Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Free art for everyone—if you can find it

Chicago Tribune had this interesting story, about a guy who leaves his art around for people to pick up. It's a simialr concept to

n. the practice of leaving a book in a public place to be picked up and read by others, who then do likewise.

(added to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary in August 2004)

At bookcrossing's web site people post where they leave books. It's really a cool site- check it out:: and see if their are any books in your neighborhood.

The artist in this story post where he is leaving his art via Twitter. (Note he is in Chicago)

Patrick Skoff wanted his paintings to be noticed. So he started dropping them in plain sight, free for all

By Christopher Borrelli, Tribune reporter

February 10, 2010

Patrick Skoff and his friend Samantha Brown climbed from the van with a small painting. They placed it at the base of a statue, took pictures of it with their cell phones, typed in brief messages, then walked away.

A jogger ran past, glanced at the painting and kept going. Another approached, slowed, but continued on.

For a few minutes, the painting sat there, abandoned on a street corner, for anyone to walk off with.

No one did.

A moment later, a car shot to the curb.

A large bearded man leapt from the front seat so quickly his seat belt had no time to snap back into place. The buckle clattered against the pavement and the nylon belt unfurled onto the street. The man left his car door wide open and darted across the road. It was a January Sunday morning in Lincoln Park, drizzling and quiet. He ran straight toward the statue of Greene Vardiman Black, a pioneer of modern dentistry techniques. There, leaning against Black, was Skoff's painting, an acrylic abstract. Thin squiggles of red and blue bounced across the center of the black canvas like sonar pings. A sheet of plastic had been wrapped around its rectangular frame to stave off the rain.

The man said nothing.

He placed the painting under his arm and ran back to his car. He slid the canvas into the back seat, where a woman sat, huddled between two larger paintings, smiling bashfully. She grabbed for the edges of the frame and navigated the artwork through the car door and added it to their small collection.

Skoff watched with bemusement, and anxiety.

Bemusement, because he had painted the work the man grabbed. If he had sold it, he would have asked $70 — which is modest, though it's $70 he could have used. The '88 Chevy van he drove, for starters, could use a passenger door that opens from inside. But leaving the painting for someone to carry off was always the intent. He had no regrets. In fact, he painted the work, and many others, specifically for this purpose: He would abandon each painting in a public place, then walk away. Just as he has done every month for a year.

Skoff ran a landscaping business for a decade but was unhappy and gave it up to paint full time. Now he drives in from his home in Glen Ellyn. He tools around Chicago for a few hours and leaves hundreds of dollars worth of his art in random spots. He drops hints about the locations via Twitter and texts. Then he goes home.

He watched the man carry off his painting with some anxiety, though, because — well, because he worried that the people in that car were onto him. He doesn't want to have too much contact with anyone who has found his paintings, he said. He prefers the mysterious altruism of the idea. So far that morning he had left three paintings around Chicago — one a block from Michigan Avenue, one in the Gold Coast and one in Lincoln Park — and they had found all three. He planned to leave four more that day and was getting antsy. His van, a charcoal behemoth covered in Pollock-esque splatters and graffiti splotches, was tough to miss.

He didn't want them to follow, but they did.

Which is ironic.


A year and a half ago, Skoff, 32, began to leave his artwork around Chicago for others to take home because he realized how easy it was to ignore his artwork. He was not getting noticed. And now he is.

At one location that morning, after he drove off, two cars racing toward the spot where he left a painting got into a fender bender in front of it, Skoff heard from a participant. During previous hunts, participants have had cars ticketed and towed.

"I hate to hear that," he said, sitting in his van. "People come out to find a $100 piece of art and go home with $500 in repairs. Maybe this could get too big." As he spoke, a man appeared in the corner of his eye, running down the street in his direction. Skoff watched with a fascinated smile. The man reached the statue of Black, raced around it, then, never noticing the paint-splattered van nearby, threw up his arms and walked away.

"You can always tell the ones following us," Brown said. "And there are the ones who think we don't see them and wait for us to turn a corner then grab our paintings and walk away fast, like they stole something."

At last count, Skoff figures 700 people — via Twitter, Facebook and texts, where he and Brown call themselves "Skoff and Sam" — were following his exploits, receiving digital hints about where and when he would leave new artwork. The idea began smaller. Skoff would take the Eisenhower, get off in the South Loop, leave a painting, then, because he didn't know the city, go home. At times he would watch for a few minutes after he left a piece. Often people hurried past, without stopping. "The first time, I thought 'So I just leave it?' Would I get into trouble somehow? Was I littering?"

