Chicago Needs a Living Daumier, Cont'd

This week we have been discussing Honoré Daumier‘s art, which incorporated his satire of Parisian politics and society.  Given the state of Chicago and Illinois politics, I think this is the perfect time for Chicago’s artists to take up Daumier’s mantle and mock, to provoke recognition and change.  Even better, it seems that many artists are already following in Daumier’s footsteps and making light of a government so inept and corrupt it seems to belong in the 19th century. I’d been wanting to see more satire and caricature of Illinois politicians probably right around the time Blagojevich got impeached.  With rising taxes on everything, from candy to a meal downtown, to increasing fees, the parking meter debacle, to impeached and indicted politicians, it became clear to me that the spirit of satire must return to Chicago and with a vengeance.

This feeling crystallized one day as I walked past the case of Daumier sculpture (images seen in the slideshow above), on view at the Art Institute of Chicago (where I work part-time).  Blagojevich had just been ignominiously impeached shortly after the victory of Obama.   As I walked past the rows of bronzes I thought that perhaps a Daumier analogue to Blago could be found, Blago is funny-looking enough.  And sure enough after a short time looking and considering candidates it seemed that Daumier did indeed create a Blago-like bust, right down to the hair, the nose, and the detestable shrug.  The comparison can be seen above in the slideshow, along with the rest of the images related to this post.

But it wasn’t enough to have a merely coincidental caricature of Blagojevich, even if it was serendipitously provided by Daumier.  To really get at the moldy heart of Illinois politics would take someone living.

Last month I was delighted to see the March 11th issue of the Chicago Reader with a cover featuring Paul John Higgins’ portrait of Mayor Daley as an emphatically frowning double of Louis XVI of France, accompanied by Mick Dumke’s article calling for the ouster of Daley with the headline “Time for a Revolution.”  Check the slideshow for the images.

Higgins’ image is styled after a 1786 portrait by Antoine-François Callet. Mr. Higgins was also nice enough to send me over an alternate cover, that they didn’t publish, which quotes another Callet portrait of Louis XVI, this time from 1788.  The selection of Louis XVI as a stand-in for Daley is interesting: at that time France was burdened with heavy debt and citizen unrest as people were dissatisfied with the monarchy and the Ancient Regime.  Those recalling their history classes will remember that Louis XVI was married to Marie-Antoinette and neither of them were very popular.  Rising public dissatisfaction with the monarchy coupled with falling standards of living (sound familiar?), built to a revolutionary atmosphere.  Eventually both Louis and Marie-Antoinette lost their heads to the guillotine and the French Revolution began.

While it goes without saying that the Reader article was not endorsing violence of any kind, the article did detail the widespread dissatisfaction with the Mayor and his regime that somewhat mirrors 18th century France.  Key in the evidence Dumke lists is the parking meter disaster, whereby the Mayor sold the rights to the Chicago’s parking meters for 75 years for a low-ball price without any real debate, let alone a city-wide vote.  We all know the rest of the story, the broke meters, carrying rolls of quarters to pay and squandered cash, as Dumke notes, most of the over a billion dollars that the city received in the deal will be spent by the end of next year and ultimately the meter itself could have been worth $5 billion. 

Personally, I was dissatisfied with Mayor Daley long before the meter deal went down, but if that’s what it takes to get everyone riled up, fine.  I would have thought that the raising taxes in Chicago would be more irritating, whether its your property taxes, sales tax (highest in the nation) or the taxes you get hit with when you want to do something fun, like eat out downtown or have a beer.  Then there’s the CTA.  Fares have risen from $1.75 (if you had the CTA Plus card) to $2.25 plus $.25 for transfer.  When I visited New York City last year they the MTA’s fare was $2 (though it has also risen to $2.25).

Of course the thing with taxes and the CTA is that you can’t pin it on Daley.  Todd Stroger was the one who pushed for the sales tax, and in doing so, pushed himself out of office.  The CTA is run by a separate agency so it’s their fault when the going gets tough. 

But what kind of Mayor isn’t responsible for his city’s taxes and his city’s public transit?

The satire of Higgins and the incisive writing by Dumke exposes the way that Daley runs this town like a king with little or no public accountability, he is after all Mayor Daley the Second. To echo Dumke, it’s time for a revolution, by votes.

Next week we continue our look at the spirit of Daumier as CAB looks at the aldermen.


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  • The Daumier bronze looks more like Reagan than Blago.

  • In reply to ZacThompson:

    I think Reagan is equally deserving of some satire, so that works too!

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