Archive for the ‘Art Institute’ Category

Renzo Piano’s Art Institute of Chicago wing – sneak preview


When the Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago opens on May 16, 2009, you are in for a treat. The galleries and the building are elegant, uplifting spaces, beautifully detailed. They should support the art very well, and not overwhelm it. This is the highest quality design and craftsmanship seen in a public project in Chicago since Millennium Park.

I guess you still get a lot for 300 million dollars, the budget here. Unlike so many twisting, over-reaching museum buildings that have come on the scene of late, Chicago wisely went for understated architecture that will not date quickly, with its neo-classical symmetry and elegance.

(a photo taken from Millennium Park last summer.)

Architect Renzo Piano

The expansion will increase the size of the museum by more than one third. It’s the largest (and best) expansion to the museum since it opened one hundred and thirty years ago. The exterior is limestone, like most of the museum; and for those who are counting, this adds more than 250,000 square feet.

Me, I can’t wait to go in. Let’s enter under the glass canopy:
Once you’re inside, this architecture will graciously step back, and let you contemplate –and get excited by – the art. When you enter through those doors above, you’ll see

The main entrance hall/rentable party room
of the Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago.
(Of course the floor will be finished.)

You’re looking south here. This is what’s called the “main street” of this project. It runs all the way into the old building and provides a new north-south axis to the museum that until now was mainly organized east-west.

Officially this double-height space is called the Griffin Court, after the high-flying hedge fund manager and art collector — as in $80 million dollars for a Jasper Johns painting — Kenneth Griffin of Citadel Investment Group. He and his wife Anne are said to have had one of their first dates in the Art Institute, and well before the current economic mess we’re all in, (and I’m sure he lost more than I have), Mr. Griffin made a generous donation of about $19 million dollars and got the court named after him. This makes you realize we’re lucky that the project broke ground in 2005. A $300 million dollar addition like this would not be planned in the current economic conditions. It also drives home the point that the Art Institute did not sell naming rights for the entire wing. Bravo! “The Modern Wing.” That’s nice Midwestern straight talk and modesty.

At the far end of the “main street” will be a café, which we hope will fill this entry space with the sweet smell of espresso. Walk through the doors at the end and voila! you’ll be in the center of the old museum. (For those who remember, you’ll be where the Marc Chagall stained glass used to be. The Chagall windows will return, but it hasn’t been decided exactly where they’ll be placed.)

On the right of the Griffin Court is a long north-south gallery building. The first floor will be galleries for special exhibitions– the first will be works by Cy Twombly. The second floor will be galleries for Architecture and Design! Finally, they get their due at the Art Institute of Chicago. Space for architecture and design exhibitions will almost triple, up to about 7500 square feet.

Elsewhere on the ground floor of the Modern Wing you’ll find an admissions desk, coat room and shop; plus galleries for photography, and electronic media.

Notice in the photo above, on the left side, the nice “quote” Piano offers Chicago — a Mies van der Rohe style “floating” staircase, like the masterpiece Mies designed for the Arts Club of Chicago.

There’s Mies’ stair. Piano is a big fan of Mies. I once walked with him through Mies’ New National Gallery in Berlin, and he spoke of the beautiful clarity in Mies’ manner of expressing structure and also said he appreciates the way Mies uses reflections and transparency.

Back to the entryway. On the left, just past the “homage” staircase, where you see the light coming in, you’ll find a new garden. Renzo Piano is a master of the confluence of Nature, Architecture and Art. He loves to display vegetation, through large glass walls, to bring nature indoors. He’s done this to superb effect at the Menil Collection in Houston, his masterpiece Beyeler Foundation museum in Basel, and at the New York Times building. It is very satisfying, particularly in an urban environment. Much good architecture, like art, is based on nature and he is wise to provide us with the connection.

Besides the architecture and the light and space and sound in the entry court of the Modern Wing you won’t find any art displayed. It’s not even climate controlled enough for art. But it will be suitable to rent out for functions and it’s already in demand.

The long corridor

(looking north, towards the Monroe Street door, from the second floor cafe’)

reminds me of
The great Italian “gallerias” such as the one in Milan. Renzo Piano is Italian, and studied there. (In Milan, not in the galleria — although that galleria is also good place to study urban beauties.)

