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Editorial: Columns
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Looking Ahead 15 Years
Editors’ Roundtable
Column by James Yood

James Cuno alongside George Seurat's "A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte" at the start of his tenure at the Art Institute of Chicago in 2004. Photo: M. Spencer Green/Associated Press


In 1998 I was among the founding members of the Chicago Art Critics Association (yes, we knew that a stunning number of local artists and gallerists would gleefully refer to us as CACA, and we were right!). We did a lot of things in the seven or eight years that CACA was active, and though there were desultory efforts to keep it going and, in recent years, to revive it, it pretty much faded away by 2008 (check out its archive).  We'd meet as a group for conversation every two months or so, organize panel discussions here and there, we published a newsletter in print or online several times and discussed Chicago artists at the big Chicago art fair, etc. It allowed us to extend what were up to then casual or even non-existent professional acquaintanceships, and some of CACA's members remain good friends of mine to this day.

In 2004, when James Wood resigned as Director of the Art Institute of Chicago (he had held the job for 25 years) to take a similar position at the Getty Museum and Foundation in Los Angeles, the members of CACA decided to frame its next newsletter around the concept of each of us writing a note to James Cuno, Wood's successor at the Art Institute. Most of my colleagues — all of this is on that website in the April 2004 newsletter — either proposed new directions for the museum or aired some old grievances. If Cuno ever saw it, it might have given him some moments of pause. I don't remember why, but I decided to write as if from the future, and penned Cuno a letter dated April 23, 2019, congratulating him on his fifteenth anniversary at the AIC and wishing him well on his impending departure from Chicago.

Two points in my future-letter to Cuno surprised me when I had occasion to reread it recently. The first is what I guessed from the vantage point of 2004 what Cuno would do come 2019. I congratulated him "on your retirement from the AIC and your forthcoming role as Distinguished Professor of Fine Arts at UCLA." As it turned out, I wasn't far off, just about eight years and three miles — Cuno stayed at the AIC for seven years and in 2011 moved on, not to UCLA, but to the Getty, where he continues to be President and CEO of the J. Paul Getty Trust, assuming the very job that Wood took on when he left Chicago. (Wood tragically died in 2010, Cuno succeeding him after a one year search.) So I prognosticated L.A. right, but I guessed Cuno might go back to academia, which he hasn't — yet. 

The second one, and I had completely forgotten this, was that I thanked Cuno for some things, and noted "you were kind enough to include me in the group that showed President Clinton around when she visited here in 2010." I'm writing this current column in late October 2016, and in about two weeks Hillary Clinton may well be elected President of the United States. I wish I could recall what I was thinking in 2004 that had me proposing she might be President in 2010, or for that matter, President at all. I'm not particularly prescient, as exhibited by the fact that in April 2004 I thought the next President was going to be John Kerry. I certainly didn't have the slightest insight that a fellow I used to see walking in the Loop from time to time, an Illinois State Senator named Barack Obama, just then running for the U.S. Senate, would serve two terms as President. But as an editor once told me, "you write enough stuff long enough, sometimes you get something right."

We're on our second Director of the Art Institute of Chicago since Cuno left. Douglas Druick had the job from 2011-2016, and earlier this year James Rondeau succeeded him. If CACA was still around perhaps we would have done another newsletter on Rondeau's ascension, and it would be typical of me to revisit my pattern, and write a letter dated July 15, 2032, where I would thank James for his many kindnesses, including inviting me to meet with President Gaga just before her concert in Grant Park.

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