Chairs on parade? City is furnishing them as street art

By Jae-Ha Kim
Chicago Sun-Times
May 27, 2001

Get ready for the latest in summer street art.

Two years after Cows on Parade won worldwide media attention for Chicago, the city is installing “Suite Home Chicago”–a series of 350 pieces of life-size sofas, chairs, ottomans and televisions, decorated by more than 150 Chicago area artists.

Workers began installing the fiberglass pieces at 8 p.m. Friday. By summer’s end, the city expects to have at least 500 of the exhibits on display along Michigan Avenue, on the museum campus and in the Loop. O’Hare and Midway airports will get exhibits, as well. (There were only 320 cows.)

Furniture? Not quite the creative inspiration one would expect. Why not automobiles, dresses or even another animal?

“Furniture is something that everyone can relate to,” said Nathan Mason, curator of special projects for the Department of Public Art. “The city of Chicago is the center for furniture design and manufacturing, going all the way back to when the [former] American Furniture Mart was located at 680 N. Lake Shore.”

The displays will vary from individual pieces to suites (a grouping of sofa, chair, ottoman, TV) painted and adorned by area artists, who were paid $1,500 per piece.

“Suite Home Chicago” will be on display through Oct. 13.

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How suite it is: Raves greet artful furniture


Tourists already are crawling all over them, snapping up pictures and oohing and aahing down Michigan Avenue.

“Suite Home Chicago,” the city’s latest public art exhibit, which features fiberglass furniture pieces decorated by local artists, has arrived.

“They’re delightful and whimsical,” said Chicagoan Lore Friedrich as she admired the first of about 500 sofas, chairs, ottomans and televisions that will be scattered throughout Chicago this summer.

“It’s a totally original idea,” Friedrich said as she studied “A Room with a View,” a set of furniture on North Michigan decorated with clouds, fish and butterflies.

The official launching of “Suite Home Chicago” is June 1, but city workers started installing the pieces Friday night. The exhibit, presented by the city Department of Cultural Affairs, runs through Oct. 13 at sites downtown, on the museum campus and at O’Hare and Midway airports.

This comes two years after “Cows on Parade” won worldwide media attention, and one year after the city’s Ping-Pong effort blew out of town with a whimper. The city is hoping for another hit.

“Furniture is something that everyone can relate to,” said Nathan Mason, of the cultural affairs department.

The city chose the theme because Chicago once was a center for furniture design and manufacturing, Mason said. The now-defunct American Furniture Mart housed one of the world’s largest furniture markets, and furniture remains a staple with the Merchandise Mart and visiting furniture trade shows.

But can sofas top–or even match–the cows? One Detroit visitor thinks so.

“I don’t think I’d want to sit on a cow and take a picture,” 27-year-old Talisha Rice said as she and three friends sat for a snapshot on a North Michigan sofa covered with images of three Chicago bungalows.

“It’s definitely eye-catching and already the talk of the town.”

But Zan Higgens, of Morris, is still partial to the fiberglass cows, which were decorated by artists and displayed on city sidewalks and in plazas during summer 1999.

“This won’t be as popular,” said Higgens, who took the train Saturday with her husband and three children from Morris, 60 miles from Chicago. When the cows were on display, Higgens brought her family up several times.

“Kids fall in love with animals, and everyone wants to stop.”

Contributing: Kate N. Grossman

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