(This is an essay for a class I'm taking).
Sometimes when I first see an urban sculpture I wonder to myself, “But is it art?” I believe this was my first reaction to Crown Fountain a relatively new installation in Millennium Park in Chicago. If you haven’t seen it, imagine two giant towers of digital glass block with faces on them. The faces are animated and real; they blink and smile and evoke a feeling of something out of Gulliver’s Travels. Water cascades down their sides and, surprise, the faces start to spit a stream of water.
One night I was wandering downtown with my newish digital camera. I had recently taken up photography, a long dream of mine, and was practicing. It was a hot summer night and the fountain was crowded with people. I was certainly not the only photographer. I took pictures of the fountain and the people: other photographers, families, a group of men who asked my to take their photo and told me they were musicians and would, someday, be famous. It was Chicago at its best, happy, friendly and non-threatening even at night to a woman alone.
On the first day of Autumn this year, I revisited the fountain. It was a sunny day; the light sparkled and the sky had been washed clean by an earlier rain. I sat on a wooden, graffiti-scratched bench and watched the people interact with the fountain. It is such a public place that it seems reasonable to take photos of people. The sound of water falling almost masks the traffic noises although a major downtown street is less than a block away.
The area is relatively uncrowded so it is easy to observe individuals. A woman in a red shirt and green baseball cap carrying a walking stick. She has an official looking ID on a lanyard around her neck. A shirtless man, tattooed over much of his torso, rests his backpack on a bench and wipes dry his armpits. He sits cross legged by the pool of water beneath the fountain and removes his shoes but not his socks. Wading into the water stream he proceeds to bathe himself. I see an Asian man with a selfie-stick; a photographer with a School of the Art Institute backpack taking photos. Three teen girls walk by and one plays in the water. “You’re going to get wet,” her friend shrieks, giggling. Another young woman prances through the water while her boyfriend takes pictures.
I wait for the images to start spouting water. I wonder if some of the tourists might be surprised. A pair of preschool age children wait too. I chat with a woman from Barcelona who asks me to take her picture on her cell phone. I hope I give her a good impression of Chicago.
I think I just answered my question: it is art. In an isolated park, this might just be a strange fountain but in its use by people--women and children, tourists and locals, photography students and homeless men--it becomes art of the best sort.
I stand up to walk back to my car, satisfied with my outing and discover the seat of my pants is sopping wet. The wood bench must have absorbed the rainwater earlier and now has afflicted me. I head home covering my backside with my backpack, perhaps a little less satisfied.