The Artistic Spirit of Satire--Daumier Continued

Last week the Chicago Art Blog was looking at the artwork of Honore Daumier and what Chicago could learn from his legacy and how it could be carried on.  I pointed out a recent cover of the Chicago Reader as a heir to Daumier’s legacy of satire, as well as a bronze bust by Daumier himself that looks a lot like disgraced former governor Rod Blagojevich.  Knowingly or not, Daumier’s spirit of satire is carried on today through a number of artists that seem to have recently picked up the mantle of mockery.

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HonorĂ© Daumier. “Self Portrait.” Cast 1956.

Another recent example of Daumier’s spirit was captured in Johalla Projects‘ exhibition “50 Aldermen / 50 Artists.”  Now closed, the exhibition ran from March 19-April 2. 

The exhibition itself was premised on these simple, yet revealing questions: “How many Chicagoans know what their alderman looks like? How many
Chicagoans can tell you who their alderman is, and what he or she has been doing lately? We’re not pollsters, so we don’t have any hard data to provide answers to these questions — but we are artists, and we’re
interested in using art as a vehicle in depicting and learning more about the aldermen who represent us at City Hall.” 

This simple motivation is compelling, these are politicians that are supposed to represent citizens at the most local and intimate level, yet the truth is that we often don’t know anything about them.  I know my alderman’s name but I don’t know what he looks like. 

The  “50 Aldermen” exhibition aimed at basic representation, in the tradition of the political portrait, but hinted at deeper and underlying issues surrounding Chicago politics.  The exhibition proposal stated: “Aldermen serve four-year terms, during which they vote on regulationsand rules that affect all of us. And sometimes they participate in the notorious Chicago political machine: Since 1974, 30 aldermen have been convicted of federal crimes ranging from tax evasion to bribery. (A couple of others died before going to trial.) Whether ethical or corrupt, aldermen make our city what it is, and make Chicago’s history. 50 ALDERMEN/50 ARTISTS hopes to acknowledge this fact, as well as
celebrate the richness of our local political culture.”

While some aldermen no doubt serve their communities and constituents in constructive and positive ways, there are others who do the opposite.  Johalla Projects mention that 30 aldermen have been convicted of federal crimes, and of course this leads up to the recent conviction of Isaac Carothers

Following in the dubious footsteps of his father, William Carothers (who was convicted of conspiracy and extortion, ending his political career and earning him three years in federal prison), Isaac Carothers pleaded guilty on February 1st to charges stemming from a federal corruption charge. Carothers accepted nearly $40,000 in home improvements in exchange for providing support on a development project for Calvin Boender.  Interestingly, beginning in 2008, Carothers worked with the FBI and secretly wore a wire for more than a year.  So something tells me that this story isn’t totally over yet.

But unfortunately the more things change in Chicago the more they seem to stay the same.  After submitting a guilty plea, Carothers had to immediately resign from the City Council.  The Mayor fills vacancies in this case and chose Deborah Graham, whom Hal Dardick of the Chicago Tribune describes as, “a Carothers protege from the 29th Ward Democratic organization.”  Let’s hope not.  And let’s hope that Graham’s failure to pay back the city $5,000 (detailed in the Dardick article) that she received as part of a affordable housing program was out of sheer ignorance, like she claims. 

Next entry, the Chicago Art Blog will take a closer look at some of the entries in the “50 Aldermen” show.

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