Shifting Grounds: Block 21 & Chicago's MCA turned out to be somewhat of a fast-paced endurance project structured to coincide with the November 9, 2013 launch of the exhibition, The Way of the Shovel: Art as Archaeology at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Even though I had completed several yearlong intensive research projects prior to this one, my past year has been loaded with other ongoing projects that at times stalled Shifting Grounds' progress.
In early fall of 2012, long time MCA curator Lynne Warren told me of a fascinating exhibition in the planning stages that was being organized by the MCA’s new senior curator, Dieter Roelstraete – then she told Roelstraete about my work. In November 2012, Dieter and I met over lunch and introduced our respective projects and interests. I had recently been invited to be a key speaker at an international archaeological conference to talk about a previous endeavor. It clicked. By the time lunch was over, we formulated a plan that led to this project.
The year panned out this way:
November – April: compiled web-based research and developed strategies for the project’s direction
May – July: visited archives and libraries
August: recorded eleven conversations and photographed all the original content
August – November: designed and constructed this website
While I worked alone throughout the year to accomplish this project, I have many people to thank for opening doors, answering questions, pointing me in directions, and sharing their lives’ experiences.
I would like to acknowledge the following individuals for generously participating in the project by allowing me to record our conversations. They shared aspects of their life stories, recollections of their intersection with Block 21 - the site of today’s Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago - and in general, shared their experiences and knowledge:
Richard Guzman Barone: custodian at the Chicago Avenue Armory, and now the Donnelley Building Armory
Michael Butler: producer of 1968’s Hair and son of Paul Butler, early commander of the ceremonial Black Horse Troop
Kevin Consey: former director and CEO of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Helen Dunbeck: director of administration at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Madeleine Grynsztejn: current director of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago
Mary Ittelson: former associate director and co-director; former chair and now life member of the board of trustees at the MCA
Major Kent E. Ketter: officer in the Illinois Army National Guard
Carl Smith: professor of English, American Studies, and History at Northwestern University
Allen Turner: former chair of the board of trustees and chair of the 1991 architect selection committee at the MCA
David Van Zanten: architectural historian and professor of Art History at Northwestern University
Lynne Warren: curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago since 1981
The staff at the following agencies and research centers were helpful at different stages of this project: the Chicago Park District, the Chicago History Museum, the Harold Washington Library Center, the Newberry Library, the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Northeastern Illinois University, the Northwestern University libraries, including the Pritzker Legal Research Center of the Northwestern University Law School, the Illinois National Guard Donnelley Building Armory, and the Museum of Contemporary Art Library & Archives.
Of the Chicago Park District, I am grateful for Julia Bachrach's tireless efforts to continue organizing the park district's massive archive. In her role as Chicago Park District Historian, she created the Special Collections Archive, and for the second time allowed me access to the Lincoln Park trove of invaluable documentation and photographs.
Of the Chicago History Museum, Russell Lewis, Executive Vice President and Chief Historian, who has been an ongoing supporter of my work, generously agreed - again - to partner with me on this project. The museum's online content of historical maps and the Chicago Daily News photographic archive helped illustrate and activate Chicago's vibrant history in this website and in its prequel's: Hidden Truths: The Chicago City Cemetery and Lincoln Park. Leslie Martin in the museum's library and research center was helpful, as always, in helping navigate the special collections, which for this project included the Water Works Collection, 1860s - 1870s, and the Black Horse Troop's archive. Russell Lewis's wife, Mary Jane Jacob, also factored into this project: she was the Museum of Contemporary Art's chief curator from 1980-1986.
Of the Harold Washington Library Center's Special Collections & Preservation Division, Glenn E. Humphreys shared expertise. The Streeterville collection, which contains legal documents and associated materials related to Cap Streeter and and the neighborhood is housed here.
Of the Newberry Library, Ginger Frere shared her teaching resources and helped provide direction when this project was in its infancy stages.
Of the Illinois Regional Archives Depository at Northeastern Illinois University, graduate students Marc Arenberg's and Crispien Van Aelst's enthusiasm in sharing their resources made my visits richly rewarding and fun. IRAD's Ellen Larimore and Barbara Heflin, IRAD supervisor at the Illinois State Archive in Springfield, were both prompt and gracious in responding to questions.
