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Cermak Plaza, Berwyn Illinois: The Life and Death of a revolutionary art (and shopping) center

Art in public spaces is no longer revolutionary. It's gone far beyond murals gracing public walls and humans of heroic proportions standing amid public buildings. But one of the most cataclysmic developments had been to put artistic creations in the middle of a suburban shopping center. David Bermant's art-filled shopping center no longer has its art, but his foundation keeps alive his committment to art in public places.

One must first understand the community of Berwyn, Illinois, to understand the controversy that started in 1980 centering on the construction of the first piece of sculpture erected at the Cermak Plaza.

History of the Berwyn

The Cermak Plaza Shopping Center is located in Berwyn, Illinois, a near-west suburb of Chicago. The shopping center was built during the 1950s when shopping malls were just starting to pop up in various communities, allowing residents to consolidate their shopping needs. The city of Berwyn was conservative in its viewpoints.

The Art Lover and the Shopping Center

David Bermant was president of the National Shopping Centers Management Corporation, and the owner of the Cermak Plaza, as well as 20 other shopping centers across the country. He was also a patron of the arts who has purchased modern sculptures as an investment. But his passion extended to placing pieces he has purchased in a few of his shopping centers. In 1980, Mr. Bermant commissioned Nancy Rubins to construct the work Big Bil-Bored for the price of $25,000. The piece was a three-story, 60-ton porkchop-shaped sculpture composed of hundreds of pieces of castoff materials from everyday life, including appliances and car wheels, constructed on-site along Harlem Avenue.

Almost immediately after the sculpture was erected, the citizens of Berwyn were demanding that the sculpture be torn down. But because the land is privately owned, they were unable to force Mr. Bermant to tear down the sculpture.(For a more complete discussion of the controversy read the Big Bil-Bored Controversy

Big Bil-Bored was not the only sculpture in the Cermak Plaza to raise debate. In 1989, David Bermant commissioned Dustin Shuler of Los Angeles to design Spindle, a $75,000 project consisting of 9 gutted automobiles stacked as if skewered on a large vertical spike. Once again the citizens wanted the piece taken down.

Less Controversial Art

Although Big Bil-Bored and Spindle generated adverse interest, most of the other sculptures there were relatively small. They had generally gone unnoticed and unheralded for years, except for a few children who loved watching the Rube Goldberg-like action of the Good Time Clock or the sunlight glisten off of the rotating torso of mirrors called The Embrace. Most of the time, however, the works were just ignored by shopper on their way to run their shopping errands.

A Slow Descent Into Oblivion

A visit in July 2007 revealed broken and rusted sculptures, and some even removed. The has started a campaign to Save the Spindle.

By May 2008 The Spindle had been removed from the parking lot, removed to make room for... a Walgreens. Current management of the shopping mall saved two of the cars before demolition, and has expressed interest in re-creating the famous, and controversial sculpture.

Now it's 2014 and nothing is left. The current owners of Cermak report "The art work that was salvageable is currently in storage. Most of it is in need of restoration. Ownership at this time does not have the funds to restore it and build the cases, etc. to put it back on display."

There was a failed attempt to restore at least some of the cars from The Spindle and place them along Route 66 but that didn't work out.

Dustin Shuler died in 2010 but his works (at least some of them) remain.

David Bermant died in 2000 but according to the spokesperson from The David Bermant Foundation, it is still involved installing art in public places.

We are in the process of doing an installation in the Santa Ynez Valley now. Our sculpture will be installed in a children's park in Solvang called Sunny Field Park. We also have many public installations in Santa Barbara.

We have a gallery located in Santa Ynez that houses Davids private art collection. We offer tours of the gallery by appointment.

The David Bermant Foundation is involved in funding the arts through grants.

more at

The Embrace has been removed, leaving an empty case.

more at

Millenium Fountain is no more than shards of broken glass.

more at

Bee Tree is broken and rusted.

Cermak Plaza
Cermak Road and Harlem Avenue
Berwyn, Illinois

Jeannine Deubel is fascinated with the art and history of Cermak Plaza. Visit Jeannine's website to learn more about the sculptures at Jeannine's site Additional information by Neala Schwartzberg McCarten

A Sample of the Sculptures in Cermak Plaza

All photos by
Jeannine Deubel

Bee Tree By George Rhoads -- J. Deubel
Bee Tree by George Rhoads. Rhoads also evokes humor and wit by the unusual and eccentric movements of his wind piece

Drum Yard by Bill and Mary Buchan -- J. Deubel
Drum Yard by Bill and Mary Buchen. This is a piece of Sonic Architecture for playing music, one of many throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Embrace by Gina Gilmour -- J. Deubel
The Embrace by Gina Gilmour, 1993. This depiction of human love is highlighted by the use of mirror fragments.

Good Time Clock by George Rhoads -- J. Deubel
Good Time Clock by George Rhoads, 1980.Just a fun piece to watch and enjoy.

The Helicopter by Steve Gerberick -- J. Deubel
The Helicopter by Steve Gerberick. Transforms farm tools and materials into art.

Moonbells by Barry V. Miller -- J. Deubel
Moonbells (Bell Tree Quartet) by Barry V. Miller, 1985. A sound environment using found objects which produces a dynamic sound by the viewers' action with the mallets provided.

Pinto Pel by Dustin Shuler -- J. Deubel
Pinto Pelt by Dustin Shuler, 1988. Shuler tracks automobiles in the hunting tradition displaying their flattened bodies as "Auto Pelts".

Spindle by Dustin Shuler -- J. Deubel
Spindle by Dustin Shuler, 1989. Spindle lifts the auto out of its ordinary place, to question its priority and importance in our daily living.

Tree of Life by Milton Komisar -- J. Deubel
Tree of Life by Milton Komisar. Komisar began creating light sculptures in 1973.

Big Bil-Bored by Nancy Rubins
Big Bil-Bored by Nancy Rubins, 1980. No longer in existence. Despite the controversy, it was the rusting of the metal in the sculpture that finally did it in.