A letter from a Chicago-area art collector to The Chicago Tribune in response to the Alan Artner review of the Art Shay exhibit at the Chicago History Museum. Click on the "Continue reading" button to read the whole letter:
Art Shay is Chicago’s only world class photo-journalist. Most critics other than Alan Artner have called Shay's current show at the Chicago History Museum an esthetic triumph. Several have grouped his street candids with those of the immortal Henri Cartier-Bresson’s.
As a collector of Shay’s works I think of him as our Michael Jordan of photography.
His pictures hang in the National Portrait Gallery, in many collections, and in a growing number of museums and galleries. Of course the appreciation of humor is subjective, but my wife, my friends and I think Shay's shot of a woman in a faux leopard coat exchanging glances with a real leopard at a Lincoln Park Zoo cage, is hilarious -- hardly the “one-liner” your critic abominates.
Like David Mamet, I have Shay’s picture “Welcome Democrats” hanging over my desk, reminding me of a time when Chicago went mad. Artner's surprising opinion that Shay's fantastic Nelson Algren pictures are “tiring” surely means they are tiring to a veteran critic, not to the young, new Algren readers I'm sure the Museum hoped to interest. His accusation of “slumming” against such a masterful depicter of the slums seems tantamount to dissing a polar explorer for wandering the ice cap.
My family found Shay’s captions under his pictures illuminating and amusing, not “hype.” That Artner found but two artistic pictures amongst the 140 on view is clearly his loss. Like Jordan’s, not all of Shay’s shots are swooshes. But many more than two of them thoughtfully rattle against the hoop before dropping in. Shay’s own favorite picture, in the group mass-disparaged by Artner, makes my point and that of most viewers I met. It's part of his “tiring” Algren series: We look through the window of a grungy all-night beauty shop on Ashland Avenue. We see a phalanx of lah-de-dah mannequin heads with stylish hairdo’s. Looking deeper, just past the mannequins, we see a little old lady under a big aluminum pot of a dryer. As Shay explains (unnecessarily , perhaps, under this dissed work of art): the mannequins are what we aspire to look like. The little old lady is what we really look like. This is one of the Shay pictures David Mamet avers in his foreword to Shay's latest book, has “the Chicago accent” and like many of his others, is “so real” he now remembers his Chicago experiences as having happened in black and white.
Artner’s love-hate review, I’m happy to say, sent my wife and me back for another visit to the Museum- to make sure we had seen the same pictures he had. Apparently we hadn't.