Albin Polasek: The Sower
So this week, I went to the Chicago Botanical Garden to shoot the most famous/notorious work of Albin Polasek in Chicago: "The Sower" of 1911.
Polasek did this piece when he was 32 -- fresh from his stay in Rome -- and at the begining of his nearly 40 year career teaching sculpture at the Art Institute.
I'm guessing that during his years in Rome, he forgot that the American Midwest had a different attitude toward nude statuary -- and this celebrated piece created a furor when it was purchased and then installed by the museum near its Michigan avenue entrance.
Ministers preached -- politicians cowered -- and the city demanded its removal. The museum, however, took the case to court and won (I think) on the basis of its property rights (the city owns the land, but the museum owns what's on it)
At any rate -- it didn't stay on display forever -- and by time I first came to Chicago in the sixties -- the piece was buried deep in the museum's basement -- never to be shown by the museum again. (the fashions of the artworld were more effective in killing it than the scruples of outraged citizens had been)
Now --- almost a hundred years later -- I have a hard time seeing it as all that provocative. O.K. -- the statue has a dick -- but it's a nifty, proper classical kind -- like little Italian putti have -- nothing lurid or threatening here at all -- but maybe just a little goofy.
Why is that farmer sowing grain with his pants (and shoes and shirt) off ? He's not mythological --- he's not realistic -- what is he ? I just can't help but thinking that the piece is nothing more than a good,naturalistic figure study.
But still --- after Laredo Taft, Polasek is the city's most famous sculptor -- this was his most famous piece -- and the museum never showed it again -- finally giving it to Chicago Park district to be displayed in the Chicago Botanical Garden.(where, BTW , it has been given a magnificent setting)
I had a good time looking at this piece -- and wishing that it were only one of many good nude figure scuptures in the garden -- instead of being the one-and-only.
But still --- in comparison with other great figure sculpture -- like the following
... the shortcomings of the Polasek piece are hard to avoid.
It's a long way from naturalistic to rapturous.