This fall, acclaimed contemporary artist Jitish Kallat turns the landmark Art Institute Grand Staircase into a meditation on religious tolerance, drawing on the museumʼs own history in concert with the most devastating terrorist attack on American soil. Public Notice 3, a site-specific installation, brings together two key historical moments: the first Parliament of the Worlds Religions, opening on September 11, 1893, in what is now the museums Fullerton Hall, and the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon 108 years later, on that very date. Public Notice 3the first major presentation of Kallats work in an American museumwill be on view September 11, 2010 through January 2, 2011.
The Art Institute of Chicago
has long held a unique historical connection with India. In 1893, during the World's Columbian Exposition, the museum's building served as the site of one of the most important gatherings in the history of modern religion, the first Worlds Parliament of Religions. One of the opening speakers was a young Hindu monk from India, Swami Vivekananda, who stunned and enthralled the audience of 7,000 with an address that opened one of the first dialogues between Eastern and Western traditions and, importantly, argued passionately for universalism and religious tolerance. Exactly 108 years before the attacks in New York City and Washington, DC, Swami Vivekananda called for an end to all bigotry and fanaticism and pleaded for brotherhood across all faiths, a speech that was met with a standing ovation and was heralded by journalists as one of the pivotal moments of the Exposition. (Even today, the stretch of Michigan Avenue in front of the Art Institute is the honorary Swami Vivekananda Way.)
Kallat has chosen this historical event as the basis and site for his monumental installation. For Public Notice 3, Kallat will convert the complete text of Vivekanandas inspiring speech into LED displays on each of the 118 risers of the museums Womans Board Grand Staircase, which is itself adjacent to what is now Fullerton Hall, where Vivekananda made his original presentation. Drawing attention to the great chasm between this plea for tolerance of 1893 and the very different events of September 11, 2001, the text of the speech will be displayed in the five colors of the United States Department of Homeland Security alert systemred, orange, yellow, blue, and green.
This historical coincidenceand the fact that the speech was delivered at the earliest attempt to create a global dialogue of faithsheightens the potency of Vivekanandas persuasive words. The resulting work, Public Notice 3, creates a trenchant commentary on the evolution, or devolution, of religious tolerance across the 20th and 21st centuries. The installation will serve not as a passive commemorative act but rather as an actively contemplative space.
Public Notice 3 draws on Kallats earlier works, Public Notice and Public Notice 2, which also converted historic texts into large-scale installations. In Public Notice (2003), Kallat converted the text of Jawaharlal Nehrus speech on the eve of Indian independence on August 15, 1947 into mutable rubber cement letters, which were then melted, burned, and installed against a reflective surface, lending the speech itself a violent, refractory cast. For Public Notice 2 (2008), Kallat recreated Mahatma Gandhis 1930 speech before the historic march protesting the British salt taxwhich essentially outlined a manifesto for Indian independence on the foundation of civil disobedienceinto 4500 fiberglass letters that appear to be bones. Public Notice 2 was recently one of the centerpieces of the Saatchi gift of contemporary art to the British nation.
Documenting the Art Institutes undertaking of Public Notice 3 will be a full-color, 80-page book that will be the first full-scale exploration of Jitish Kallat's work published by a North American institution. The contents will include an article by curator Madhuvanti Ghose that contextualizes Public Notice 3 within the space of the museum; an essay by Shaheen Merali on Kallat's oeuvre that situates it within an international context, focusing on key themes and works; extensive images of Public Notice 3; a conversation with the artist and scholars, including Art Institute director James Cuno, Homi Bhabha (Harvard), Jeremy Strick, Geeta Kapur, James Rondeau (AIC), and Madhu Ghose (AIC); and a complete bibliography and exhibition history.