Chicago, a city well know for its prolific public art scene, has just added a new sculpture to the mix. Unlike the famous domineering Picasso in the business sector, not far from the Art Institute of Chicago, the new 25-foot-tall sculpture inspired by iconic painting Grant Wood’s "American Gothic", stands as an ironic homage to the cliché of Midwestern lifestyle. "God Bless America", by J. Seward Johnson, is on loan from The Sculpture Foundation, an organization famous for promoting public art. Although the sculpture has been criticized as a knockoff, and a bit trite, people seem to love it! "It speaks to Midwesterners, especially the farmer aspect of it," said Melissa Farrell, an executive assistant at Zeller and the liaison to Johnson's The Sculpture Foundation, which owns the work. Indeed, since being put up in Pioneer Plaza for display last December, God Bless America has become, by most estimates, one of the top public-art attractions in a city that believes, even with a tight budget, in buying and displaying art and boasts several superstars of the genre. These include the Picasso sculpture in Daley Plaza, Calder's Flamingo in Federal Plaza and, surpassing everything in popularity these days, Cloud Gate, commonly known as The Bean, in Millennium Park.
Not only that, but the Chicago-Herald Tribune also says that this exhibition is encouraging people to go to the Art Institute of Chicago, and see the painting on which the sculpture is based. Unlike "Cloud Gate" or the Picasso, which appeal to the cognoscenti and passersby, this photo-op, tongue-in-cheek sculpture has really only garnered a lot of attention from passersby. In fact, Johnson gets mediocre reviews from art critics."It's very successful," Kelley said. "I really like it. It is incredibly well crafted. It's high craftsmanship as a public art piece. It doesn't inspire me as a work of art the way Cloud Gate or the Picasso does. As an art historian, it's not my favorite genre where one artist appropriates another artist's imagery. But to everybody his own right."
Perhaps critics shun this piece, but it’s friendly to the masses, and perhaps encourages aspiring art lovers. So why not?