Friday, September 03, 2010

September 3rd is Louis Sullivan's birthday - born in 1856 - his creativity remains as fresh as today

On the occasion of Louis Sulivan's 154th birthday, we're republishing an extended post from early this summer . . .

This summer's must-see exhibition: Louis Sullivan's Idea

The last time Chicago recognized architect Louis Sullivan, in 2006 on the 150th anniversary of his birth, we celebrated by burning down three of his buildings.  This year, we're making amends.

Almost all of the early attention has gone to the Art Institute's fine new exhibition, Looking After Louis Sullivan, featuring photographs of Sullivan's work by John Szarkowski, Aaron Siskind and Richard Nickel along with architectural fragments and drawings by Sullivan, himself.  It runs through December 12th.

The main event, however, is over at the Chicago Cultural Center: the long-awaited exhibition, Louis Sullivan's Idea.
 Curated by Chicago Cultural Historian Tim Samuelson and designed by graphic artist Chris Ware, this is a spectacular show that makes full use of the two-story height of the Cultural Center's Chicago Rooms to create an incredibly eloquent overview of Sullivan's life, work and thought.  Samuelson and Ware fill the spaces with massive prints of historic photographs, cleaned up to an incredible sharpness that lets you see the buildings down to their finest detail.  You're no longer the passive observer looking down on structures reduced to sedate framed portraits.  You're standing on the street looking up at Sullivan's incredible creations.  The pictures often exceed your frame of vision, so its almost as if you're within the interiors.

The exhibition draws on the full force of Samuelson's exhaustive scholarship - and an exceptionally rich collection of artifacts, from ornament, to elevator grills, to metal plates designed to be placed under stoves, and a sample of  carbon filament lighting  - to capture the passion and emotion of Sullivan's life and work.

When I checked out the exhibition early in the morning on opening day last Saturday, I turned the corner and came across Tim Samuelson, himself, sitting at the window sorting out the various captions, which were still to be hung despite the fact that he and Chris Ware had been working until 2:00 a.m. earlier that morning to finish things up.  And, along with one other very lucky visitor, I got a personal tour.  In the following video excerpts, improvised with my usual complete innocence of technique on my iPod, Samuelson talks a bit about Louis Sullivan's Idea.

Tim doesn't like to force ideas on anyone.  He'd rather just let people discover on their own.  Towards that end, he said he was almost tempted to leave the captions off the walls.  By now, those captions are probably up, but you can choose to ignore them.  Last Saturday, there were things still to be installed - most notably, a large-scale model of the Chicago Stock Exchange Building so, like Groucho, I'll be going back to see what develops.

I expect to be writing a lot more about Sullivan and the exhibitions, but make no mistake:  Louis Sullivan's Idea is a phenomenal, not-to-be missed show.  It runs through November 28th, but my advice is don't wait.  It's a true Chicago epic.


Jack said...

Hey Lynn, thanks for the info... definitely will go see this one!

BTW, next video you take with your iphone, try rotating it to the landscape view... ;-)

Lynn Becker said...

Hey, give me time. It took me fifteen minutes to figure out I should take my thumb off from in front the lens.

Rose ~Victorian Rose ~ said...

MORE PLEASE...for those of us who simply CAN'T make it there for the exhibit.
Especially details of the actual pieces of architechure designs
would be MOST appreciated.


Terry Murray said...

D'oh! This is what I get for not reading you for a while. I was just in Chicago for a family reunion, took in the Cartier-Bresson exhibit at the Art Institute - but missed this!