second, from that venerable institution of serious art criticism, the Chicago Sun-Times (unclear if this was Sun-Times original work or a reprinted AP story wedged between car ads):
Kevin Nance of the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “If they had arms and hands (they don’t), these would be clasped behind their backs as if in contemplation. They seem, somehow, to be thinking, not as a group but as individuals. […] It’s possible, in fact, to interpret the piece as a representation of democracy.”
I’m gonna go with the artist here (though not because artists are ever more trustworthy about their intentions). Really it’s just because this second seems entirely forced, the product of an inane (but very familiar) Chicago boosterism.
I think if we could see their hands and heads, they’d be using their phones (which further explains why they look like they’re all about to run into each other) – again, much more in line with Abakanowicz’s reading than Nance’s.
Wikipedia also cites a Chicago parks official thusly:
I get e-mails from people loving it and people hating it. There’s nothing in between.
As for the artist herself: Magdelena Abakanowicz is a well-renown sculptor and art professor who currently lives in Warsaw. A quick perusal or her wikipedia page shows her other works are similar in scope and in theme.
This is a decent place to read, because there are two perpendicular rows of benches, one by the sidewalk along Roosevelt, facing north, away from the road, and another facing west, to the west of the sculptures:
Here’s the view from some distance, as I walked away to the north through the park (the bridge to the train station is immediately behind me):