If a certain Orange Line train looks a little more colorful on Saturday, there's a reason. It just might be the world's largest mobile art exhibit.
Now in its third year, Art on Track transforms an eight-car Chicago Transit Authority train --rented for the day -- into a moving art gallery. It's the brainchild of 23-year-old artist Tristan Hummel.
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Passengers look over the works on display in a Chicago L car during last year's Art on Track event. The CTA will roll out a new art exhibit Saturday.
ART ON TRACK
• 5 to 10 p.m. Saturday
• Enter at Adams/Wabash and Washington/Wells CTA stations
"Three years ago, I saw a newspaper article about how you could charter a CTA train," Hummel says. "I thought the CTA might make an awesome alternative venue to show work, and the novelty of it might draw a different group than the usual gallery crowd."
In the first year, Hummel raised the money himself, and the reaction was better than expected.
"We got a write-up in the New York Times arts section, which pretty much set us up for the next couple of years," he says. "We are now much more aware of who we are as an alternative art venue."
Each car has been given to a different group of artists. They will have from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Saturday to transform their cars while the train is stationed at the Midway Orange Line train yard. They also must have everything cleaned up 30 minutes after the event ends at 10 p.m.
During the five-hour trip around the Loop, the train repeatedly makes four stops, affording patrons the chance to step out and move to the next car. CTA officials announce at each stop that the train is chartered, accessible to only those with a wristband.
"We've never had a regular CTA passenger board the train by accident," Hummel says.
The CTA does put some restrictions on both form and content. Artists cannot use drills or nails to hang works. Industry-grade suction cups and duct tape affixed to felt-wrapped poles tend to be popular. The art also cannot glorify violence or graffiti, be overtly political in tone or feature nudity. Because the cars are in motion, pointy and sharp sculptures are also out.
Curator and artist Stuart Hall has been with Art on Track since the beginning and says the artistic restrictions are the least of his concerns.
"There is such a limited time to install everything, it has the feel of one of those reality shows where the designer or cook is racing against the clock," he says. "It will be frantic when we get closer to that 4:30 p.m. departure and some of the artists realize the things that they thought would work back in their studios won't work on a moving car. When things mess up --and they will -- you have to think on the fly. That makes the whole thing more exciting."
Every artist has spent the last couple of weeks riding the Orange Line, measuring windows, seats and floors. Stephen DeSantis is one of four artists assigned to Car No. 3. They are calling their piece "Encroachment."
"As artists, we were all fascinated by this notion that public transit is one area where everyone inserts themselves into the public environment and yet still carries with them aspects of the private life and where they are coming from," he explains.
The group plans to explore this notion through photography, installations and performance art pieces.
"People are always eating on the train, so we'll have a kitchen area where we'll be giving out [printed] 'cookies.' There's a home office area, and we plan to cover the windows with silk embedded with melted beeswax and pigments that should have a stained-glass effect on the light coming into our car."
For her car, Frog Greishaw plans on staging a performance art piece/fashion show for her Chicago fashion studio, House of Frog.
"One entrance to the car will be the VIP section where you can watch the runway alongside cutouts of Anna Wintour, Darth Vader, the Olsen Twins, the Kardashians and Gwyneth Paltrow," she says. "If you enter the other door, you'll be backstage and we will add an accessory to what you are wearing and send you down the catwalk with one of our House of Frog models."
Greishaw will have four photographers stationed along the catwalk snapping photos. The candid shots will be available later next week on houseoffrog.com.
"I'm hoping people will appreciate fashion shows more and realize just how crazy it is to put one on," she says.
For the first time in the show's history, cars will be juried by a panel of judges including the Zhou Brothers, Linda Warren and Paul Klein. The winning car will take home a $5,000 grant.
Hall says he doesn't think the additional financial incentive will change the spirit of the show much.
"If anything, it will mean that the quality of the work is a lot better," he says. "For most of us, this is one of the greatest art shows to be attached to; it's a great way of branding yourself as a gallery or an artist."