UChicago Arts' Concrete Happenings aims to spark dialogue on public art

Yearlong initiative brings Wolf Vostell's Concrete Traffic back to campus

Concrete Traffic-siting mockup
Digital rendering of Wolf Vostell’s Concrete Traffic, 1970, in its new location at the entrance to the University of Chicago campus north parking garage.
Courtesy of
The Wolf Vostell Estate
Mary Abowd
News Officer for Arts & HumanitiesUniversity Communications

UChicago Arts announces the return of Wolf Vostell’s groundbreaking Concrete Traffic sculpture—a more than 16-ton, 1957 Cadillac de Ville encased in concrete—to its longtime home in Hyde Park this fall, following a four-year conservation effort. The colossal work, conceived in 1970 by German Fluxus artist Vostell (1932–1998), will aim to “interrupt daily life” by being placed among the everyday vehicular and pedestrian traffic in the Campus North Parking Garage at 5525 S. Ellis Ave.

UChicago Arts will celebrate the sculpture’s return to public view and initiate dialogue on the power of public art with a series of free exhibitions and public programs under the moniker Concrete Happenings, presented at UChicago institutions including the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts, Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society and Smart Museum of Art, among others, throughout the 2016-2017 academic year.

“The extraordinary event of returning this monumental sculpture to our campus is the first footprint on a trail we’re making toward a new engagement with public art,” said Bill Brown, Deputy Provost for the Arts and Karla Scherer Distinguished Service Professor in American Culture. “Public art is important not least because it makes walking through campus an intellectual experience. It can fascinate people; it can challenge people; and it can provoke them to wonder about the relation of form and space, objects and environments.” 

Kicking off Concrete Happenings will be the dramatic transport of Concrete Traffic through traffic in a public procession from its current location at the Humboldt Park storage and conservation facility Methods and Materials, to its mother institution at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, then on to its permanent home in Hyde Park on Friday, Sept. 30, from 11:30 am–4 pm. Concrete Happenings will officially launch with a Drive-in Happening featuring a projection of automobile-related films and videos by Vostell within the Campus North Parking Garage on Friday, Oct. 14, starting at 6 pm.

"Concrete Traffic exemplifies the dilemma of public art, caught between desiring urban contexts and broad audiences on the one hand, and being subjected to environmental exposure and possible vandalism on the other,” said Christine Mehring, Chair and Professor in the Department of Art History and the College. “This is why conservation measures are essential to preserving the art-historical significance of artworks like Concrete Traffic, which so often use non-traditional yet culturally significant materials such as concrete. This is also why we are focused on raising awareness of the challenging issue of public art conservation through the exhibitions, film screenings, symposia, happenings and other programming taking place through the Concrete Happenings project.” 

The University of Chicago has a rich history of embracing challenging public art on and around campus as a means of extending the intellectual life of the community beyond classrooms, libraries and labs and into the everyday spaces that shape the human experience.

Concrete Happenings builds on that legacy by inviting artists, communities, scholars and art-lovers to experience the power of public art through a yearlong celebration featuring exhibitions and interactive public programs, including happenings, music performances, film screenings, talks, book and paper arts workshops and more.

Concrete Happenings is also part of a yearlong celebration of public art in 2017. The City of Chicago’s 50x50: Celebrating 50 Years of Public Art in Chicago initiative aims to catalyze and connect public art making and engagement in each of the city’s 50 wards, to advance the goals of the Chicago Cultural Plan by bringing public art directly to Chicago neighborhoods.

Concrete Happenings Launch Events

An up-to-date schedule of related public exhibitions and programming is posted online at arts.uchicago.edu/concretehappenings

Concrete Traffic Procession to the University of Chicago, Friday, Sept. 30, 11:30 am–4 pm

Vostell’s Concrete Traffic returns to the University of Chicago campus. The procession will begin at its current location, Methods and Materials, before stopping outside of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago Ave., where it will be joined at noon by a number of classic Cadillacs and cement trucks as a backdrop for a free public discussion with Michael Darling, James W. Alsdorf Chief Curator at the MCA, and Christine Mehring, faculty director of Concrete Happenings and Chair and Professor in the Department of Art History and the College. Afterward, a “happening” will take place at the sculpture’s original downtown site, across from the present-day Arts Club of Chicago, 201 E. Ontario St. Finally, the sculpture will make its way past Midway Studios and the Logan Center for the Arts, site of its original location at the University of Chicago. The procession will conclude when the car arrives at its installation location in the Campus North Parking Garage, 5525 S. Ellis Ave.

