Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Ivory Towers and Glass Boxes: New Art Spaces Around Chicago

Architecture, Hyde Park, Loop, West Loop Add comments

The New Ivory Tower in Town

The new Logan Center tower is most assuredly an ivory tower—clad, however, in ashlar patterned stone. The building, designed by Tod Williams and Billie Tsien, is not magnificent as much as beautifully planned, logical but unpredictable enough to be full of light-drenched corners where University of Chicago students can enter into discourse with the muses. The asymmetrical placement of windows and open spaces moderates the overall modernist simplicity and clean lines of the structures. Students on their way to studios or classes can gaze north to the low limestone quadrangles of the university or east and south toward the lake; when they look to the southwest they will survey the flat tree-covered neighborhood of Englewood and a place where students no longer expect to study art, theater and music in the struggling public schools. Hallways lead in many directions rather than repeat the same pattern from floor to floor, and large, simple but striking tapestries, clusters of lights, translucent panels, multi-storied windows, black marble, stainless steel and ceramic bricks add varied and subtle but very necessary detail to the complex and fluid correspondences of the building’s rectilinear spaces. A theater on the ninth floor, called The Penthouse, seems suspended, as one looks into it from the floor above while its audience looks out over the city to the lake before looking into a performance or lecture.

The communication of the new building with its immediate site is remarkably inspired and carefully worked out. The Logan Center towers over, but gracefully incorporates views, from an arcade of windows surrounding a shared plaza, of the warm Victorian brickwork of the Midway Studios. Lorado Taft’s Rodinesque sculpture, the “Fountain of Time,” produced in the studios, is visible just west of the Center on the Midway Plaisance. The lower studio wing of the Logan repeats the Midway’s peaked factory-style skylights over the studio complex providing natural light for students in large shared workshops and individual studios. Likewise, the spaces for each of the arts interpenetrate, inviting students from all disciplines to collaborate.

The main art gallery and a performance hall are at the base of the tower. Department of Visual Arts faculty member Catherine Sullivan inaugurated the gallery space with a five-channel video installation, with a ramshackle construction of used plywood and two-by-fours placed at a diagonal at the gallery’s entrance. The absurd and irrational business of the installation, in dynamic opposition to the clean logical structure around it, forecasts provocative exhibitions to come. BA and MFA exhibitions will follow along with lectures (including the brilliant Gretchen Helfrich interviewing Ari Folman) and performances, some of which are free and others with an admission price of $10. A grand opening with thirty-six hours of art will take place on the weekend of October 12-13. (Janina Ciezadlo)

The Reva and David Logan Center for the Arts is located at the University of Chicago, 915 East 60th.

Avant-Garde Kinko’s

Document Space offers a study in efficient inventiveness when dealing with the pragmatics of contemporary art photography. When photographer, curator and professional printer Aron Gent, who has a BFA in photography from Columbia College, left his previous employer to open up his own business, his ambition went beyond printing and scanning. While Document Space specializes in producing large-scale photographic prints, mostly for museum and gallery shows, Gent also designated the outer room of the two-room West Loop loft as a gallery space. The gallery rotates shows by artists whose photographs and video Gent “facilitates,” meaning that he creates free framed prints for the artists and curates the shows himself. Beginning with a booth at the first MDW art fair last year, Document Space has found its footing as a venue for experimental photography and video work that, in Gent’s words, “tries to avoid the portrait or mediocre social documentary genres.” Rather than being harried by the multiple fronts of the business, Gent emphasizes the luxury of being able to help artists concretize projects: “It’s fun working out ideas with people who are either early in their career or who don’t identify as photographers” (the show up now is a collaboration between a production designer and a writer/director based in LA). Continuing its streamlined and somewhat hermetic model, Document Space will also inaugurate what Gent hopes will be an annual residency in August, in which visiting artists (beginning with Michael Pfisterer) are given a quota of prints and scans they can utilize on Gent’s equipment and open hours for studio visits. (Monica Westin)

Document Space is located at 845 West Washington, third floor.

Inside the Glass Box

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill’s 1958 Inland Steel Building, the first skyscraper to feature external steel supports, which created a flexible, column-free floor plan, has been an icon of American innovation for more than fifty years. Now, as the landmark building undergoes a massive restoration led by Frank O. Gehry and SOM, its vacant street-level lobby on Dearborn and Monroe is being run as an art space, directed by the Chicago Loop Alliance. The glass walls of the lobby make for an elegant and accessible exhibition venue, especially for sculpture. Recently this was the site for “Vitrine,” a group show that skillfully played with the construction of the space as one large display cabinet. Externally oriented artworks captured the attention of downtown passersby, while light from three video projections and two neon light pieces allowed the exhibition to function beyond daytime gallery hours. Harvey Moon’s “Drawing Machine,” displayed in a window, operated continuously to create a pen-on-paper drawing automated by custom-created software. Kat Kinkead’s neon light sculpture reflected off the glass walls to give the illusion of identical sculptures on sidewalks outside. Emily Barker and Alfredo Salazar-Caro’s pieces included amorphous, dream-like forms projected on stretched vellum and hinged doors, bringing a mid-city reverie to a space that celebrates American industry.

Upcoming exhibitions planned for the space include a May 3 gallery walk, in which the building will be a hub for the First Thursday event. The lobby will be transformed into an indoor sculpture garden, complete with grass, sculptures, benches and bike racks for pedestrians. “Vitrine” took advantage of the building’s structure and signature glass façade; the green-focus of the next installation nods to the building’s own transformation and LEED-certification efforts. (Anastasia Karpova)

Inland Steel Building is located at 30 West Monroe

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