Cermak Plaza, Berwyn Illinois: A revolutionary art (and shopping) center going slowly to ruin
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. We have cow sculptures meandering along public streets. Tableaux in store fronts. But one of the most cataclysmic developments has been to put artistic creations in the middle of a suburban shopping center. More than 20 years later, this move is still steeped in controversy. But sadly time has not been kind, and upkeep has been lagging.
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
When the Cermak Plaza was first built in the 1950s, the community consisted mainly of Czech and Bohemian families. In the 1960s, a wave of Italian residents uprooted from the Taylor Street area of Chicago because of the building of the University of Illinois at Chicago (formerly Chicago Circle Campus) moved into the area. More recently, members of the Hispanic community has added to the ethnic mix that makes up the city.
The Art Lover and the Shopping Center
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, the citizens 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, now sadly gone, 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. Luckily, so far, art has won out over conservativism.
Less Controversial Art
Go See the Art
Update, 2007A visit in July 2007 revealed broken and rusted sculptures, and some even removed. The BerwynArtsCouncil.org has started a campaign to Save the Spindle.
Update, May 2008A few days ago, the Spindle was been removed from the parking lot. The art was 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.
A Sample of the Sculptures in Cermak Plaza