A few weeks ago I went with a friend to take in the Greek antiquities exhibit at the Field Museum. On our way out of the south entrance afterwards, we noticed what looked to both of us like a twelve foot column of crap just to the left of the door. Coming closer to read the wall label we were surprised to learn the artist’s name: Herb Alpert.

Walking out toward the parking lot we were greeted by a few more of Mr. Alpert’s creations along the museum steps. Their sight inspired my friend—who’s a few years older than me and came of age during Alpert’s musical hayday—to launch a diatribe against the man and his music. I did my best to defend him, saying the light horn sounds of his Tijuana Brass were mostly harmless. Right now, in virtually every thrift-store in America, you can probably pick up a gently-used copy of “Whipped Cream & Other Delights” as well as a dozen other of his best-selling LPs. Could all those folks have been wrong?

A couple clicks of the mouse reveal that the turd towers we witnessed are actually called “Spirit Totems” and were inspired by seeing the Native American sculpture of the Pacific Northwest. Alpert has apparently been making paintings and sculptures for 45 years, when not busy selling 75 million albums, running A & M Records, and being a world-renowned philanthropist. In the few news items I could find about the exhibit, these pieces are repeatedly referred to as “frozen smoke”, while smoke was certainly not the frozen substance that came immediately to mind to either of us when confronted with them in the flesh. 

We wondered aloud how much it must’ve cost to cast these things in bronze. Tens of thousands of dollars, most likely. And how did they end up gracing our natural history museum? In the news items I read, Alpert is quoted as being thrilled to exhibit there but offers little detail about how it all came to pass. There is no mention of the pieces on the Field’s website either.

The fact that a hugely successful personage gets to indulge their hobbies in public isn’t that newsworthy, I know. I pass an exhibit of the late actor Anthony Quinn’s art displayed on the ground floor of the National Hellenic Museum in Greektown nearly every day on the Halsted bus. You can easily track down Madonna’s movie-director efforts online. Molly Ringwald’s jazz records and James Franco’s books can be had there as well. When you do well in entertainment all kinds of doors open to you.

I had forgotten all about this until seeing the beautiful show of sculptor Martin Puryear’s drawings and prints at the Art Institute last week. There are no public Puryears in Chicago even though he is acknowledged widely as one of the great sculptors of our time and spent significant time here. Perhaps he’d do better to record a light jazz album. Meanwhile we’re stuck with Herb Alpert’s shit sculptures until this fall at the Field.

Coincidentally, Alpert gave a very entertaining interview to Marc Maron last week.