I’ve written before about what bad public art is for. When I was in Chicago earlier this past week I walked by the Marquette Building at night, and noticed an example of what I believe to be good public art:
I think two characteristics of good public art are, first, that it tells a story worth hearing, and second, that it is particular to its place in some sense. The engravings/reliefs above the entrance to the Marquette Building have these characteristics. They convey something of the rootedness of that particular place, and they convey some of the stories of the people who came before us in that place—in this case, apparently some of the story of “Father Jacques Marquette, the first European settler in Chicago, who explored the Chicago region in 1674 and wintered in the area for the 1674-5 winter season…”
In an arresting way, the Marquette Building does far more to connect the man or woman of the present with the distant past of this particular part of Chicago and this particular part of America than the beautiful but anodyne glass and wood foyer across the street will ever offer passersby of the future.
What I mean is that the Marquette Building offers people like me who walk by with the chance (even if only in the thinnest way) to connect with a bit of America’s far distant past and to encounter, in some sense, the realities of a far different generation of explorers and indigenous peoples. It knits together disparate generations and offers the chance of a sort of spiritual, or at least civic, wholeness.