Pritzker at the Art Institute
Architects often go unrecognized. To remedy this, in 1979 Jay and Cindy Pritzker, owners of the Hyatt Corporation in Chicago, established the annual Pritzker Architecture Prize. Often called the Nobel Prize of Architecture, the Pritzker honors a living architect who has made "consistent and significant contributions to humanity and the built environment."
Any licensed architect can nominate someone for the Pritzker Prize. Gordon Bunshaft nominated himself over the telephone in 1988 -- and won. A jury of prominent architecture experts reviews all nominees and selects a winner primarily by site visits. The awards dinner is held in an architecturally significant place, like the Petit Trianon at Versailles.
On view through Sept. 26, 1999, at the Art Institute of Chicago is "The Pritzker Architecture Prize: The First Twenty Years," an exhibition of drawings, models and project photographs by Pritzker Prize winners. Each winner takes a different approach to architecture, but none is a faddist. The Pritzker, says the show catalogue, "has been a prize not for those who experiment but for those who have combined innovation and experiment with real style."
We see world-famous structures like I.M. Pei's Grand Louvre (the glass pyramid entrance), Frank Gehry's Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao and Philip Johnson's AT&T Building in New York. There are exciting, but lesser-known buildings too -- Luis Barragan's Chapel and Convent Restoration in Mexico City, the Koze-No-Oka Crematorium in Japan designed by Fumihiko Maki and Renzo Piano's Cultural Center in Noumea, New Caledonia.
Unfortunately the exhibition itself is very uneven. For example, Kenzo Tange provides drawings and photographs that clearly present the details of his Tokyo City Hall and help us understand how it functions in the city's skyline. But the display on Jose Rafael Moneo says little about his magnificent National Museum of Roman Art in Merida, Spain. Frank Gehry's presentation could hardly be better, but Alvaro Siza's is just plain sloppy with weak drawings and an out-of-focus photograph.
Martha Thorne, associate curator of architecture at the Art Institute, organized the exhibition and edited the catalogue. "I wanted to represent each architect with their original works," she explains, "and show their means of expression."
Whenever possible, Thorne visited the architects in their offices and collaborated with them to select exhibition materials. Most were cooperative, but a few did not take her very seriously. Working with what she got, she has produced an invigorating, often gorgeous exhibition, which suggests that we live in an excellent time for architecture.
Also at the 'Tute This summer Chicagoans were treated to "The 20th-Century Textile Artist" at the Art Institute of Chicago," which demonstrated how intelligently the museum has developed its textile collection over the past 32 years. In 1967, the museum owned just two pieces by 20th-century artists. Today it has 282 one-of-a-kind works and 837 examples of yardage lengths.
Especially pleasing were two works by Lissy Funk, one of the grandes doyennes of the fiber world. Also notable were Diane Itter's Painted Fan and a patterned three-dimensional wall piece by the Icelandic artist Asgerdur Buadottir. We saw attractive yardage by Sonia Delaunay, Lucienne Day, Jack Lenor Larsen and many others.
Equally tonic was the Art Institute's "At Home in Chicago: Part 1" -- a display of designs for single-family homes by five local architects. The show centered around the idea that homes are among the most challenging buildings that architects create and those that most reveal their design personality.
Krueck & Sexton's very urban Brick & Glass House has a free-flowing interior and a two-story-high window that overlooks a backyard garden. The huge window, which suggests a storefront, is divided into panes, which are held up with aluminum extrusions.
To make the Markow Residence, Garofalo Architects modified a regulation-grade split-level in the burbs. They added a large double-height central area, cantilevered a new volume over the existing foundation (it sticks out in front), and enlivened the roof by dividing it into several different areas. Garofalo calls this home a "suburban intervention."
"At Home in Chicago: Part 2," with five more local architects, runs Aug. 20-Nov. 28, 1999.
Just Say No
Democracy and equal opportunity may be noble political principles, but they do not produce good art exhibitions. These thoughts are occasioned by three group shows of work by unrepresented artists. Such affairs are a summer tradition here.
The best show was "D.D.S.S.," abstract paintings by Jeff Dick, Katie Dowling, Vera Scekic and Norman Steck at Klein Art Works. Paul Klein, owner of the gallery, and Tiffani Sorber, the gallery's director, selected this beautifully balanced, extremely well-installed exhibition. Each artist is distinctive and accomplished, and the works all talk to each other.
