ComEd Refrigerator Art

Monday’s local newspapers touted Chicago’s latest summer public art display. It started August 2; and will continue though September 15th. The exhibit, “Fine Art Fridges,” consists of dead, recycled, painted refrigerators given to the City of Chicago by ComEd. According to a company press release, “The exhibit was created to raise awareness for ComEd’s Appliance Recycling Program, through which ComEd will haul away old, second working refrigerator or freezer free of charge. In return, customers receive $25.00 per appliance. To date, the program has removed more than 43,000 inefficient appliances from the market.”

When did it become allowable for the streets of Chicago to become shills for an ad campaign (created by the Leo Burnett Agency) for a private company as the picture on this blog shows?

In 1999, hundreds of life-sized beautifully painted fiberglass cows promenaded through the streets of Chicago as a stunning summer public art display. The event was originally conceived and presented in Zurich, Switzerland, during the summer of 1998 and Chicagoan Peter Hanig brought the idea to Mayor Daley. The city became host to cow mania and the craze was milked for every drop. Hotels, restaurants, stores all had promotions tied into the displays and more than one million additional tourists visited the city to view the bovine beauties.

The cows were stunning and, when the exhibit was over, were donated to local charities which sold them for thousands of dollars. Mayor Daley received well-deserved praise from international media and took his bows.

Trying to keep the momentum of summer public art going, in the summer of 2000, Chicagoans were treated to the “Summer of Ping Pong,” when the city sported ping pong tables on the sidewalks downtown. This came about because, according to Lois Weisberg, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, "I got tired of hearing from hundreds of people . . . asking what the city was going to do next. I decided to do either nothing or come up with something that had absolutely nothing to do with the cows." The idea scored up a big zero!

Not wanting to give up, the next year, 2001, the city served up another blooper with “Suite Home Chicago.” This was when the city became home to 300 makeshift living room suites of elaborately decorated furniture arranged throughout the city's streets, parks and plazas. Each suite consisted of a sofa, a chair, an ottoman and a television set. The suites were decorated by local artists, in a huge variety of styles: from muted Martha Stewart hues to a sofa with plants and flowers springing from its cushions. The urban street furniture displays might have sounded like a winner in concept, but even the homeless population of Chicago shunned the displays.

Now, we have the dead refrigerators. When I checked with the Department of Cultural Affairs to find out who approved this exhibition I received an e-mail from Kimberly Costello, Assistant Commissioner/Director of Public Affairs for the department that read,” The Department of Cultural Affairs was not involved in this exhibition and does not have any documents that are responsive to your request.” In a follow up e-mail she wrote,” This was a private exhibition, sponsored by ComEd, not a City-sponsored exhibition like Cows on Parade.“ She suggested I try the Department of Transportation, which has to approve use of the public ways.

So this story that started off with my wondering how Lois Weisberg could have allowed dead refrigerators to become street art, has now taken an entirely different twist.

I will continue with the research. I have sent FOIAs to various city departments asking for information on the program. Like fish not kept in the icebox, it is starting to smell.

Editors Note: We had the Cow Parade in New York City. We recently had pianos, which I thought was cool, because everywhere in the city people were playing, but they did not stay around long. Now we have these ugly mannequin's with the worst fashion I have ever seen. If we had it our way, we would have a Marijuana plant display, that way we could get stoned and not notice all these tourists. I may like the refrigerator idea too, if I could stock it with beer and get smashed in Times Square. We are just wondering if our Chicago Gossip icon Kathy Posner will have some summer blackouts and her refrigerator will die and end up as art. Posner's friend Lady Shafran could help her decorate it with shoes and then help lug it out to the street. If anyone says anything, they just say it's art!


Anonymous said…
LOL! Can I tour that plant with you?

How are you, my friend? Sounds like summer is too hot and steamy. Time to tip one back!