Thursday, June 12, 2008

The Red Ball Project

Imagine my surprise this morning when I arrived at my usual volunteer post at the Washington Street information desk in the Chicago Cultural Center to encounter a large red ball almost in the center of the lobby, just six or seven feet in front of my desk. My view of the lobby was effectively blocked, and of course I was curious.

I'm not talking about a small red ball here; it was fifteen feet in diameter, touching the mosaic ceiling arch above my desk. A surprising sight, indeed! Before I had time to read the material thoughtfully provided by the Cultural Center honchos, my imagination went crazy: a tomato? I was thinking of the current salmonella-tomato investigation. The Target logo gone mad? A soccer ball on steroids? At least it is my favorite color, red. I was impressed by the ball's size and the element of surprise involved in its location.

Once I settled down with my coffee and accepted the prospect of being virtually cut off from the lobby, I read the information. It seems that this is a work of art, not even a new one; it has appeared in various cities around the world. Perhaps if I'd kept up with the world of modern public art, I'd be familiar with it, but alas.

Here is what I found out:

The artist is Kurt Perschke. "Through the magnetic, playful, and charismatic nature of the RedBall the work is able to access the imagination embedded in all of us." The ball, apparently made of heavy canvas and inflated after transporting, was constructed by a U.S. inflatable kayak firm.

This one-day installation at the Cultural Center is a preview of a September event that will take the ball to about fifteen locations around Chicago. I assume that most of them will be out-of-doors, considering the ball's giant size.

As I assume the artist intended, the most interesting part of my red ball experience was noting the reactions of those who passed my desk (there was barely room for them to do so). It certainly got people's attention! How can you ignore something so large? There were a few puzzled expressions, but mainly smiles. "What is it?" was the major question. My answer was, "It's a work of art." I then referred them to a brief explanation posted nearby.

Reactions seemed to vary by age. Children were gleeful, touching, kicking, and leaning against the ball. Children love balls, perhaps the bigger, the better. The elderly sometimes wore bewildered "What's the world coming to?" expressions, sniffing "That's supposed to be art?" To one twenty-something, it was "Super cool!" One young man stooped down to assume an Atlas-holding-up-the world pose. Touching and leaning against the ball were popular for all ages--and permitted. The ball seems very sturdy.

At first I scoffed at the big red ball with the same attitude I assumed toward the wrecked vehicle installed as art outside the Museum of Contemporary Art a few years ago. But then I began to mellow. Yes, this certainly does stir the imagination. I'm not to old to appreciate and imagine. The ball is an attention getter, all right. There's nothing wrong with influencing people to smile, laugh, imagine, and ask questions.

Copyright 2008 by Marlys Marshall Styne
Photo of the ball in an unknown city, from the Internet

For further information, go to
See also my rictameter at


b said...

There is something so enchanting about anything red against a gray background. This red ball seems to invite lessons in life comments but i can't come up with anything right now.


Linda Austin said...

That is a common reaction of mine to modern art - the raised eyebrow followed by a warming interest and appreciation.

seniorwriter said...

Yes, Linda. My reaction exactly.