Sam I have an important Chicago question: just north of the DuSable bridge there is a statue of what looks like Abe Lincoln excitedly taking a man in a knitted sweater on a first date. I only saw it from a bus, so didn't get either a photo or an explanation. Can you explain this phenomenon? Are Abe and Sweater Man happy???
*head in hands* FUCKING SEWARD JOHNSON
You have triggered the rage within me, so now you will ALL be treated to an outside-the-readmore screed about SEWARD GODDAMN JOHNSON.
I don’t normally attack artists because a) it scares my friends who are artists (I love you all, you are beautiful, don’t be afraid) and b) honestly most artists don’t deserve the level of vitriol I’m about to employ. I want you all to remember that the seething hatred I feel for Seward Johnson is driven in large part by class consciousness.
But not entirely. So let’s begin.
First what you have to know is that Seward Johnson is a “sculptor”. If you google “seward johnson sculpture” you’ll get an idea of his work, most of which is terrible. I feel okay calling his work terrible because he is also the scion of the family that founded
SC Johnson Johnson & Johnson (my bad), so he has all the money he needs and could step back, do his art for funsies, and let people with actual talent or two original thoughts in their heads exhibit their art, but he doesn’t, he forces his terrible art on all of us.
The reason I harbor such animosity towards Seward Johnson is that he has been exhibiting on Pioneer Plaza (that area north of the DuSable Bridge) for almost a decade now, and when I worked in the north loop I had to walk past his art every day. It was bad enough when the sculpture was American Gothic, rendered without talent or meaning into three dimensions and provided with luggage.
How very fucking dare you, you talentless hack
These things are sculpted out of what amounts basically to styrofoam painted in rubberized/weatherized paint, so they are fragile, and tourists were constantly climbing on Farmer’s shoes and falling into them when they found out it wasn’t the cheap but supple fiberglass you would expect of a tacky monstrosity more suited to a roadside motel than the business district of a major metropolitan city. (I would imagine this is why Abraham Lincoln And The Mayonnaise Sandwich has a little fence around it.)
But American Gothic Motel Attraction was mostly just annoying because it was meaningless, derivative, and CONSTANTLY covered in gawkers getting in everyone’s way.
Additionally, Seward Johnson’s sculptures on the Plaza are very popular photo spots for tourists, who carry lots of cash and are constantly distracted, which means beginning with The Assault On American Gothic it became a very popular spot for pickpockets. Which means members of our staff, who had nothing to do with this mess, got pickpocketed as collateral damage about once a week during the exhibition of….
SEWARD JOHNSON GO FUCK YOURSELF
This is a very famous image of Marilyn Monroe which is horrifying for the following reasons that Seward Johnson appears not to have understood nor cared about:
a) The day this was shot, on an open set with people leering at her all day, her husband, professional athlete and dirtbag Joe DiMaggio, found out about the filming. Rather than comfort his wife, who had been through some shit already that day, he became angry she’d been showing her panties in public and beat her so badly the neighbors called the police on him. Joe DiMaggio also go fuck yourself.
b) IT’S IN A MOVIE INFAMOUSLY SET IN NEW YORK. To quote a local newspaper, “Did Chicago lose a bet?”
c) Yes, you can look up and see her panties. While this is juvenile, it’s not nearly as juvenile as the literally thousand of photographs I angrily photobombed of some douchebro from Fuckville Middle America in a backwards baseball cap standing between her legs with his face tilted upwards and his tongue out.
Oh and btw before it was unveiled it looked like this:
For literal days, before it was installed, she had a bag over her head. (For more on this, though the pictures are now missing, you can read my reaction post here.)
In any just world, there would be a trap door between her legs and everyone who tried to do the upskirt shot would fall into a pit where they would be forced to give five dollars to women’s shelters before they were allowed to leave. THAT would have been interesting art.
Sidebar, both as contrast and because I love it: Marilyn left a few years ago and was briefly replaced by a refreshing and beautiful piece called The Watch, by Hebru Brantley. The Watch was playful and interesting and didn’t have a single upskirt. Hebru Brantley is a wonderful artist in his own right, but he was also a welcome breath of fresh air after Johnson’s mediocre tribute to sexual assault.
The Watch was a temporary installation, however, and eventually along came Abraham Lincoln Approves Of White Men.
It is an unfortunate coincidence that Confused Closeted Republican there is wearing khakis and a white shirt, the new uniform of the alt right, and it’s also coincidence that this is facing Trump Tower, but it’s not exactly helping Seward Johnson’s cause that he chose the blandest outfit possible for Paean To Confused White Bread. The sculpture is meant to be Lincoln, the darling of Illinois, welcoming a visitor to our fair city, but it sure does look like fresh meat is about to get a free trip to Boys Town with the Sixteenth President of the United States.
This is what I mean when I say Seward Johnson lacks not only skill but also understanding: he clearly didn’t know that Lincoln’s sexuality is under enough debate to have its own wikipedia page, and he either didn’t know or didn’t care that Marilyn Monroe was nearly killed by her husband for shooting that scene. All he cares about is image and he’s bad at reproducing image. That is not a well-executed rendering of how human beings are, and dynamically speaking it’s boring. If he were good at visuals or if he had something meaningful to say I would be less angry, but he is mediocre at best and the statements his sculptures make are banal pap if they make any at all.
But he is rich, and I guess either he likes Chicago or he’s got blackmail on Sam Zell, owner of Pioneer Plaza, so he gets to spatter his hideous, meaningless masturbation in my city. And lest you think Seward Johnson got here on his own merits, Forever Marilyn, now on tour from coast to coast, is owned by The Sculpture Foundation, which is heavily subsidized by Seward Johnson. He basically founded a nonprofit to ensure his work gets toured around and publicized and to ensure that if no museum wants it, it has a place to go to die (Palm Springs, CA).
In short, I hope Abe and Sweater Man are happy, because at least then something good has come out of Seward Johnson’s astounding mediocrity. That said, if you are passing his latest work, spit on it for me. As performance art.