Reviews, profiles and news about art in Chicago

Eye Exam: Public Displays of Artistic Affection

Architecture, Textiles No Comments »

By Jason Foumberg

As the art world shifts interest away from loner studio practices, it is relationships—long-distance relationships, no-strings-attached relationships, contractual relationships—that make an excellent metaphor for the relevancy of art in our lives. Three exhibitions this week make transparent some interpersonal, artistic relations for all to see.

Messing with Mies

The iconic modernist glass house in Plano, Illinois, could be the banner image for the state of modern privacy. Designed by architect Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and sited sixty miles southwest of Chicago, the Farnsworth House, a home with glass exterior walls, reveals all of its insides, a fact that the home’s original owner, Dr. Edith Farnsworth, found to be “unbearably oppressive,” wrote architecture historian Joan Ockman. Farnsworth felt like a hamster in a cage or an actor on a stage while she inhabited her second home from 1951-71.

Osvaldo Romberg at the Farnsworth House. Photo: Alia Pergala

Osvaldo Romberg at the Farnsworth House/Photo: Alia Pergala

Farnsworth expressed her anxiety of living in a glass box to House Beautiful magazine, in 1953. The white-steel-and-glass box has a patina of anxiety. It animates its character. Anyone who visits imagines herself living in the raw glass box, with its attendant discomforts.

For the next several weeks, the Farnsworth House has a guest living on its porch: the skeleton of the Melnikov House, an avant-garde Russian house from the 1920s. The floor plan of that Moscow home has been replicated to scale in wood, painted yellow, propped on sawhorses, and now abuts the Farnsworth House’s front yard at a perpendicular angle.

Typically a beacon of serene, solemn contemplation, nestled among cornfields and the Fox River, the Farnsworth House is now interrupted by the Melnikov House. Artist Osvaldo Romberg calls this a “translocation.” He has performed this sort of intervention at iconic architectural sites around the world.

“Forms happen, like love,” said Romberg on the steps of the Farnsworth Read the rest of this entry »

Architecture Break: No New Histories

Architecture No Comments »
Northwestern's Prentice Women's Hospital

Northwestern’s Prentice Women’s Hospital

By Paul Preissner

The raised temperature regarding the inevitable demise of one of Bertrand Goldberg’s contributions to Chicago, the former Prentice Women’s Hospital building, clarifies something problematic with Chicago today. This city is far from the haven of architectural health it proudly considers itself to be. In any thriving urban ecosystem the removal of premier architecture would cause some grief, but since there would most certainly be future replacements of considerable charm and character, as well as plenty remaining beloved buildings, the pain would seem to be temporary, mild and hardly worth creating a fuss over. In reality, Chicago is far from a city of design futures, and for some time now has long been populated with mostly marginal efforts and lame buildings. With so few significant new projects over the past twenty years that one can name them all with little difficulty. Try it! It’s frustratingly simple.  Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Burberry Dresses Up for Mag Mile

Architecture, Michigan Avenue No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

The Magnificent Mile is not what it used to be. Although the site of prestigious and historic architecture like the Wrigley Building, Tribune Tower and Drake Hotel, the pseudo-boulevard now seems more suburban than urban, with so many inward-turned shopping malls. In the mid-1990s, architecture critic Blair Kamin lamented the avenue’s “descent from exquisite ensemble of beaux-arts buildings to a crass visual jumble,” dubbing it the “Mediocre Mile.” Today, there is a budding renaissance happening on the strip, most vividly illustrated by the new Burberry flagship store, the best architectural addition to the district since the John Hancock Center nearly forty years ago.

The Burberry building is stunning, in that it fuses fashion with architecture. At five stories tall, dressed in black with an ornamental chrome tartan check, it stands like a model on the runway of Michigan Avenue. In contrast to the blank facades and anonymous awnings of neighboring competitors like Chanel and Gucci, the Burberry store demands attention and draws the eye—like anything exemplary among the ordinary. The structure has two massive, forty-foot vertical windows set back into the face, breaking up its mass and offering glimpses inside. A waterfall of light serves as backdrop for a sleek minimalist staircase rising on Ontario Street. The building’s elegance escalates when darkness falls as LED lights softly illuminate the chrome plaid from the rear, producing an outfit change into the enduring black-on-black. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Studio Gang/Art Institute of Chicago

Architecture, Loop No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Despite Jeanne Gang’s reputation as inheritor of the mantle worn by Sullivan, Wright, and Mies, “Building: Inside Studio Gang Architects,” which opened last week in the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, emphasizes the collaborative energy and achievements of the studio over those of the individual. Drawings, plans and proposals diffuse the old model of the architectural genius and his great static monuments to reveal the actual teamwork of the creative process, but not only among the members of her practice; a wealth of materials in the exhibition visualize the crucial dialogues and fluid synergies between a building and its site, the clients who commission, and the buildings’ future inhabitants. Studio Gang and the curators at the AIC have created a dynamic, interactive and graceful space, papering the walls with information—photographs, plans, drawings and models of several finished and unfinished proposals. The viewer leaves with renewed insight into the complexity and excitement of Studio Gang’s engagement with the problems and possibilities of our moment, and importantly, the centrality of good design to the future of cities and urban life. Aqua Tower is featured prominently among projects far-flung and local, from Hyderabad, India to Glencoe, Illinois. The Arcus Center for Social Justice Leadership, currently under construction at Kalamazoo College in Michigan, will make use of low-carbon, highly thermal construction materials and techniques. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Wright’s Roots/Expo 72

