The East Bank Club is an empty hulk on a Sunday night in October. A security guard sits alone on the first floor of the fivelevel, two-block-long fitness emporium across the street from the Merchandise Mart.
Upstairs the managing partner of the club, Daniel Levin, kisses the cheek of Peter Hurley, the creator of a huge new mural on the wall of the “cardiovascular room.” Hurley throws an arm around Levin, who commissioned the work, and the two gaze at the mural, which will be officially unveiled in a few days.
At go feet wide and 14 felt high, it’s one of the biggest murals in Chicago. Hurley, with the assistance of Scott Bullock, spent two years painting the impressionist work, which is titled Lakefront Afternoon. It portrays Chicago’s lakefront over four seasons–beach and park and skyline populated by a hundred or more people walking, swimming, jogging, stretching.
“I chose, the people in it like a director casting a film,” Hurley says.
I ask him if it portrays any beach in particular.
“No,” he says. “It’s a panoramic composite.”
“It is beautiful,” Levin declares, his eyes misting a little.
“Looks like a north-side beach,” I say.
Bullock points out a sand castle on the left side of the mural. “It’s the Water Tower,” he says, grinning.
Kiki Melonides, a publicist, comes over to me. “That comment you made about it being a north-side beach,” she says, sounding concerned. “I think if you look a little more closely you’ll see that there are plenty of people of color in the picture.” She points to the right side of the mural. “See? There–there’s an Asian couple.”
I squint. “Oh yeah, there they are,” I say. But I don’t see them. All I see is a sea of beige and one or two darker shapes.
“If you go down to the floor and look from angle,” she says, “you’ll notice more of the shadings of the piece.”
Levin pulls me aside and says, his voice sad, “I know that race is a sensitive issue–and rightly so. But in this instance it’s not important to the work.”
“I agree,” I say.
Levin scans the mural, and his eyes seem to mist a little again. “This is a gift to the people who use the club,” he declares.
“It’s lovely,” I say.
He excuses himself. He has business to attend to. He hugs Hurley, pats Bullock on the back, and walks off.
I say I have to leave too. I shake hands with Melonides and Bullock. Hurley shakes my hand but doesn’t look at me. As I start to walk away, Melonides says, “There’s two persons of color by the tree.”