By Rachel Berkowitz & Deborah PeÃ±a
“In Chicago, the pretense is to have no pretense.” Lincoln Schatz leans back from one of the many drafting tables in his large, unadorned downtown studio. Dressed in a button-down shirt and jeans, the artist exudes an easy, laid-back manner that is oddly consistent with the rough-hewn, industrial aesthetic of his workspace. Unadorned and strictly functional, Schatz’s studio lacks the overwrought signifiers typically associated with creative lifestyles; there are no dripping buckets of paint or half finished sculptures, nobody has overdosed in the bathroom, and as far as we can tell, Schatz has showered today.
Schatz’s art, like the culture of Chicago itself, is “very meat and potatoes.” There is no place for dishonesty and empty aestheticism in his work. Rather than creating images, Schatz captures them. The tools of his trade–video cameras and flat-screen televisions–are not capable of embellishment. However, Schatz is trying to get at something more fundamental than unadulterated images. His generative video works–TV screens attached to cameras that record their surroundings–are installed permanently and run images collected over the entire lifespan of the work through software that mimics human memory. Images appear, often obscuring each other, but giving way as they become transparent or disappear from the frame entirely. More recently captured images show up more frequently in the progression, and only a small percentage of the images collected will eventually reappear. The piece becomes a sort of memory for a place. Rather than the architectural space as something experienced by a visitor, it becomes an almost living force in itself.
The effect is that even the most blasÃ© of spaces can be given a sort of secret life. In 2007 Lincoln installed a permanent work in that most banal of Chicago locations, McCormick Place. When the convention center was undergoing renovations, a certain percentage of allotted funds were dedicated to the procurement of fine art for the space, which opened in late April 2008. This practice is enforced throughout the country by municipal and state Percentage for the Arts funds.
Chicago’s required funding system is one of the most generous in the country. McCormick Place contracted the task of curating the gallery to former gallery owner and longtime Chicago arts supporter Paul Klein. Klein has spent his career trying to make art accessible to Chicago’s public–first within his gallery, and currently on his website, Art Letter. Given the task of choosing Illinois artists who could best fill the space provided, Klein had the opportunity to showcase works to an audience of convention-going professionals who might otherwise never even be aware of what these artists have to offer. Schatz’s piece meshes with Paul Klein’s democratic ambitions by actually engaging each viewer, whether they are aware of it or not. For those who are aware, the piece has a playful effect, which negates associations with surveillance that video cameras in large buildings typically have. The subsequent interactions with the space are atypical of the general convention-going experience.
Schatz’s works have given this sort of life to spaces all over the country, and despite his lifelong residence here, he does not consider himself a “Chicago artist.” “So many classifications for artists have dissolved over the last fifteen years,” Schatz said. With the diversification of media and the development of methods of long-distance communication, regional classifications of artists become obsolete. Fittingly, because there is no regional label that can be ascribed to it, Lincoln Schatz’s work is allowed to be both as global and site-specific as it is.
McCormick Place, 2301 S. Lake Shore Drive. (312)791-7000. mccormickplace.com; artletter.com; lincolnschatz.com