Saturday, March 8, 2008

Thank you from the heart and soul

Every spring, a couple of mallard ducks drop down from the sky into our pond and swim around in their mating ritual, reminding us that winter is really over. We returned too late for them this year, even as snow storm pounded Chicago. But we're home now; it's quiet here, and purple crocuses have bloomed already. More than 175,000 people came to see the artwork Paintings Below Zero at Millennium Park, but today the wall is down - now just a reflection in all our minds.

Got a note from Matt Hotz.

I took a moment and looked up yesterday and was amazed that two months have just blurred by. Been feeling a bit sad. 'Spose after such an intensive time invested in one thing and then to kill it and then pack it all up, I've been left empty for emotion.

Gord’s hockey buddy Brett McGillvray and his wife, Carole Ann Glover, invited us to dinner for a “Best and Worst’. Everybody gets a turn. You narrow the time frame, or the event, and then you find the moment which stands out for you as best, and the one you’d classify as worst. The topic was the past two and a half months.

For us, Chicago.

I had a hard time coming up with a Worst. I did have one absolute Best. Here are others:

One of the earliest was learning that CN was going to be the presenting sponsor - a Canadian company who felt they'd be proud to affiliate with Paintings Below Zero. At opening, Jim Foote’s comments that they were very pleased with their sponsorship, a Best.

Millennium Park was definitely a Best, the location, the artwork, the people who worked with us.

Another: that employees at the City of Chicago Cultural Department were reading - and enjoying the blog. Next, I learned that a decision had been made to put the blog on the official website, so that access to the adventures of Paintings Below Zero would be available to anyone who logged on to Museum of Modern

For me, the many people (of all ages and walks of life) who came to see the work and who shared their comments with Gord as he worked on the wall: an enduring Best. Every day he would come back, exhausted, but fulfilled in a way I hadn’t expected.

“People are just so thankful,” he would say, with humility and disbelief. What became a lasting Best was the sense of emotional attachment which they seemed to have towards the painting, as if they were trying to capture something of this ephemeral work and take it home: a photo, an autograph, a conversation.

There was continual fascination: from creation, to installation, to the changing

nature of the art. A delight in the flame-torching -- watching the color re-emerge from the white frost.

Warmth would soften the pieces and rain deepened the colors and made them shine. Drips would freeze mid-drop when the weather changed quickly.

Colors migrated towards the edges of the artwork, sat on the top and sometimes, fell off. There was a lacy stage. Here is a piece which fell onto Matt and then onto the cement.

A thousand pieces of art were created every time someone cropped a piece of the work into a photograph.

People came back two, three, four times to see what had changed and why. I overheard many explaining it to each other, to their children and friends, and when they couldn’t go on, a tap on the blue jacket to question the docent or crew member.

As the month went on, pieces which were made in the cold dark Fulton were brought out, and we delighted in seeing them again against the evolved painting.

Intelligentsia was a Best.

The Fulton, a strange and wonderful Best.

There were so many qualified people working for our project, doing the things that in the past, I had struggled singlehandedly to do -- especially press and marketing.

Every time Christine or Brooke called me, it meant there was another article, or interview to be scheduled which would get the word out.

We were inundated with requests, and in the end, we earned a list of press mentions that any project would be proud to have.

And every time I got an email or call from Lauren Gentile, Pam Morin or Sarah Best it was some new and beautiful piece of artwork which they had designed. Would I look over the copy? Could I provide captions for the photos? These tasks were joys.

When I opened the door to our suite at The Hard Rock Hotel, I knew we would be happy there. But I didn’t know how great the staff would be.

The hotel itself was two blocks down Michigan Avenue from Millennium Park, and one block from the Lakeshore Athletic Club; it couldn’t have been more convenient. Modern design, spacious and clean, with a good view of the city out several windows - we could see the park. Eventually, we were upgraded to their penthouse suite, which made the long stay really enjoyable.

In the end, I felt honored to have been a guest there. The staff -- to a person -- was accommodating, friendly, professional and personal, just the right touch. From bellhop to the concierge, to front desk staff, to guards, engineers, to house keeping, everyone was in my ‘best’ category.

The Consular Ball was a Best. Gord was guest of honor, he met Aldo Castillo and the beautiful dress I wore stayed up. I could have sung "I feel pretty." And then, to top it off - I met Abou Bakayoko, and found a long lost friend, his uncle.

The blizzard -- just days before opening,

after two days of unseasonable winter so warm we couldn't install anything -- was one of the Best moments: adventure, determination, solidarity -- success!

And now for the thanks . . . I want to say how much we appreciated the open arms and energy of the people of Chicago, whose many and varied contributions made our project so successful.

Thanks to the generous people we met who saw we were strangers and invited us into their homes, who fed us their food and held their glasses up in toasts to our success.

To those who took us out for lunch or dinner on the town, who organized receptions who introduced us. We felt embraced, and we are grateful for your generosity.

To the press who took the time to listen carefully to Gord’s intention, ideas, who came back with questions, curiosity and then translated what they heard and saw to their audience, thank you.

To the people who sent me photographs for the blog: the painting was captured in a myriad of ways, and our diversity as creative people is expressed in every single shot. Your generosity and talent, definitely a Best.

To those who sought us out - to create their own related projects - Danielle Dai, Friendly Joe, Karen from Icy Indiana, Susannah Doolin, Judith Dunbar Hines, Evening Associates, Metro Squash, Museum of Science & Industry - and others who sent emails, phone calls - thank you for adding to what we brought to the table.

To all the volunteers who spent your free time outside, sometimes in bitter cold, just to bring your knowledge of Paintings Below Zero to others, thank you.

To the interns who worked hard and cheerfully alongside us, thank you so very much for your hard work and optimism.

To the City of Chicago Cultural Affairs Department and the City of Chicago Tourism Department, thank you. First, for taking a chance on this out-of-the-box project -- and then for all the diligent and cheerful work you did to realize its success. Lucas, you were just so solid. Jason, a treat to deal with. Joseph, never a better Budget Man.

Opening night was an unqualified Best. Walking to the tent, almost late, I could see it on everyone's faces - their pride and excitement. We had worked hard in all kinds of weather, we had done it, and we were going to celebrate -- together. Mayor Richard Daley, thank you for hosting Paintings Below Zero.

To Colleen Duke and Georges Rioux of the Canadian Consulate: a hundred thanks for the hundreds of things you did for us so well - to promote the project, to make us feel welcome and comfortable. You were definitely All-Out Best.

Our wonderful, inspirational crew on the ground & cast at home: you were The Best Ever.

My Very Best moment was one afternoon when Gord returned, exhausted and exhilarated from working the painting with huge crowds on Chase Promenade.

"I never thought I could find something that would move people the way your work does. But seeing the people respond to the paintings . . . I think I've done it."

Thank you to my cousin Julia, for making the trip from Indiana, to my sisters for keeping in touch - through the blog and by phone & email. To Lori for making the huge effort to be there on opening with your family.

To everyone -- we could feel your excitement from the first day we were here. Thank you for saying yes to Paintings Below Zero in December, and for saying yes, yes, yes everyday.

Photo credits: Caitlin Hicks, Colleen Duke, Matt Hotz, Susan Young, Patrick Pyszka, Jason Lewis.