Cermack Plaza's long gone art. Photo by JeremyA https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:JeremyA

The Art in the Shopping Center Project of David Bermant in Cermak Plaza, Berwyn Illinois

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 for a brief moment, Bermant was a revolutionary and the art in his shopping centers became pop icons. This is our tribute and reminder that once upon a time art surrounded us.

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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. By May 2008 The Spindle had been removed from the parking lot, removed to make room for a Walgreens. Management of the shopping mall saved two of the cars before demolition, and has expressed interest in re-creating the famous, and controversial sculpture. but by 2014 nothing was left.

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

For a listing and photos of the original sculptures go to Jeannine Deubel's page

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Neala McCarten

Photo by JeremyA

Updated: November 18, 2016

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