Modernism was about fifty-years-old when Laszlo Moholy-Nagy reconvened the Bauhaus school of design on the shores of Lake Michigan in 1937, but he still was promoting a dynamic, fearless, forward-looking “new vision” for the modern age, a vision that continued through the first decade of that institution as it was reconstituted in 1944 as the Institute of Design. But now, nearly seventy years later, it does feel safely buried in the past, especially in this current exhibition. Organized by the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art together with the Bauhaus Chicago Committee, no attempt has been made at an innovative, provocative design for the exhibit itself. The walls are cluttered with furniture, pictures and photographs, while assorted catalogs, magazines, knick-knacks and jewelry are spread out on long folding tables. It feels more like a flea market than an art museum gallery. It also seems that diversity, rather than quality, was the guiding principle in selection. But, as flea markets go, this is a very good one, including some of the very first covers of Playboy magazine, whose first art director, Art Paul, a graduate of I.D., also designed the Playboy rabbit logo. There are also a few good student pencil sketches demonstrating the strength that geometric shapes can give even to realistic portraiture. Photography, both with and without camera, was very important in the school curriculum, and there is a photograph by early faculty member Harry Callahan that stands out among the rest as a compelling story rather than as photograph about photography. Among the small sculptural pieces, a student piece by Richard Schultz, oblong wooden constructions similar to tinker toys, prefigures his stellar career in furniture design. But it is the work of Moholy-Nagy himself that really stands out from all the nostalgia. Only his geometric, dynamic graphics might validate the argument that Modernism is forever. (Chris Miller)
Through September 29 at the Ukrainian Institute of Modern Art, 2320 West Chicago.