A Discussion of Art in a Specific Public Place

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One must first understand the community of Berwyn, Illinois, to understand the controversy that started in 1980 centering on the construction of the first piece of sculpture erected at the Cermak Plaza.

The Cermak Plaza Shopping Center is located in Berwyn, Illinois, a near-west suburb of Chicago. The shopping center was built during the 1950's when shopping malls were just starting to pop up in various communities, allowing residents to consolidate their shopping needs by providing easy access to customers with automobiles. The city of Berwyn consists mainly of hard-working, middle-class, mostly blue-collar families, and is admittedly and unabashadly conservative in its viewpoints. But though it has seen waves of various immigrants move into its tree-lined streets of small brick bungalows, it has remained a relatively stable, safe place to live. When the Cermak Plaza was first built in the 1950's, the community consisted mainly of Czech and Bohemian families. In the 1960s, a wave of Italian residents uprooted from the Taylor Street area of Chicago because of the building of the University of Illinois at Chicago (formerly Chicago Circle Campus) moved into the area. More recently, members of the Hispanic community have made Berwyn their home

David Bermant, the owner of the Cermak Plaza as well as 20 other shopping centers across the country, and president of the National Shopping Centers Management Corporation, is a patron of the arts. He has embarked on purchasing modern sculpture as an investment for his homes as well as placing pieces he has purchased in a few of his shopping centers. In 1980, Mr. Bermant commissioned Nancy Rubins to construct the work Big Bil-Bored for the price of $25,000. The piece was a three-story, 60-ton porkchop-shaped sculpture composed of hundreds of pieces of castoff materials from everyday life, including appliances and car wheels, constructed on-site along Harlem Avenue.

Almost immediately after the sculpture was erected, the citizens of Berwyn were demanding that the sculpture be torn down. But because the land is privately owned, the citizens were unable to force Mr. Bermant to tear down the sculpture. (A more complete discussion of the controversy can be read in the Big Bil-Bored document.) However, it is now gone and can only be remembered in photographs.

Big Bil-Bored was not the only sculpture in the Cermak Plaza to raise controversy, however. In 1989, David Bermant commissioned Dustin Shuler of Los Angeles to design Spindle a $75,000 project consisting of 9 gutted automobiles stacked as if skewered on a large vertical spike. Once again the citizens wanted the piece taken down. Luckily, so far, art has won out over conservativism.

But Big Bil-Bored and Spindle were only two sculptures to grace the Cermak Plaza Shopping Center. Most of the sculptures there are relatively small and uncontroversial. They have gone relatively unnoticed and unheralded for years, except for a few children who love watching the Rube Goldberg-like action of the Good Time Clock or the sunlight glisten off of the rotating torso of mirrors called The Embrace. Most of the time, however, the works are just ignored by the good citizens who run past the Pinto Pelt to get their prescriptions at Walgreens.

This is an attempt to document these sculptures and give the artists, as well as David Bermant, some recognition and thanks for their attempts to enrich this middle-class community with modern art and ideas.

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