Of the Pritzker Legal Research Center of the Northwestern University Law School, Pegeen Bassett, Documents Librarian, patiently explained legal journal structures and took me through the library's stacks to find Streeterville-related case history.
Of the Illinois National Guard Donnelly Armory, Major Kent Kenner was extraordinarily helpful. New to Chicago, he was unaware of the Chicago Avenue Armory and its transition to the current location at Chicago's south loop area, but he brought me to meet the armory's custodian, Richard Guzman Barone, to whom I am also grateful. Guzman Barone participated in the armory transfer, and shared his recollections about Goldberg, Chicago Avenue Armory's taxidermied dog, and helped located him in Springfield's Illinois State Military Museum. Major Ketter gave me a tour of the Donnelley Armory and phoned downstate to find Goldberg. Recreate my quest to find Goldberg the Dog, here.
Of the Museum of Contemporary Art's Library and Archive, I'd like to thank Librarian Mary Richardson and Rights and Images Assistant Katie Levi for bearing with me as my requests grew more urgent as this project reached its deadline. Manager of Rights and Images Christia Blankenship was professional and helpful, as was Andrew W. Mellon Postdoctoral Curatorial Fellow Michelle Puetz. Mary Richardson pursued finding Ellen Theis who had moved away after donating her wonderful photo album that chronicled the MCA's construction from her Pearson Street apartment window. Theis's gift is now formally deeded to the museum, and I am happy to have been able to share portions of it on this website.
I'd like to acknowledge and thank the Butler family for sharing their history: Michael Butler for his reminiscences, and Reute Butler for allowing me to view the family archive of polo memorabilia and photographs. Her grandfather Paul Butler's 1930s photographs provide rare glimpses of the 106th Cavalry and Black Horse Troop and brought the Armory section of this website to life.
The staff at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago were helpful in myriad ways through all stages of this project. I'm most grateful for Assistant Curator Karsten Lund, who relayed communications, answered questions, and somehow got through the toughest hurdles and tiniest details almost instantly. Assistant to the Director Janet Wolski was also great to work with during the research phase of the project.
The MCA Chicago installation crew, notably Senior Preparator Brad Martin, was professional and friendly. Information Technology Audio Visual Manager Jason McNinch helped troubleshoot and set up the Shifting Grounds website on the museum gallery's iPads. After designing and implementing this 115-page website with no assistance, I put off troubling technical aspects until the end. Video Producer Michael Alfini swooped down and took over the task of incorporating the invaluable MCA promotional videos. He was a godsend.
Curator Lynne Warren, who has known of my work since she awarded me the Pauline Palmer Prize in the 1990 Chicago Show, has been a good friend and supporter. She delved into her memory and files to answer my questions about the museum's exhibition history and curatorial staff. She is the MCA Chicago's best history resource, having arrived in the mid-1970s and curated her first show in 1981.
Former MCA Chicago Deputy Director and Chief Development Officer Greg Cameron was also instrumental in explaining the museum's organizational structure and history and helped me understand the complex process of transitioning the museum to new grounds. Greg's efforts helped the MCA become one of the Museums in the Park in 2004, a designation that came with a $2 million annual allocation.
Of course, without Manilow Senior Curator Dieter Roelstraete, who included me in The Way of the Shovel exhibition and let me loose to research the land's site and excavate the museum, I would not have delved into this massive and intensive project and been rewarded with this outcome. To Dieter I am most appreciative and am enriched in having worked with him.
Lane Relyea, Chair of the Department of Art Theory and Practice at Northwestern University, championed this endeavor and supported my juggling of assorted projects by relieving me of my teaching duties for the fall quarter - I could not have completed this project otherwise, and I have immense gratitude for his support.
Finally, I want to acknowledge my friends and family who beared with me as I embarked on another project that transformed me into that person - again - who disappeared, and then relentlessly shared new discoveries; this time about Chicago's water supply, the development of a ritzy neighborhood, the Illinois National Guard and their armory, and the history of the MCA: Penny Bannos, Tom Bannos, Manuela Hung, Kathy Pilat, Michael Ensdorf, Maura Costa, Greg Cameron, and Greg Thompson. I am especially grateful for Jessie Mott's endless patience and support, and who, at the project's final stretch, I left for days at a time to work at my Michigan retreat, watching summer change to fall. Our lovely dinners at my brief returns sustained me.