Jessica Stockholder’s “Color Jam” installation in Chicago’s Loop district (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

CHICAGO — “Color Jam,” a public art piece by Jessica Stockholder, was completed on Tuesday in the downtown Loop section of Chicago. It is a version of something she did in Madison Square Park in New York City, and consists of covering the four sides of an intersection with flat, interlocking planes of bright color that start in the middle of the junction, cut across the sidewalk, and climb up the sides of adjacent buildings.

Stockholder, who is now chair of the Department of Visual Arts at the University of Chicago, originally wanted to cover the entire road surface with color, but had to settle for an oval shape when the city’s transportation department thought that one solid color would lead to distractions, accidents and lawsuits. She still managed to get in some quirky elements to the design, like having one of the old lamp-posts on a corner painted two colors.

On a busy morning, just as rush hour was starting, I visited the site and asked a few passersby the question: What do you think of the public art?

The four answers I got were:

Man in Suit #1: No (sic).

Edith: I work just across the street. I like it.

Man in Suit #2: No thanks.

Nicole: I pass by here every day on the way to work. The first time I saw it, I thought: “Whoa, what’s that on the sidewalk?” But I think it’s nice. It adds a lot of color to the area.

That it does. The site, on the corner of State and Adams, is a pretty non-descript area of the Loop, with a vacant building on one side, and a CVS and a Bank of America on two of the others. But that is perhaps the ideal canvas: my impression is that it served to join up the street and the buildings, leading the eye up and back down again, in a way that wouldn’t otherwise happen. That may be all it does, but at least it works on its own terms. (Judge for yourself by watching the live Jam Cam.)

Live broadcasting by Ustream

As public art goes, it’s certainly a huge improvement on the monumentally awful Marilyn Monroe statue that was recently taken away from Michigan Avenue. The Chicago Loop Alliance, which put Stockholder’s idea into action, is to be commended for trying to bring original work by real artists to the USA’s “Second City.”

Color Jam” will be installed at the intersection of State and Adams Streets until September 20, 2012.

Philip Hartigan is a UK-born artist and writer who now lives, works and teaches in Chicago. He also writes occasionally for Time Out-Chicago. Personal narratives (his own, other peoples', and invented)...