Chicago’s Art on the Mart Unveils 2024 Season Featuring Nora Turato’s Wry Text Works

The organization recently named Dr. Raphael Gygax as the inaugural curator of digital art.

Nora Turato, Performance view, Basement Roma, Rome (2021). Photo: Robert Apa. Courtesy of Basement Roma/CURA.

Chicago-based program Art on the Mart was founded in 2018, and each year brings cutting edge, public digital art projects to the city’s iconic Riverwalk. Displaying contemporary art projections onto the face of The Mart—the largest commercial building in the United States—Art on the Mart has featured work by leading artists such as Nick Cave and Charles Atlas, turning the landmark building into a monumental art exhibition. Recently, Art on the Mart announced the appointment of Dr. Raphael Gygax as its first guest curator of digital art, who will help spearhead new projection commissions for the yearly programming, as well as forward initiatives aimed at bringing innovative digital art to the greater public.

The spring season of Art on the Mart’s program will open alongside the 11th edition of Expo Chicago art fair with a commissioned projection by Croatian artist Nora Turato. Recognized for her work delving into language and linguistics, the new work will see Turato explore the pervasive contemporary obsession with the idea of self-optimization.

Ahead of the opening, Art on the Mart Executive Director Cynthia Noble and Dr. Gygax discuss the importance of the organization’s mission and the significance of digital public art today.

What is the role of digital public art?

Dr. Raphael Gygax: Digital public art has the distinctive feature that it is usually not on display 24/7 compared to a sculpture in public space, for example. This temporality allows audiences to encounter it differently. It is less a matter of course, it can spark a “disruption,” a moment of pause. It is less quickly taken for granted.

Cynthia Noble: As cities question the primacy of advertising in shared spaces, they are increasingly employing digital public art as an intervention across a variety of platforms, including video mapping projects on existing surfaces, new screens and even billboards.

Contributing to placemaking, digital art content offers surprising and novel experiences that ideally bring people together and catalyze constructive dialogue around the most important issues of our time. In that sense, digital art platforms are wonderfully agile in response to changing social conditions.

What can an organization like Art on The Mart do for a city?

C.N.: Public art bolsters a sense of connection and belonging, which helps to heal contemporary social isolation that was exacerbated by the pandemic. Public art can also create a sense of civic unity and pride when it serves as points for convening and a marker of place or destination. Art in the public realm also greatly contributes to a healthy creative economy and, therefore, a healthy economic context. And digital public art is particularly engaging to wider audiences—especially for younger generations, who are so shaped by and responsive to technology.

With all this in mind, we have showcased the work of international artists, such as Barbara Kruger, Derrick Adams, and this season, Nora Turato, as well as creatives and community partners in Chicago across disciplines. Locally, we’ve joined forces with the musicians and dancers behind the Bud Billiken Parade and the Joffrey Ballet. We collaborate with the Art Institute of Chicago to extend their exhibitions into the public realm. Every year, we exhibit work by students from Chicago Public Schools and School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

R.G.: Art on the Mart is a truly unique project for a city. The immersive experience of large projections not only provide transcendent moments, but they also make us see content and stories in a completely different way.

A black square with large red all capitalized serif text reading: this is a test of severance. With smaller lowercase white text along the bottom reading: can you let go?

Nora Turato, THIS IS A TEST OF SEVERANCE. can you let go? (2024). Courtesy of the artist.

What does it take to commission a custom, site-specific piece of digital art?

R.G.: For every commissioned work it is essential that there is a basic trust between the artist and the curator—they are working towards the same goal. To establish this relationship, good communication is always needed, or rather, you must find out how the best possible communication works. This varies from artist to artist. And of course, as a curator, you must know the artistic practice of the invited person very well.

C.N.: We identify artists who are interested in engaging the public outside of museum and gallery walls and at great scale. So, engaging imagery is as important as conceptual rigor. Once we commit to an artist and idea, we do multiple rounds of testing on façade over a period of at least a year as well as collaborate to develop the accompanying audio. Once an artist delivers final files using our video mapping templates, we work with a lighting design and integration team to tailor the LED building crown lighting to each projection. The total installation includes the video, audio, and crown lighting for an immersive experience.

What’s upcoming in 2024? What themes are you excited to see explored?

R.G.: What I love about Art on the Mart is that we don’t shy away from complex issues while also broadcasting art that is accessible to a wide audience. Our spring season kicks off with Nora Turato’s piece, which perfectly exemplifies this principle of ours.

Turato, a trained graphic designer and well known for her performances, has built a bold, typographic journey from the text she pulls out of advertisements, Instagram captions, and memes. A study of “self-improvement” culture, Turato wryly reflects on our global obsession with constantly bettering ourselves, moving us to think differently about what a good life looks like. The launch event is free and open to everyone, just meet us on the Riverwalk!

C.N.: From May 1 to May 12, we’ll showcase art by Chicago Public Schools high school seniors. On June 6, we kick off our summer season, featuring new commissions by British-Nigerian multidisciplinary artist Yinka Ilori and post-conceptual American artist Cory Arcangel. Our fall season begins September 12, when we’ll gather and dance alongside Chicago-based artist Brendan Fernandes’s work, and from November 21 until our season ends on December 30, we’ll feature our second iteration of a partnership with the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Learn more about Art on the Mart’s 2024 season here.

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