On the back of each work, Skoff left his e-mail address. He got a few replies, informing him that his painting was found. He told them to keep it. (This is how he met Brown, who found two of his works, and now paints with him.) After a few months of this, the number of claimed paintings went from a small fraction of the number left to half. He kept the replies — a few liked the piece they found so much they asked him to paint on commission. He started to sell his art on Craigslist. But more importantly, he had created a market for himself and built a network of followers, many of whom wanted to know when he would leave some new art.

So he made a game of it.

A game that raises questions: Is it about art? Or self-promotion? The thrill of the hunt? Or a sly comment on art appreciation? Is it generous or, considering he's unknown, desperate? Does it prove, as he believes, you don't need "a gallery light shining on a work to show art; the city can be your gallery"? Or the opposite — that context matters, and, considering how many people walk past his art without pausing, real art is gallery art?

"He makes people work to find art," said Tricia Van Eck, associate curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art, "which is interesting, but does it mean anything? It would mean more if there was some criticality to it."

"Leaving your paintings on a street corner and expecting someone to walk by and consider it?" asked art dealer William Lieberman, of the Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in River North. "I have been doing this 30 years. I have never heard of anything like that. Sounds like the work can't be that difficult to achieve if he's giving it away — yet you say people are buying his art now? They probably don't know what they're buying, I'm sure."

Or, maybe quality isn't the point anyway.

Said Steven Lappe, Skoff's art teacher at East Leyden High School in Franklin Park: "Chicago has a tendency to be a poor art market for its native children, and an artist makes (his) own opportunity."


"Right here," Skoff said, not long after making the stop in Lincoln Park. He pulled alongside a curb on Clark Street, before a row of abandoned storefronts that sat behind rusted gates. "It's an ugly spot, and we can make it pretty — for 15 minutes or so." They climbed out of the van and moved a dirty diaper aside and rested a small yellow abstract against the grating. Brown Tweeted a message hinting at the location, and they moved on, to Wicker Park, where they placed another painting against a crumbling CTA track pillar off Damen Avenue.

Finished, they waited.

Brown, 20, thin and willowy, huddled on the floor of the van, shivering. Skoff, a guileless sort, stared from the windshield. He wore a fleece zip-up. Splattered paint on his pant leg ran in unbroken streaks to his sneakers. He said he doesn't want to "do the traditional Chicago art loop," doesn't want to keep a loft or hang out with other artists. He said he's uneasy in art galleries, and that he's selling three or four pieces a week anyway (at $150 on average), but he doesn't need a lot of money. He also said none of this is meant to provoke — "It's not a socioeconomic statement. I'm saying if you like my art, and do the work, it's yours."

Told of Skoff, and shown examples of his work, Chicago curators, teachers and gallery owners said he had skill, but they were not impressed. They brought up precedents — napkin scribbles Picasso would give away, the Papergirl project in Berlin (art rolled up in cardboard tubes, tossed from bicycles), an Art Institute of Chicago marketing campaign that involves red cubes left throughout the city, an MCA exhibit that asks visitors to find the works.

Maud Lavin, chair of visual and critical studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, said Skoff's hunt is a "kissing cousin" of relational art, which deals in human contact and not framed pieces. Donald Young of the Donald Young Gallery in the West Loop said: "An artist can do well being a decorative artist or by copying impressionistic painters or being an original thinker, but that last one is different from others. Though in a way, what he's doing is about the human story and the art is irrelevant."

Skoff, to an extent, might agree.

Beneath the Damen Blue Line, after 10 minutes passed, a car pulled up and a woman leapt from a passenger door and ran to Skoff's piece, giddy. She said she had just come from her lawyer's office and was considering bankruptcy. She said she'd just had property foreclosed on. She said she needed something to brighten her day, and her daughter had told her about Skoff. He smiled and thanked her, then he drove home.

View photos of Patrick Skoff dropping off his art.

On the hunt

Patrick Skoff and Samantha Brown (@SkoffAndSam on Twitter) plan to conduct their next art scavenger hunt Sunday. Here are the locations they chose Jan. 24.

1. Fountain at East Illinois Street and Cityfront Plaza, between Tribune Tower and the NBC building

2. Corner of North Ritchie Court and East Banks Street, in the Gold Coast

3. Southeast corner of Lincoln Park: the Greene Vardiman Black statue at Astor Street

4. Totem pole at Recreation Drive and Lake Shore Drive

5. 4400 block of North Clark Street, near Montrose Avenue

6. West Webster Avenue, behind the Green Dolphin Street venue

7. Against a pillar beneath the Damen Blue Line "L" stop at North and Milwaukee avenues

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