Controversies USA

Chicago’s art spaces battened down during Nato summit

Barricades were erected around two of the city’s public works of art, while museums and art institutions increased security or closed altogether

Nato protesters gathered in Daley Plaza around Picasso's untitled sculpture

As protesters clashed with police at the recent Nato summit in Chicago, barricades were erected around two of the city's public works of art, while museums and art institutions increased security or closed altogether. Despite the preparations, or perhaps because of it, although the demonstrations were heated, no works of art were damaged.

Marc Chagall’s mosaic, The Four Seasons, which was dedicated to the city in 1974 but funded by the First National Bank of Chicago (later to become JP Morgan Chase) and so is privately owned, was completely boarded up at the foot of the Chase Tower. Picasso's untitled sculpture in Daley Plaza, which dates to 1967 and is owned by the Public Building Commission of Chicago, was fenced off a week before the Nato summit (20-21 May). Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Chicago's department of cultural affairs said before the summit that it had no plans to protect the works of art in public places under its jurisdiction, including those in Millennium Park. According to Dan Simon of the Glass and Metal Alliance, who was contracted to build a protective cover for the Chagall work, companies were urged not to board up their windows and to “carry on with business as usual”.

Michelle Obama hosted a dinner for Nato spouses at the Art Institute on Sunday, while hundreds of protesters gathered outside. Riot police were deployed, forming a circle around the building. Despite a few water bottles being thrown, the protesters dispersed peacefully and no damage was done to the museum building.

The directors of the Museum of Contemporary Art, the Art Institute and the Fine Arts Building closed their institutions for the weekend—some fearing damage from protesters, with others anticipating road blocks and traffic jams.

Speaking before the summit, Robert Berger, the director of the Fine Arts Building, said he was shutting his building for four days because of the anti-Nato protests. The institution, which houses studios for more than 250 artists, is usually open seven days a week. “We are taking all measures to protect our artists, staff and our building,” Berger said, adding that the 1885 high rise on South Michigan Avenue is one of the oldest in Chicago.

Blake Biggerstaff, a photographer who works in the Fine Arts Building said many artists were concerned about the demonstrations and had rallied round. “We are right in the heart of the protests,” he said. “We are very protective of the building, it's a work of art in itself.” The institution brought in extra security and built a barricade in front of the building.

The Museum of Contemporary Art, located in downtown Chicago nearby several hotels where Nato leaders were staying, also closed for the weekend owing to temporary road blocks that made way for more than 100 motorcades. A spokeswoman said the museum had also employed extra security to protect the building and its contents while the summit and the protesters were in town.

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29 May 12
14:48 CET


Mr. Swanger, you needed only to watch CNN to see there were thousands and thousands of protesters. But I've never heard of protesters like these, or even the 1968 Chicago Dem Convention protesters, going after works of art. The internationally renown art world of Chicago was jeopardized more by the "security" efforts and traffic blockages than by the protesters. It was the NATO meeting itself that made it impossible for the museums to be visited by anyone interested in NATO or not.

29 May 12
14:48 CET


Yeah? Well, sonny, I was born and raised in this town, and let me set you straight. There were 1,000s upon 1,000s of peeps in the streets. Don't let one source misguide you. Ever. That is a mistake people are always making, like when they believed President Reagan and his 'voodoo economics' policies.

24 May 12
21:24 CET


A friend from Chicago whom I called the other day said not to believe reports, there were only several hundred protestors.

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