More Strange than True

“The reminder and the reassurance that it is still there is good for our spiritual health even if we never once in ten years set foot in it… It is important to us when we are old simply because it is there––important that is, simply as idea.” 1

In this passage, the American novelist Wallace Stegner references our need for wilderness. However, his observation can also be applied to the relationship one has with public spaces such as Pulaski Park. Today, a place like Pulaski Park exists more “as an idea” rather than an actual place of public service. Created in 1914 as part of an effort to expand neighborhood parks throughout the west side of Chicago, the three-story brick field house at Pulaski Park was based on the vision of landscape architect Jens Jensen, a building intended to hold social services such as public bathing, a library, a children’s playground, athletics, and inexpensive hot meals. The beauty and elegance of the field house seems displaced with its tile roofs, open porches, murals, a tower, among other architectural elements. Built in what was a predominantly Polish neighborhood of factories and workers’ housing, the large building was designed to imitate the Eastern European architecture familiar to the immigrant community.  

The exhibition’s title, More Strange Than True, refers to the estrangement or the separation that exists between the Chicago public parks––in this case Pulaski Park––and the city in general. Chicago’s public park system is both essential and imperceptible––it is a real network of territories and also an idea––it is a city within the city that often passes unnoticed, overlooked and unseen. A public space such as Pulaski Park is formed by the dynamics of the situation. This is to say that much of the specificity of this place depends on the precise moment of its existence. Nowadays Pulaski Park is not necessarily a provider of basic services for the neighborhood, then what could its function be?   

Due to the unknown existence of some of these parks, the 12 artists and teams in this exhibition were asked to relate to Pulaski Park in a distanced, mental and imaginative way rather than in a physical way. Although the artworks are site-specific, artists were asked to avoid visiting the space and to instead re-imagine the space with the assistance of a detailed floor plan made specifically for this show, the description of the space by the curators, archival materials, and research. Fundamental to the artists’ project is the evolution of the dynamic between public and private spaces. This group exhibition takes place in the upper lever corridor of the field house. This space is called a “gallery” in architectural terms, a narrow balcony or platform running the length of a wall. It is a second-story opening onto a large interior area that used to be an auditorium, intended to provide additional seating. This “gallery” has been completely unused, in a way abandoned, and will be activated with contemporary artworks.

Today, iconic meeting places in the City abound. There are streets and bars, for example, that exist as actual places that are also idealized; they exist in another dimension that transforms them. It is in these places, in these situations, that the events of everyday life take place, not only where people experience the banality of their routine but also where they confront the emptiness of a society that imposes rules upon them even though it also offers them a possibility to transgress them. Often ignored and taken for granted, public parks not only make up our everyday world––they also give meaning and texture to our lives. When one looks to the core of their structures to see what contributes to their richness, their importance lies most and foremost in them existing as an idea.

1 Wallace Stegner, “Wilderness Letter,” Marking the Sparrow’s Fall: The Making of the American West, ed. Page Stegner (New York, 1998), 112.  

Exhibition  / 2016


Elizabeth Atterbury, Dana Carter, Ramón Miranda Beltrán, Dana Levy, Michael Rado and Fran Lightbound Bailey Romaine and Aaron Walker, Michal Samama, Adam Schreiber, and Ann Toebbe. Closing performance by Allyson Packer.

Partner Organizations:

Chicago Park District Pulaski Park


Chicago Parks Foundationm Duane Morris LLP, Gallery 400, Perrier, Lakeshore Beverage, Koval Distillery, Spinning J Bakery & Soda Fountain, and Café Marie Jeanne.
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