Art is Larger Than Life at Navy Pier

Lincoln Schatz didn’t get much sleep during the early morning hours Monday. About every 30 minutes, he would wake up and look out the window to check on “Fifi,” who was resting atop a flat bed truck outside his Lake View home.

“Fifi,” a 3,800-pound, 16-by-23-foot stainless-steel sculpture that looks more like a child’s back-yard playset than a seductively named woman, could fetch a pretty price were she sold as scrap metal, Schatz explained, as he assembled her several hours later at Navy Pier. Now safely ensconced in her spot just south of the Chicago Children’s Museum, “Fifi” and dozens more artworks officially go on display Wednesday through Oct. 22 as part of the fourth annual Pier Walk.

Chicago’s First Lady Maggie Daley, Sears Roebuck & Co. CEO Arthur Martinez and members of the Illinois Arts Council will preside over Wednesday’s 5:30 p.m. ribbon-cutting ceremony, a testament to the prestige the Pier Walk has earned since its 1995 debut. That inaugural effort was a weeklong display that featured three pieces of sculpture.

Event organizers Terrence Karpowicz and Michael Dunbar, both Chicago sculptors, say the dimensions have grown considerably since then. They estimate the 175 installations dotting Navy Pier’s periphery make the 1998 show one of the world’s largest sculpture exhibitions.

As the event’s exposure has increased, so has competition among artists whose work will be seen by the anticipated 6 million people expected to visit Navy Pier at the height of the tourist season.

Several snafus had prevented Dessa Kirk from participating in Pier Walk ’97, so she was thrilled when she heard her “Red Lily” had been chosen for this year’s show. As Kirk guided the crane operator lowering her work to its small slice of exhibit space ground, she exercised the care and precision usually reserved for handling fine china. Kirk, however, found the source to make “Red Lily” at her favorite auto junkyard.

“Cadillacs, old Cadillacs,” said Kirk. “I thought they were ugly, so I decided to destroy them and make something beautiful. And the guys there know me, so I get a good deal.” “Red Lily’s” make and model is a 1982 Cadillac Coupe de Ville she has transformed into a kind of wildly erupting rose. Kirk estimates she could get about $9,000 if it sold at full price.

“Red Lily” was still at the junkyard last September, when all potential participants were required by the judging panel to submit applications.
Those qualifying for the second round were then asked to turn in small-scale, three-dimensional versions of their work, some of which have an actual height of nearly 35 feet. The four-month process finally came to an end when entrants learned of their selection in January.

By the final stages of setup Monday, the atmosphere was more collaborative than competitive. Gene Flores, a second-year Pier Walk participant, helped ensure no harm came to a 10-foot stainless-steel shiny psychedelic bell dangling inches from its final perch. Even though the work belonged to another artist, Flores said he was happy to help out.

“Everyone here seems really friendly. You don’t see too much jockeying for position,” Flores said from under his hardhat, a decidedly unartistic but essential accessory when unloading a 2-ton sculpture. “Because it’s a fairly new show, it’s not like something you might see in Europe, where everyone just acts bored.”

First-time participant Brian Sauve spent months attaching together the zigzag of small wooden canoes that are the center of his “B.B.B.” work, then was pleasantly surprised to learn it would be displayed in a prime spot at the gateway to Navy Pier. Standing a dozen yards away is “Mother Teresa,” a three-story representation of the late nun, by Mark diSuvero, a renowned Chicago artist who was specifically invited to participate.

As for “Fifi,” Schatz and assistant Stephen Szoradi were still evaluating her placement next to Lake Michigan on Monday morning. As they inserted 196 reflecting pins into special slots, Schatz said, “She’s made to catch the light, but first we have to get her clothes on.”

By Sarah Downey, Tribune Staff Writer

Chicago Tribune | May 05, 1998

© 1998 by The Tribune Company