Gary Rieveschl

Art in Public Places

The Chicago Papers is a recently exhibited collection of documentation for a 1976 project called Spiration—222 marigolds in an Archimedian spiral ending with an arrow pointing the direction the earth rotates—which Gary Rieveschl planted in Grant Park, one of a variety of “lifeform projects” he has created in the Middle West and Europe. The idea of this planting had been to introduce the concept and reality of nature and natural rhythms to a city which he sees as dominated by a concrete façade—in both visual and behavioral terms. Ironically, however, the flowers which Rieveschl had intended as a perennial reminder of natural rhythms—eventually he replaced the marigolds with purple crocuses—are now gone and the inanimate papers the only remainder.

These chronologically arranged notes, memos, letters, diagrams, drawings, photographs, press releases and newspaper articles tend to represent a sort of “curve” from the excitement of Rieveschl’s first being notified of his inclusion in the “Art in Public Places” exhibition, through the actual planting, and then in a descent to the project’s aftermath—a kind of parallel to the idea of an ongoing rhythm in the flower-blooming spiral. But what really stands out in Chicago Papers are all the messy, superfluous, “nonrhythmic” details of trauma and confusion which were all the time behind the scenes.

So much trouble just to plant a few flowers! Through a series of political mishaps and human fallibilities, the initially chosen site had to be altered; it cost $775.28 and 500 work-hours to plant the marigolds. Rieveschl’s parting gesture of replacing the marigolds with crocuses led to charges of his having negligently denuded the parkscape. There were interstitial battles within the sponsoring organization, diagrams to convince the Park District that the 14-inch high marigolds would provide “no possible hiding place for lurkers,” arguments to prove Rieveschl a sculptor as opposed to a horticulturist who only wanted to invade the territory of local union workers, altered plans for maintenance since city gang lawn-mowers required 35 to 40 feet between rows and there were only ten feet between the spiral’s curves—all became a sort of metaphor for the unpredictable details and real-life imperfections which Art didn’t used to admit it was involved with.

I was reminded of Jan Hashey’s little drawings in which she juxtaposed a virtuoso rendition of an object and a carbon copy of that drawing with all her erasures, mistakes, and flaws. Even within Rieveschl’s documentation, the dichotomy between real-life imperfections and façadish impeccability is apparent. For example, the official statements of politicians and exhibition-sponsors on polished IBM typewriters recall the perfect infallibility of much object art, whereas the hastily scribbled notes of some administrator or Reiveschl’s various budgets and breezy sketches resemble the direct, nonglamorous, event-oriented presentation of many ’70s projects related to transient art or other nonforms.

I think Rieveschl intended that the spiral and the marigolds stand in relation to the city exactly as, say, a wilderness environment exists in relation to some new suburban subdivision, and to an extent the city façade did dominate and lead to the end of Spiration. However, Chicago Papers now reveals that Spiration was itself a sort of façade. So which is more real? Rieveschl’s utopian concept of some ideal oneness? Or all the blemishes of city-life conflict and confusion?

C. L. Morrison