Drive-In Happening, Friday, Oct. 14, 6–8 pm

The University of Chicago, Campus North Parking Garage, 5525 S. Ellis Ave.

Playing upon several of Vostell’s happenings and ideas—including Project for a Drive-In Museum (1970), which envisioned two television sets on a highway interchange projecting artwork and television programs, and Berlinfieber (1972), a happening that began with instructions for driving and parking one’s car in different locations in Berlin—this screening event takes place within the Campus North Parking Garage near the Concrete Traffic sculpture. Viewers will be able to watch a series of films and videos by Vostell related to automobiles, including Ruhender Verkehr (1969), a film loop made from the documentation of the creation of Vostell’s eponymous first concrete car.

History of Concrete Traffic (1970)

The largest Fluxus object in existence, Concrete Traffic is a public sculpture consisting of a 1957 Cadillac de Ville, which, save for its undercarriage and whitewall rubber tires, is encased in concrete. The sculpture is 19’3” long, 7’5.5” wide, and 5’9” tall, and weighs 32,400 pounds—over 16 tons. Conceived by artist Wolf Vostell as an “instant happening” and an “event sculpture,” Concrete Traffic was commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. On the morning of Jan. 16, 1970, in a busy Chicago commuter parking lot on East Ontario and North St. Clair streets, Chicago artisans brought Vostell’s vision to life, pouring concrete over the car to create the monumental concrete sculpture. Concrete Traffic spent several months in the lot collecting parking tickets until the artist and the MCA gifted the sculpture to the University of Chicago, where it was sited in an outdoor lot at 60th Street and Drexel Avenue—the current site of the Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. Concrete Traffic spent nearly 40 years exposed to the elements, until a major four-year conservation project initiated by Mehring, in partnership with the Neubauer Collegium and the Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry, was undertaken between June 2012 and September 2016, complemented by material investigation and a series of workshops. This work culminates in the partnership of UChicago arts organizations and presentation of Concrete Happenings.

About the Artist & Fluxus Movement

Wolf Vostell (1932–1998) was a German artist best known for video art, performances and installations involving televisions, automobiles and other household objects. A key mode for Vostell was the “happening,” an art event or situation intended to interrupt everyday life that often involved audience participation and some measure of improvisation or chance. For many of Vostell’s happenings, like most performance-based practices, very little survives. However, Vostell often held on to the sculptural remnants of his performances and referred to them as happening “fallouts.” Concrete Traffic marks a shift in his practice from generating accidental happening fallouts to producing conceptually designed formal sculptures.

Fluxus is a loosely defined, international, performance-based, avant-garde art movement. Associated artists such as Vostell, Joseph Beuys, Allan Kaprow and Yoko Ono sought to involve viewers in the creation of art, rather than its result. As Fluxus works most often took the form of events or happenings that viewers experienced by chance, the movement is typically represented by ephemeral artifacts such as fliers, photographs and film documentation.

Concrete Happenings is organized by UChicago Arts in partnership with the University of Chicago’s Department of Art History, Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society, Smart Museum of Art, University Library: Special Collections Research Center and Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts. The initiative is directed by Christine Mehring, Chair and Professor in the Department of Art History and the College.

Additional UChicago program partners include Chicago Center for Contemporary Theory; Film Studies Center; Franke Institute for the Humanities; Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry; Humanities Division; Institute for Molecular Engineering; Rockefeller Chapel; UChicago Urban; and the Departments of Cinema and Media Studies, Germanic Studies and Music. Other partners include the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago; the Arts Club of Chicago; and the Art Institute of Chicago.

Concrete Happenings has been made possible by each of the programming partners above, as well as the Goethe-Institut and the Smart Museum’s Pamela and R. Christopher Hoehn-Saric Exhibitions Fund and the Wolf Vostell Estate.

Support for the conservation of Concrete Traffic has been graciously provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation; Contemporary Conservation, New York; Friends of Heritage Preservation; JP Brown, Conservator, The Field Museum, Chicago; UChicago Arts Campus and Public Art Fund; Neubauer Collegium for Culture and Society; and Richard and Mary L. Gray Center for Arts and Inquiry.

About UChicago Arts

UChicago Arts connects and amplifies the impact of the University’s nearly 100 arts organizations, initiatives and academic programs. This work brings together the efforts of students, faculty, artists and community partners to infuse creativity throughout the intellectual life on campus while solidifying the University’s role as a cultural destination and resource on Chicago’s South Side.

For more information please visit arts.uchicago.edu/concretehappenings