Saturday, August 02, 2008

Don't Miss It, Sunday last day - Adler and Sullivan Project - Best Exhibition of Summer

Did I mention I tend to procrastinate? From the moment I heard about it, I intended to check out the exhibition, Crombie Taylor, Aaron Siskind and the Adler and Sullivan Project, at Crown Hall at IIT, 3360 S. State.

It opened June 12th. I finally got around to it yesterday, and I was blown away. If you can carve a hour or so out of your Sunday, you won't regret the trip you make down to IIT today. Sunday, August 3rd, is your last chance to see it, 10:00 A.M. to 3:00 P.M. It will be the best five bucks you ever spent.

This is a recreation of a 1954 exhibition. a product of the Institute of Design at a time when it made the former Chicago Historical Society, now the club Excalibur, its home. Acting director Taylor Crombie, along with instructor, photographer Harry Callahan, the man who introduced Richard Nickel both to photography and to Louis Sullivan, initiated a project of photographing all of the work of Adler and Sullivan at a time when the standard response would less likely to have been "It's about time", than an uncomprehending "Why?"

The resulting exhibition, reconstructed at Crown Hall, includes 130 photographs of 35 buildings, 109 of them from students. Many of these photographs have been given wider currency over time, many more are fresh. There is a remarkable video documenting, in color, the banks Louis Sullivan designed in the twilight of his career, taken from what must to have been a spectacular 1976 Crombie Taylor that employed 200 slides, three large-format screens and six projectors.

All of this would made the exhibition a must-see. But there is something even more extraordinary. After Crombie Taylor undertook a major restoration of the Auditorium Building's banquet hall, he created replicas of 26 of Sullivan's stencils from both the Auditorium and the legendary Garrick Theatre, at their original scale in panels as large as four by eight feet.

They are a revelation. We have seen samples of these stencils before, in books and exhibits, but never quite like this. What is striking first is the range, not just the foliate stencils of which we are all familiar, but also stencils of a striking geometric abstraction that skirts with minimalism. Nothing looks tired or dated. Everything appears as if it were minted just days before.

You could say they are perhaps even too bright. These stencils were designed, for the largest part, for indoor spaces illuminated by subdued carbon filament light. At Crown Hall, the glow of gold-leaf stencils as they catch the natural daylight seems almost to be channeling Klimt. As you walk around the stencils, changing how you see the light striking them, they modulate from flat surface designs to three-dimensional patterns that seem to float above their backgrounds.
Removed from the form and context of their original mountings, the stencils immerse you in their rich polychromaticism.

I apologize for all of you who would be enthralled by this exhibition, but can't make it on its final day. Until the showing at Crown Hall, Crombie Taylor's stencils had not been seen since the 1960's. We can only hope it will not be another forty years before they - and this remarkable exhibition - are on display again.


Anonymous said...

This was a great recommendation - thanks for reminding me before it was too late. I do wish the stencils were published in color somewhere (perhaps they are?). Respectfully to the publications in the pamphlet bibliography, it would be fabulous to have the Taylor stencils reproduced in their glory.

Brendan Crain said...

Oh, bother. I was in Detroit. This sounds like something that would have been worth staying home for.