Loop losing its 'Color' early; traffic hard on installation

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'Color Jam'

'Color Jam' (September 14, 2012)

It was a battle of art vs. urban wear and tear, and the results weren't pretty.

When Jessica Stockholder's "Color Jam" installation sprang to life in June, it transformed the previously drab intersection of Adams and State streets into a blast of orange-red, sky blue and what the artist deemed "new leaf green," arranged in geometrically precise sections across sidewalks and crosswalks and up the surrounding buildings.

The installation, presented as the Chicago Loop Alliance's annual Art Loop project, was scheduled to run through Sept. 30, but it has already begun coming down. The reason: Large volumes of foot and vehicle traffic essentially were uninstalling much of the work already.

The colored scrims and vinyl coverings draping the buildings have remained pretty much intact, though the wrappings on the traffic light poles became gashed in spots. But the pavement treatments took the biggest hits.

As of Thursday morning, the sidewalks on the west side of State were faded red and patchy, with the worn-down paint revealing large squares or duct-tape-like strips of the foil-backed adhesive that lay underneath. On the street, traffic had rubbed out most of the bright colors decorating the crosswalks and an oval in the intersection's center as of last week, leaving more foil, tread marks and exposed pavement.

"The ground didn't withstand the elements as the suppliers of the paint thought it would," Stockholder said Thursday. "It wasn't surprising. I was surprised when they said it would."

Tristan Hummel, project manager/curator for the Chicago Loop Alliance, said the problem wasn't that the paint failed but that the painted material became separated from the foil adhesive.

He said workers had been cleaning the pavement daily and patching it weekly, but "once we saw the widespread failure, it was completely overwhelming. Given the amount of traffic, I think it lasted a decent time. I don't think it met my expectations or the expectations laid out by the manufacturer of that material."

Intrinsic to the concept of "Color Jam" was the interplay of public art and a bustling city. Stockholder, chairwoman of the University of Chicago's department of visual arts, said she initially found the traffic patterns worn into the road paint to be beautiful.

But, she added, "the paint on the sidewalk failed in a kind of blotchy way, and that I didn't think was so beautiful."

With the city planning some work in that intersection Monday — and with Expo Chicago bringing national and international art dealers and collectors to the city later in the week — Stockholder is ready to say goodbye to "Color Jam."

"It's fading away, so it's time for it to come down, and I hope that happens quickly," she said. "But it was a really great experience, so I'm glad I had the chance to do that."

The uninstallation began earlier this week as workers pressure-washed most of what was left on the street as well as the sidewalks along the east side of State, leaving behind flecks of foil and a few color blotches.

Hummel said he hopes permits come through to enable the wall coverings to be removed early next week.

"I do think it was a great work, and it was important for Chicago," Hummel said. "I don't want to discourage people from trying things like this."

mcaro@tribune.com

Twitter @MarkCaro

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