Installation detail, Art on Track 2011. Image credit Nicole Nelson
This past Friday was the fourth installment of Art on Track, an ambitious project started by Tristan Hummel that transforms a CTA train into the “world’s largest mobile art gallery.” I had an amazing experience last year with Art on Track (especially so since I got a behind the scenes look as part of a Fear No Art Chicago film shoot), and I love the idea of bringing art to people in such a innovative way. In spite of suffering with a nasty cold, I wasn’t going to miss it.
I was underwhelmed by Art on Track 2011.
With only last year’s version to compare it to, maybe I’m being harsh. To recap for those who didn’t see it, Art on Track 2010 featured an 8 car train, which each car belonging to an artist group or gallery. The winning project received a $5,000 prize – an honor that went to Columbia College’s Three Blondes and a Bald Guy for “Encroachment.” The group chose to explore the intersection between private lives and the public space of a commuter train, transforming their car into a domestic space populated with a cookie-baking housewife and her teenage son, as well as your typical headphone-wearing, kindle-reading commuter. Other cars featured a stand-up comedy act, a working printing press, and a fashion show.
Artist Jackie Capozzoli in “Encroachment” installation, Art on Track 2010. Image credit Nicole Nelson
Art on Track 2011 lacks the wow factor of the previous year. The cars seemed to be mixed bag, some given over to one artist or group, others featuring several different artists. That isn’t in itself a bad thing, but without any clear labeling or brochures (a feature last year), it was hard to tell what was what. If a viewer wanted to learn more about an artist or work, they had to hope there was a business card lying around or someone to give out pamphlets. One car had a baseball team complete with sod and peanut shells on the floor on one end, and a psychedelic art installation complete with a dancing guy in a neon green wig on the other. The transition was jarring, and I can’t tell if the two had anything to do with one another. Ambiguity abounds in this year’s Art on Track.
Work from Art on Track 2011. Image credit Nicole Nelson.
Performer from Art on Track 2011. Image credit Nicole Nelson.
While I wouldn’t call any of the art blatantly bad, there were a few uninspired displays. Installation for Art on Track requires a certain level of ingenuity since nothing permanent can be done to the CTA cars. However, some artists seemed to be missing the point entirely by creating mock white wall spaces that didn’t take the unique setting or the viewer’s experience into account at all. One artist admitted to me that he didn’t think his installation through – it essentially covered all the handholds in his part of the car and made viewing art on moving, jolting CTA car a very precarious experience.
The car I found most interesting featured a installation by noisivelvet, a group that has been trying to put together a mobile garden on a CTA flat train car. For Art on Track, they put the garden inside the car, transforming the space with potted plants and hanging vines, lining the seats a floor with sod. This is the kind of art I’m looking for as part of Art on Track – something that transforms the space and makes it almost unrecognizable. I don’t want to be on a CTA car with some pictures hanging up, I want to be in an immersive art experience that just happens to be moving.
Noisivelvet installation, Art on Track 2011. Image credit Nicole Nelson
What was really missing for me this year was the interactive factor. One very cramped car had “art stations” installed along one side for participants to leave doodles on brightly colored pads of paper. Beyond that, there was little else for people to do. After a few mad dashes between cars when the train pulled to a halt (and picking up a bottled beverage courtesy of Fuze, one of the event’s sponsors), the experience was largely over.
If nothing else, maybe the Fuze will get rid of my cold.