Berwyn: Art Mecca

I grew up a block away from Berwyn, a lower-middle class, blue-collar suburb bordering the West side of Chicago which was populated largely by Eastern European immigrants. Not the sort of place where you'd find much of an art community. The nearest shopping center was Cermak Plaza, which contained no-frills practical stores like Sears, Woolworth's and Service Merchandise. The most esoteric retailer was the hobby shop where I'd go to buy model rocket kits and Dungeons and Dragons modules.

So it was quite a shock to see this ugly heap of concrete and trash erected in 1980:

This atrocious Nazi hate-crime tainted my childhood. It's so hideous, I couldn't even find a color photo on the internet. Sitting right alongside Harlem avenue (a major thoroughfare), but just inside the parking lot, the sculpture was named "Big Bil-Bored", making the title just as stupid and arbitrary as the object itself.

Right away, Berwyn residents started complaining. But there was little they could do; Cermak Plaza was privately owned by David Bermant, who paid $25,000 for the unsightly behemoth. Its creator, Nancy Rubins (she's gone on to do some okay work; she has a piece permanently installed in the courtyard of the Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art) specifically said it could never be moved.

Bermant felt he had a winner on his hands, and ignored all the protests. Even ten years later, local politicians were trying to get it torn down. In 1990, a referendum was held to check on public opinion. 6,379 over 1,662 were in favor of trashing the trash-heap. But Bermant said that only 20% of Berwyn was represented. And besides, non-Berwyn residents visited the shopping center as well.

Finally, mercifully, Big Bil-Bored was torn down in 1993 for safety reasons. There were concerns that the metal in the sculpture (consumer items like fans and bicycles) would rust away and compromise the structural integrity.

But I always appreciated Cermak Plaza, because Bermant followed up "Big Bil-Bored" with loads of other sculptures, scattered throughout the parking lot. Just outside the Woolworth's was a clock by George Rhodes similar to this one:

Then there was this Burning Man-ish interactive sculpture that you could play with included mallets:

And of course, "Spindle" by by Dustin Shuler (we just called it the "Car-Kebab"):

If you do a Google image search of just the word "Berwyn", most of your results will be pictures of this thing. Therefore, the Car-Kebab IS Berwyn.

Or I should say "was". It was torn down a couple years ago to make way for a Walgreen's:

I don't respect the decision, but I'm very thankful for Cermak Plaza. They took a parking lot in a rundown neighborhood, and used it to give something back to the community, albeit in an eccentric, impractical way. And it's privately funded, as all art should be.

Thanks to this site for some of the pictures and info.

1 comment:

stexe said...

I just took a look at some of the comments for that last youtube video I embedded, of the Car-Kebab getting demolished:

"Seeing the way Berwyn is headed, I'm sure the walgreens will get destroyed some day. Its a shame whats happening to the near western suburbs....."

"to me the spindle was a reminder of the Berwyn i knew before it was swarmed and ruined by mexicans."

"Man, even if i am from cicero its was sad to see that local landmark being torn down. the fall of the spindale was the people of berwyn's 911 and the terrorist was walgreens. I plan to breed lots of mice and roaches release them in that walgreens so they shut the store down. whos with me?"

"why don't berwyn act so swiftly on getting rid of the problem with all the ghetto trash and shit that pan handle and sell drugs at that spot?"

And I'd like to add this here: I don't miss living in Chicago.