Klein has dealt in abstract art for more than 20 years. He has a clear esthetic and a super eye -- and he knows the best artists. "I guess you would call the show an invitational," he says. "It results from a response to art and personalities...these are good people...I want to see good things happen to them."
Jeff Dick uses paint, pigment, tiny beads and metallic materials to create a luminous surface with an activated space behind it. Vera Scekic creates a deep, beautiful space with graphite, charcoal and pastel on textured and stained paper. The tiny lines and shapes in her drawings recall cloud chamber photographs of atomic particles. Her drawings look better when two or three hang together.
Katie Dowling uses encaustic to paint brightly colored stripes and patterns on linen. Her work explores "the ways in which infinite horizons can serve as either barriers or the meeting point between two opposing sides," she says. Norman Steck's simple organic shapes float against flat backgrounds. "In my own painting," he states, "both consciousness and the unconscious fashion imagery from my experiences, desires, beliefs and the places I've lived."
"Chicago Artists '99" is Gallery 312's sixth annual exhibition of "emerging and under-represented" artists. Earlier this year, the not-for-profit Gallery 312 formed an Advisory Committee of 20 artists, critics, dealers and curators. The committee solicited slides from about 40 artists, then chose 14 men and women for this show.
"Chicago Artists '99" is capably installed in a huge basement space that once functioned as a boiler room. Every participant showed several works, which was a mistake, since it exposed many of the artists' weaknesses. Only two of these artists have developed their ideas and expressive skills to the point where they are ready to show in a professional environment.
Karen Reimer breaks and reassembles china dinner plates in provocative ways. Joel Ross's 100 photographs of a Chicago doorway -- entitled I Drove Around Your Block 100 Times -- amusingly recalls failed adolescent amours. But that's all we found at Gallery 312.
"ARC Regional VI," an annual project of ARC (Artists, Residents of Chicago) Gallery, the women's cooperative, is another committee-created disaster. ARC invited slides from artists in nine Midwestern states, juried them and then crammed one work by 53 different artists into two gallery spaces. What is anyone -- artist or visitor -- to get from this higgledy-piggledy presentation?
The best work in "ARC Regional VI" was considerably stronger than what we saw at Gallery 312. Robyn Bomhof's Almost Empty is a very satisfactory painting. We would like to see more of her work. Christine Lo Faso showed a charming chaise longue upholstered with fabric that had text and images embroidered on it. There were pillows to match. Denise Bellezzo, Barbara Albin, and Brendan Gibbons also hung good work.
Ezra Pound once complained that people never pay a creative artist for his "main work." Pound was a hack journalist for years because he could not earn a living from his poems.
Little has changed since Pound's day. Chicago's summer art sensation is "Cows on Parade," a public exhibition of more than 300 nearly life-size fiberglass cows that local artists have decorated. The cows are everywhere downtown. Everybody, local and tourist alike, loves them and wants their picture taken next to a favorite. Business is milking the novelty for all that it's worth.
"Cows on Parade" was inspired by a similar project in Zurich, Switzerland, and is supported by the City of Chicago, arts patrons and business firms. Those "who are sponsoring our cows will make a substantial difference in the life of many artists," says Lois Weisberg, Chicago Cultural Affairs Commissioner. "Not only are these artists receiving important commissions," she adds, "but their work will be viewed by millions of people." The artists are said to have earned $1,000 apiece, but it is not their main work that millions are seeing.
But we mustn't be grim! The Monet cow with lily pads on her flanks, the cow jumping over the moon and the Japanese Garden cow with reflecting pool, sweeping staircase and Bonsai (impossible to describe -- it must be seen to be appreciated) are all fantastic. One cow was a "cutaway," with a hay intake zone, milk production area and pie manufacturing apparatus. One cow wandered into the middle of Michigan Avenue, where it was demolished by a truck. The artist had a cow when she heard.
The newspapers have been filled with cow-squabbles. One artist decorated a cow with graffiti and brought it to the show, only to have it rejected by the Chicago Park District. His designs are said to have recalled street gang symbols, which are anathema to Mayor Daley and the police department. The artist protested, but to no avail. We side with him. Any bureaucrats who want their cows homogenized should be put out to pasture.
VICTOR M. CASSIDY is an art journalist based in Chicago.