The Reader‘s archive is vast and varied, going back to 1971. Every day in Archive Dive, we’ll dig through and bring up some finds.
Earlier this month, the Chicago Cultural Center launched an exhibition of 36 panels of a 480-foot mural painted in Grant Park in May, 1989, by Keith Haring and 500 Chicago Public Schools students. The panels had previously hung in Midway Airport, in the walkway between the terminal and the parking garage. They comprise less than a third of the original mural. The rest of it remains scattered piecemeal in public schools across the city.
In 2015, the Reader‘s Gwynedd Stuart happened to spot one of the panels and became curious about what had become of the rest of the mural. Her investigation led her to Irving Zucker, the now-retired teacher who had met Haring at a dinner party in New York and arranged for the artist to come to Chicago and spend a week painting a mural with the kids. It was, by all accounts—including a contemporary one in the Reader by Achy Obejas—a joyous experience for everyone involved. The mural spent a couple of months on display in Grant Park. It was intended to be used as the barrier for a construction project in River North, but the project ran out of funding. The mural went into storage. Or at least that’s what Zucker thought. But after Stuart approached him and he began to look into the matter, he found out something else:
According to an e-mail Zucker received from an official in CPS’s Department of Arts Education in March, only 11 of the mural’s 61 eight-foot-by-eight-foot sections could be accounted for, not including the Midway portion. The official was apologetic, but said CPS couldn’t be held responsible for the rest. It wasn’t until the Reader submitted a Freedom of Information Act request seeking CPS records and internal communications regarding the Haring work that more of the mural materialized. The day before we went to press, CPS media relations chief Bill McCaffrey reported that, after several weeks of information gathering, he was able to locate 54 of the mural sections plus one eight-foot-by-four-foot panel—though he could not provide records that confirm their whereabouts. The remainder of the mural, as far as CPS can say, is gone.
Murals of this size created by Haring’s hand alone could go for $3 million per section, Cortez says. “It’s kind of priceless. It’s rare,” says Gruen, who adds that appraising collaborative works of this sort is tricky.
For Zucker, news of the missing mural parts resonates on a more personal level. “I devoted two years of my life to this,” he says. “It’s very disturbing for me.”
The Haring is not the only priceless work of art to have disappeared into the bowels of CPS buildings. During a system-wide excavation in 1996, art experts found an E. Martin Hennings painting and original sketches by Salvador Dalí. One of them was marred by a shoe print.