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The Language Barrier

The Language Barrier

January 1, 2006 to March 30, 2007

While the new Spertus building was being built, a showcase was created on the 50-foot-long Michigan Avenue barricade of the construction site for the site-specific work of leading contemporary artists who consider compelling questions about culture, identity, and religion.

The series was called The Language Barrier because of its location and selection of artists, all of whom incorporate text into their practice. These works take into consideration the role of a Jewish educational and cultural institution in the 21st century.

Chicago Tribune art critic Alan Artner noted that these works "challengingly [take] language pieces out of galleries into a broad public arena."

The first commission, entitled Hello Again, was by internationally renown artist Kay Rosen. Rosen's art explores the ambiguities of the written word, using color, typography, and humour. Hello Again greeted passersby with the word HI twice, while it chellenged them to find meaning in the words from which the HI's are derived -THEIR and HEIR. As Spertus prepared for its new facility, the concepts of heritage and legacy wereincreasingly germane. Describing the piece, Rosen said, "It's important that THEIR passes down part of itself, HEIR, to posterity. The T falls away, just as nothing is passed down in its entirety. Some things are lost to the past."

The next installation was by media artist Kendell Geers. Geers' work for Spertus stemmed from his investigation of faith. By repeating and dissecting the word BELIEVE, he encouraged viewers to consider the component parts and their coexistence. Embedded in this loaded word is its opposite, the word LIE, calling into question the relationship between belief and truth.

The final installment was by conceptual artist Mel Bochner. Since the 1960s, Bochner has incorporated language into his artistic practice and this work, The Joys of Yiddish, was an extension of his series of thesaurus paintings. Bochner explained, "Yiddish is an outsider's language... developed to cope with a foreign and often hostile reality. While capable of expressing the deepest of sentiments, it is also a language of intense self-criticism and moral invective - direct, unrefined, and indiffernt to polite taste. My intention in The Joys of Yiddish is to foreground this complexity and to celebrate the language in all its humor and humanity." Concurrent with Bochner's project for Spertus, a retrospective of his work was presented at The Art Institute of Chicago.