Artists Play With Disney

Some fine art to go with that hot dog? The ESPN Zone, a 35,000-square-foot dining and entertainment complex at Wabash and Ohio, will offer interactive video games, a screening room for sports programs, and a restaurant decorated to look like the cable channel’s studio. But it will also display the sports-themed work of more than 20 local artists. “I think they were interested in getting real artists to do good, honest, quality artwork,” says Stephanie Roberts, who painted a 40-foot mural depicting 100 years of Chicago sports for the restaurant. Disney Regional Entertainment, which is building the complex, hired New York curator Steven Diamond to scour Chicago for local talent; Diamond browsed Web sites and visited galleries looking for visions that might somehow complement the complex’s kinetic worldview. “Overall, it’s a pretty media-invasive environment that creates a real sensory barrage,” he admits. Roberts found out what she was up against last week, when she arrived at the complex to hang her mural: instead of attending to the task at hand, she kept finding herself transfixed by the room’s video monitors.

Steven MacGowan, who created a wooden bas-relief of the view from the late Harry Caray’s broadcast booth at Wrigley Field, was reluctant to sign on at first. “Steve was afraid he would have his hands tied, working for Disney,” explains Michael Wier, who represents MacGowan. And MacGowan himself says, “It’s different than what I would have thought for an art environment.” But once he visited the broadcast booth, MacGowan was sold on the idea. “The view beyond the scoreboard to the city skyline from that vantage point was incredible.”

Chris Peldo had fewer reservations than MacGowan. Much of his art uses advertising logos to comment on our fascination with commercial art; when Diamond saw a piece of Peldo’s “garbage art” at the David Leonardis Gallery, he decided it was the perfect medium for addressing basketball legend (and marketing megastar) Michael Jordan. Any literal rendering was out of the question, he explains, because of trademark protection. “Even Jordan’s silhouette is copyrighted.” But with the help of staffers at the ESPN Zone, Peldo collected more than 300 Jordan-related items, including cologne, golf clubs, a whiffle ball set, and a box of cornflakes from Germany. They’ll be arranged in a clear, round plexiglass frame measuring five feet in diameter and hung in one of the screening room’s VIP “skyboxes.” The ESPN Zone opens July 10.

The Writing on the Cow

Last week, as reported in this column, artist Charles Fambro ran afoul of the Department of Cultural Affairs when he created a spray-painted, graffiti-inspired cow for the city’s “Cows on Parade” exhibit. Mike Lash, director of the public-art program at Cultural Affairs, notified Fambro that if he didn’t repaint his cow it would be expelled from the show. But now we’ve learned that Lash has no problem with the gang symbols covering a cow that was painted by high-profile artist Ed Paschke. “The cow Ed delivered was what we agreed to in his proposal,” says Lash. “He has been using this kind of imagery in his work for a long time.” Paschke was coy when asked about the gang symbols, saying only that his cow was “a celebration of the Bulls victory and street life in Chicago.” The cow’s head and tail are painted in the same red as the Bulls’ uniforms, and its markings include gang symbols for the Vice Lords, Latin Kings, and Gangster Disciples.

Lash concedes that Paschke’s cow might upset some people: “It might spark an inappropriate response from somebody who sees a gang symbol contrary to theirs.” Cultural Affairs plans to display the Paschke cow in the State Street Bridge Gallery, located at State and Wacker in one of the old bridge houses; there it will be protected by a glass wall and watched over by the gallery’s docents. By definition, a public-art program should be accessible to the people, but arts patron Averill Levitan paid $11,000 to sponsor Paschke’s cow. Lash says that the city is trying to protect the high-end cows as much as possible but that other sponsors might display their pieces in building lobbies instead of on the street.

Pocket Change

Last week the faculty at Northwestern University’s graduate school of management met for the first time since the story broke that Oprah Winfrey would teach a leadership course there next fall with her beau, marketing executive Stedman Graham. According to a source at the meeting, dean Donald Jacobs and assistant dean Rich Honack regaled the group with news of how much publicity Winfrey’s appointment had generated: the story reportedly reached at least 60 countries, and both the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal are vying for exclusive access to the first class session. Meanwhile, a faculty source says the multimillionaire talk show host will be paid $7,000, scale for adjunct professors. Initially Winfrey’s contract didn’t even specify a dollar amount. Says the source, “It was perceived as something of a joke to even talk about it.”

Getting Out of No Exit

No Exit Cafe, the 40-year-old coffeehouse that’s hosted folk-music sets by Steve Goodman, Bob Gibson, and Christy Moore, will close its doors in Rogers Park at the end of the month. “I’m just burnt out,” admits Brian Kozin, the self-described “aging hippie” who’s owned and operated No Exit with his wife and daughter for most of the last 22 years. A year ago Kozin tried to sell the 2,100-square-foot space at 6970 N. Glenwood, accepting two months’ rent as a down payment, but the new owners bailed out after little more than a month. Few patrons seem willing to pay a $5 cover for the cafe’s poetry readings or jazz and folk performances. “Folk music is absolutely dead in this town,” says Kozin. He says he might turn the No Exit space into a used furniture shop, or he and his wife might lease the building, buy a mobile home, and go on the road.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Eugene Zakusilo.