Architecture, Loop, Photography No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

In this lavish, elegant and expertly curated exhibit, we get a chance to see Frank Lloyd Wright’s architecture whole as we go from one alcove to the next, each replete with photographs and drawings of, and artifacts from, a different one of his famous and more neglected buildings. Wright’s houses and public buildings, with which we have become familiar, are on view here, but we are also treated to his attempts at creating “affordable” housing for the working class that incorporated touches that raised the structures above the drab tenement. Read the rest of this entry »

Ivory Towers and Glass Boxes: New Art Spaces Around Chicago

Architecture, Hyde Park, Loop, West Loop No 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. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Stanley Tigerman/Graham Foundation

Architecture, Gold Coast/Old Town No Comments »

 RECOMMENDED

An ambitious retrospective of fin-de-twentieth-siecle art, architecture and design at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum illuminates the dreamlike nature of the “postmodern” moment, a dizzying refraction of hedonistic anarchy and abject terror. In her review of the exhibition, Artforum editor Elizabeth Schambelan sets “beguiling images of playful incongruity” against Fredric Jameson’s notion of “hyperspace” as an “anti-map, its incomprehensibility figuring the dark mysteries of global capital.”

All the more reason for another po-mo retrospective, this one being the exhibition showcasing the drawings and ephemera of contemporary Chicago architect Stanley Tigerman, now on display at the Graham Foundation, to adopt the Magritte-tweaking title “Ceci n’est pas une rêverie,“ or “This is not a dream.” Taking a cue from “The Titanic,” a 1978 Tigerman collage in which Mies van der Rohe’s ultra-rectilinear, ultra-Modernist Crown Hall sinks into Lake Michigan beneath a canopy of clouds, the grand Madlener mansion (which houses the Graham Foundation) is divided up into thematic “clouds” such as “utopia,” “division,” “identity,” “allegory,” “humor,” “death” and “drift.”   Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Global Cities, Model Worlds, and The World Finder Pocket Guide to Hell/Gallery 400

Architecture, West Loop No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

Gallery 400’s double exhibition of “Global Cities, Model Worlds” and “The World Finder Pocket Guide to Hell” is a heavy-handed but nonetheless powerful pair of explorations of mega-events and their unplanned impacts.

“Global Cities, Model Worlds,” the more striking of the pair, is more tongue-in-cheek than it first appears. Referencing children’s and science museums, with bright plastic models and timelines in primary colors, the installation visualizes the implications of mega-events through studies of the Olympic games and world expositions, or World’s Fairs, from recent history. Read the rest of this entry »

Review: Calculated Aesthetic/Alderman Exhibitions

Architecture, Sculpture, West Loop No Comments »

RECOMMENDED

The Emerald Tablet of Hermes Trismegistus, a core text of Renaissance alchemy, describes the structure of the cosmos thusly: “That which is Below corresponds to that which is Above, and that which is Above corresponds to that which is Below, to accomplish the miracle of the One Thing.” In the case of the show “Calculated Aesthetic” by Stephen Coorlas and Dominic Peternel at Alderman Exhibitions, the One Thing is a geometric form that looks kind of like an asymmetrical space-age boomerang made from jet wings, quite possibly balanced according to the Golden Mean. The gallery features two identical cardboard models that viewers can handle, a larger aluminum model that stands about five feet tall, and a monochromatic painting running around all four walls that is intended to suggest a view of the form from within, an image which made me think of what it might look like if Ellsworth Kelly did a mural for the Death Star airport. Read the rest of this entry »

Art Break: Bauhaus versus IKEA

Architecture, Bridgeport, Sculpture No Comments »

"Convalescent Home"

“I’ve been to IKEA ten, maybe twelve times, for this project,” remarks Jeff Carter as we survey his current installation arching across the western corner of Crown Hall at the Illinois Institute of Technology. His gaze drifts over the modified IKEA products, and a small smile splays open his lips as he reflects on those trips, “I now know that modernist mecca far better than anyone should.”

While his current work, “The Common Citizenship of Forms,” isn’t Carter’s first use of the mega-store’s materials, it may be his most thoughtful. Carter establishes a formal dialogue between common representatives of modernist design—IKEA and the Bauhaus—through a series of large-scale architectural models, composing a microenvironment that represents the layout of demolished buildings from the Michael Reese Hospital Campus. Former Bauhaus director Walter Gropius had created a master plan for its 28-building campus in 1946 as part of a post-war urban renewal effort to revitalize its surrounding Bronzeville neighborhood, as well as designed the eight structures that Carter chose to recreate. Read the rest of this entry »