Big Bil-Bored

by Nancy Rubins, 1980

Big Bil-Bored created quite a controversy when it was first installed in 1980. It was the first sculpture purchased for the Cermak Plaza Shopping Center by the Plaza's owner, David Bermant. Even before the piece was completed on site by the artist, Nancy Rubins, an article by Ken Manson in the November 21, 1980, issue of the local paper, The Berwyn/Cicero Life, attempted to speak to both sides of the issue.

However, by early December of the same year, Judy Baar Topinka, then Republican state representative-elect of the 7th District, stated in an article in the same paper that she had received a number of complaints from "concerned Berwynites" and indicated that she was in full agreement with them. "I have to reflect the unhappiness of the many Berwynites who have called my office asking if there were anything they could do to have this alleged sculpture removed," she was quoted as saying. She indicated that she intended to collect the protests and forward them to David Bermant who had commissioned the sculpture from "a relatively unknown artist for about $25,000".

Mrs. Topinka was additionally quoted as saying, "I, like others, watched this thing going up in disbelief. I cannot believe that in a time of economic crunch, when merchants everywhere are trying to enhance business, that this pile of trash can be conducive to good retail economics. Surely the $25,000, which was invested in artistic rubbish heap could have been put to better use in beautifying Cermak Plaza -- providing benches, shrubbery, fountains, or whatever other shopping centers use to attract customers. If nothing else, there were Christmas decorations to be considered.

"Is this the image that Berwyn wants to present to the world, a portal on a major thoroughfare? Instead of rejuvenation, revitalization, beautification and progress, the message that is being sent is that we're riding high on the scrap heap. It is, at best, the worst public relations move I have ever seen put forth."

However, since the Cermak Plaza Shopping Center was (and remains) private property, and because David Bermant felt strongly about his artistic judgement, the sculpture remained in place. For ten years, the controversy would come and go. In March of 1990, an advisory referendum held in Berwyn resulted in 1,662 people voting to keep the sculpture, while 6,379 voted to junk it. But being only an advisory referendum, David Bermant was not obligated to tear down the sculpture. Even the Chicago Tribune ran a negative article by Eric Zorn on September 18, 1990.

Because Mr. Bermant held that not enough citizens of Berwyn (only 20% of Berwyn voters) voted in the advisory referendum, he hired the Gallup Organization to poll customers at the Plaza as to whether or not they wanted to see the sculpture torn down. The results of that poll indicated that although less than half (47.4%) interviewed voted to keep the sculpture, a smaller percentage (46.5%) opted for getting rid of it with the rest undecided. "The poll was very intensive, taken over four days, and was a fair sampling of my customers who come from the entire area," Bermant was quoted as saying. "Berwyn is just a small percentage of my customers." So the sculpture stayed.

There was an honest concern, however, that the rusting of the metal components in the sculpture was making the sculpture unstable. In 1993 the sculpture was torn down and in its place now stands Tempus Fugit.