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P eter S c hjeldahl ‘Chicagoization’ Some Second Thoughts on the Second City May 1985 When I was asked to give this lecture (given to the Society for Contemporary Art, at the Art Institute of Chicago, March 20, 1985) it was suggested that I speak on the phenomenon for which I seem to have coined the name: “Chicagoization.” My first impulse was to say no, for the reason that I think that all uses of this little Frankenstein-monster term of mine are misunderstandings. As much as any other critic, I would love to go down in history as a phrase-maker. I remember the sixties, and the unspeakable glamour that invested Lawrence Alloway then for having invented “Pop Art”; as a kid critic, I figured that naming an artistic development would entitle me to die happy. But in this case at least two mistakes stand between me and footnote glory: my own, in hatching the word, and that of other people, in quoting it. It appeared in parentheses in a Village Voice column I wrote more than four years ago about the veteran New York painter George McNeil. I was discussing the rise to fashion of expressionistic painting, an event still fresh and uncharted then. I wrote: “Expressionism is the definitive bad neighborhood in the city of modern art, often associated in America with the wacky/ nasty ‘Imagist’ tradition in Chicago. (The Chicagoization of New York is a large and, in New York, still largely unmentionable topic.)” Re-reading that passage today, I wonder what in the world I could have been thinking of. It had to be one of those blinding insights that occur in the delirium of writing for a deadline, when there is no time for the second thought that would reveal their fishiness. I do remember 156   T h e E s s e n t i a l N ew A rt E xaminer feeling that I was onto something and being immensely pleased with myself, in consequence. But now I cannot imagine any significant way in which my term could, on the face of it, be true. Granted that, at the time, the expressionistic tidal wave was bringing with it a modestly heightened interest in Imagism, and granted that a new crop of Chicago emigrants was making its mark—part of the endless inflow of promising talent to New York, the pride and the despair of outlaying art communities —granted all that, I could not have been aware of a meaningful influence of Chicago-style on New York-style, if those entities can be said to exist at all, because there was no such influence. “Chicagoization” might as well have been a typing error. On the verge of rejecting the proposed subject, however, I reconsidered . Given that the word may be meaningless, might I not be free to use it as arbitrarily as I pleased? Like an algebraic expression, say, by which we can take “a + b” to represent anything at all plus anything else at all, or as a swing-barreled poetic metaphor. More to the point, I became intrigued by the question of why anyone—myself to begin with, and others , thereafter—would want “Chicagoization” to mean something. Why is it satisfying to imagine the artistic spirit of one city invading the spirit of another? Why, to take it a step further, is it satisfying to think of any city—a jumble of playgrounds, coffee shops, and police cars—as having a “spirit” that somehow issues in artistic idiosyncrasies? Reflecting on this, I got excited by the possibility that at last, after some muddled attempts in the past, I would find something useful to say on a bedeviled subject: the center and the margin, centrality and provincialism, mainstream and periphery, the whole psychology of geography in contemporary art. This is a disreputable subject for a number of good reasons, among them that it tends to spark a discourse remarkably gross. In this discourse, if it can be called that, raw feelings confront insulated ones—defensiveness confronts snobbery—and everybody gets either mad or maddening. It is a subject that, as a lover of art, I would like to see simply go away. What could be more vulgar than the confusion of geographical rooting interests with art production? It is all very well for citizens of a place to feel passionately about their institutions, whether these be museums or sports teams—as I need not remind a city that boasts the Art...


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