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Barack Obama’s bust — in butter — to roll through Loop

Bob Kling works creating Barack Obamhead made entirely out butter. On Friday head will be transferred see-through refrigerator Chicago Cultural

Bob Kling works on creating a Barack Obama head made entirely out of butter. On Friday, the head will be transferred in a see-through refrigerator to the Chicago Cultural Center to become part of an exhibit there. Wednesday, October 24, 2012. | Brian Jackson~Sun-Times

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Updated: November 27, 2012 10:47AM

In a refrigerated room in the heart of the Fulton Market District, one man in a white coat and a hairnet makes and packages sausage, while another a few feet away sculpts the head of the 44th president of the United States, Barack Obama — in butter.


“You can’t get it as fine with salted butter — it tends to crumble,” explained the artist, Bob Kling, as he pressed a lump of the yellowy-gold stuff into the president’s still-evolving face earlier this week.

Kling’s butter work — which has in the past included a full-size cow, a host of other American presidents and even the cockpit of the space shuttle — is expected to wrap up Friday morning, after three days laboring inside a meat wholesaler’s cooler. That’s when Mathew Wilson and Adam Brooks will begin pushing the finished Obama bust, which is about 1 1/2 the president’s actual size, through the Loop in a commercial, glass-fronted cooler toward its final destination — the Chicago Cultural Center.

Why Obama and butter? No pat answers from Wilson and Brooks, two Chicago-based English expatriates who specialize in quirky, thought-provoking performance art that explores the meaning of “the everyday.”

“We’re bringing two American phenomena together, which is the president and this perennial spectacle of butter sculpting [at state fairs],” Wilson explained. “We invite the public to make of that what they will, rather than make a political statement of our own, which would surely be a very dull thing to do.”

“Dull” isn’t a word that comes to mind with these guys, who in 2005 walked up and down Michigan Avenue, pushing an ice sculpture of the Ten Commandments. The same year, dressed as “Old God” and “Young God,” they played foosball in the surf at North Avenue beach. On another occasion, they bought a copy of the Chicago Tribune, painted it white and then mailed it to Mayor Richard M. Daley.

Wilson said he and Brooks had to look “all over” to find a butter artist, finally locating Kling in Ohio. He’s done butter sculptures for 13 years straight at the Ohio State Fair.

“It’s like any modeling,” explained Kling, 62. “Obviously, it has to be a cold environment, and obviously your hand temperature makes the outside slimy and the inside kind of stiff.”

As the butter Obama makes its way toward the Cultural Center — where it will become part of Brooks and Wilson’s 10-year retrospective — the artists expect people to: stop and gawk, ask what it’s all about, yell that the creators are lunatics. But they’d also like their work to spark some intriguing conversations, which they plan to videotape.

And they’re bringing an extension cord in hopes of plugging in the cooler en route.

“We are hoping [some of] the endless bars and retailers will allow us to borrow some of their electricity to cool down the president periodically,” Wilson said.

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