– Summer 2009

‘A Visionary Dream, Unrealized’: The Drawings of Michael Rakowitz

One long, bright August evening in 2006, Michael Rakowitz and I met on the South Side of Chicago to watch the Yankees play the White Sox. It seemed the most fitting way to celebrate Rakowitz's move to Chicago after a life largely spent in New York, since both of us love baseball and he is a lifelong Yankees fan. From our seats high above home plate we had a great view of the whole field. We relished the aesthetics of the game - not just the moments of athletic grace but also the poetry within minutiae: the awkward stances of some batters; the fielders' strategic shifts of position over the course of an inning; the perfect wrist-flick that seals the double play. Those upper-deck seats also gave us a view out to the urban surroundings that butt up against the perfectly manicured world of the stadium. Just past the bleachers and scoreboard we could glimpse the Robert Taylor Homes, a block of high-rise flats that was being demolished as part of a controversial plan to relocate the impoverished residents of Chicago's publichousing projects to mixed-income sites around the city. One of the largest projects built during the mid-century public-housing boom in the US, the Taylor Homes were meant to provide access to pleasant, affordable apartments within a stable community. They now typify both the promise and the collapse of that particular utopian vision.

It may seem odd to begin a text on drawing by juxtaposing baseball and public housing, but all three are crucial to Rakowitz's work. Sports stadiums and housing projects express an impulse toward societal self-improvement on a grand scale, so it makes sense

  1. I would like to thank Michael Rakowitz for years of rich, ongoing dialogue about his work, and in particular for freely sharing details of his working process and the back stories behind these projects. His website includes substantial information on all of the projects cited here: http://www.michaelrakowitz.com (last accessed on 13 March 2009).

  2. This was part of a 1968 reconstruction at the Moderna Museet in Sweden. See Nathalie Leleu's brief essay 'The Model of Vladimir Tatlin's Monument to the Third International: Reconstruction as an Instrument of Research and States of Knowledge', Tate Papers, August 2007, http://www.tate.org.uk/ research/tateresearch/tatepapers/07autumn/leleu.htm (last accessed on 13 March 2009).

  3. Email from the artist, January 2009.

  4. Ibid.

  5. See, for instance, our interview in Beyond Green: Toward a Sustainable Art (exh. cat.), Chicago and New York: Smart Museum of Art, University of Chicago and Independent Curators International, 2005, pp.122-25.

  6. These include Endgames (2006), The Invisible Enemy Should Not Exist (2007-ongoing), White Man Got No Dreaming and The Worst Condition Is to Pass Under a Sword Which Is Not One's Own (2009).

  7. Dull Roar was initially shown at Lombard-Freid Projects. The Real Estate Drawings and inflatable sculpture remain together and subsequently have been shown several times as an installation along with reconstructed versions of the walkway. The other drawings and sculptures have been dispersed.