21c Chicago The Evergreen Penguin (2019) Cracking Art
“Chicago– a city where they are always rubbing the lamp, fetching up the genii, and contriving and achieving new impossibilities.”
– Mark Twain, Life On The Mississippi, 1883
Symbolizing growth, nature, renewal, preservation, and hope, Evergreen has been selected as the color for 21c Chicago’s penguin flock. Growth and renewal are integral to 21c’s mission and model: 21c renovations give buildings new life, transforming them into a unique combination of contemporary art museum and boutique hotel, where opportunities for discovery, inspiration, respite, and connection abound. Like the deep green flora of the forest, 21c continues to renew itself over time, as new exhibitions and installations transform these spaces again and again. Dating back to 1927, the newly renovated building on the corner of Rush and Ontario has been home to the Croydon, then the James Hotel, before the Evergreen penguins arrived in early 2020. Vaudeville performers, musicians, and actors celebrated here during the 20th century; as a community cultural center in the heart of the Water Tower Arts District, 21c Chicago welcomes new generations of artists, travelers, and visitors.
Each 21c has its own flock of penguins—each in a color that embodies the singular identity of their city. The penguins greet visitors throughout the hotel: in the lobby, elevators, hallways, guest rooms, and often, where you least expect them. Cracking Art’s mission is to raise awareness of environmental issues and the use and misuse of natural resources by creating artworks using materials derived from petroleum products. The name Cracking Art refers to the chemical reaction that occurs when converting raw crude oil into plastic or the moment when natural becomes artificial. As 21c Co-Founder Steve Wilson says, “they have really become an icon, and emblematic of our mission to make thought-provoking contemporary art more accessible to the public.”
Founded in 1993 by seven artists: Alex Angi, Kicco, Renzo Nucara, Carlo Rizzeti, Omar Ronda, Marco Veronese, and William Sweetlove, Cracking Art has created more than 600 exhibitions worldwide.
We have sought the origins of life in the earth’s oldest natural material, that is petroleum. A black, dense liquid disgorging from the warm womb of Mother Earth, and the natural repository of the planet’s entire history of organic life-forms, from its origins to the present day. We have studied the technique known as ‘cracking,’ which breaks up this natural magma into a series of synthetic, artificial derivative products. We have discovered plastic, the most modern and extraordinary element that any artist can manipulate.
We use objects and shapes in plastic that evoke or simulate nature, so as to reinstate petroleum’s ancient, primary forms of life and imagery. This means turning life back in its tracks, as a way of finding the poetical voice and soul of art in the material itself.
Manifesto for the Third Millennium
Biella, Italy, 30 May 1993
The Philosophical Project of Cracking Art
- We want to change the codes for the art of the future.
- Art is as important as our own life.
- We are men of the present and want our work to interpret contemporary problems.
- Art and life do not exist without a wholeness of nature.
- Art and culture are the only possible saviors of the world and humanity.
- We have chosen ‘Cracking’ for our work as it shows the molecular fission between natural and artificial.
- Our elected material is ‘plastic’, containing the whole experience of the planet, natural / artificial, ancient / future, and in which we seek the archaic anthropological, vegetable and animal origins, in order to build a new kind of iconography.
- We are enemies of hypocrisy, conspiracy and suspicion.
- We fight for the defense of nature and man with all our force.
- We want to leave behind a better world than the one we found.
*Cracking Art: Nascita di un’avanguardia. Milan: Mazzatta, 2005 is a comprehensive catalogue of Cracking Art up to 2005 and is available at the 21c Museum Shop.
(For those looking to visit them all: 21c Louisville, Red Penguin; 21c Cincinnati, Yellow Penguin; 21c Bentonville, Green Penguin; 21c Lexington, Blue Penguin; 21cDurham, Fuchsia Penguin; 21c Oklahoma City, Purple Penguin; 21c Nashville, Teal Penguin; 21c Kansas City, Sky Blue Penguin).