Fashion Week in Milan

Piano’s foyer in Chicago gives us a modern asymmetry, and novelty. But the structural ribs that help hold up the roof repeat with regularity for the length of the ceiling. As you walk through the foyer you’re aware of their rhythm, their repetition, and of the repetition of the module that they create up above. The visually regular “beat” gives us the sense of a humanist, ordered, 19th-century glass-covered arcade; with the added pulse of the mystical mathematics of the Renaissance. Yes, Renzo Piano at his best is capable of all that. Few of today’s designers are.

The Art Institute quotes him as saying,

Chicago is known everywhere as the first city of modern architecture. Here you are building within the great tradition of our own time, but also within sight of the immense open lakeshore, within steps of a vital city center, just across from Millennium Park. My desire was to root the Art Institute’s building deeply in this ground, but at the same time to give the Modern Wing air and lightness—to let it levitate. A continuation of an urban fabric, a flight into new experiences: this is what I have hoped to achieve, for Chicago and for one of the world’s best-loved museums.

The Art Institute foyer or “court” also reminds me of Renzo Piano’s long, narrow, lit from above with natural light “Arkaden” shopping mall at Potsdamer Platz in Berlin.

Once again we see how museums have become places to “consume” culture.

But while the malls in Milan and Berlin feature shops left and right the Art Institute Modern Wing offers you elegant rooms in which to look at art. On the right, you see the new galleries for Architecture and Design. Much larger and better space than what those departments currently have. But most of the new galleries are in the large square to the left of the entry court.

Let me say here that the Michigan Avenue entrance into the original 1892-3 Beaux-Arts palace is expected to remain the principal entrance.
You can enter from Michigan Avenue, wind your way through Asian and other non-Western art, and antiquities, medieval, Renaissance, Baroque and so on up to the end of the nineteenth century — at which point you’ll find a door. Open it, to enter this new Modern Wing, for 20th- and 21st-century art.

The progression is well thought out. And the passage from old art/old building into the new should be satisfying. Going this way, you will enter the Modern Wing on the second floor. There you’ll find the Art Institute’s 20th- and 21st-century European painting and sculpture, contemporary art, photography, and architecture and design. The architecture and design galleries will house temporary exhibitions and show pieces from the permanent collection.

In the galleries in the new building you’ll get views like this:
What a view! What a city! That’s Millennium Park, with the Frank Gehry bandshell.

Now move back, away from the window. The gallery, still under construction, looks like this:
What a gallery! I like the trend of connecting galleries to views of the city, rather than blocking out all natural light and urban connections. Of course, walls are being constructed in these elegant rooms, on which to hang art. So, unfortunately, but necessarily, we won’t get many of the great unobstructed views seen above.
You can see the galleries are nicely proportioned and nicely finished. They could be larger, especially for contemporary art, but a wonderful aspect of Chicago’s Art Institute is that it doesn’t overwhelm you; doesn’t exhaust you. Almost everywhere you have an intimate relationship to the art on display, and it looks like that will continue here in the new wing.

What would a Modern Art museum in America be without a Sol Lewitt wall drawing? They nearly all have them. Click here and here to see what these are all about.
The Art Institute will mount Wall Drawing #63, which it acquired in 1985. It has been “up” once, perhaps twice, since acquisition.

When you go upstairs to the third (and top) floor, you get similarly gorgeous galleries, and these are lit with natural sunlight, masterfully manipulated by the scrims and the “flying carpet” structure of the roof. It’s a white, extruded aluminum sun-screen of cantilevered blades.
They capture the north light and send it into the top-floor galleries.

The system is designed to adjust to minute fluctuations in light. Photovoltaic cells in the window scrims and computer-controlled artificial lighting are supposed to keep light levels consistent.

Renzo Piano Building Workshop (RPBW) is among the best at manipulating natural light in rooms for looking at art. See their Paul Klee Center in Switzerland, or the Nasher Sculpture Garden in Dallas, or again, the Beyeler Foundation in a suburb of Basel, Switzerland- in fact, here’s a view of the highly-acclaimed Beyeler. See the similarities?

A floating roof (“flying carpet” Piano calls them both) to manipulate the light. A classically inspired three-part façade. Flat planes of stone projecting out into space. A strong combination of nature, architecture and art.

Interesting that for Piano’s largest museum project to date – Chicago- he chose to drawn on what many consider his best museum – the Beyeler.

Often when artists enlarge their works, that is, increase the scale, the design falls apart. Failure ensues. Due to scale, Chicago may not be the jewel that the Beyeler is, but Piano has done an expert job of keeping the sensitivity of his earlier, more intimate work. And it’s exciting to see it recast at urban scale for Chicago.

Having recently visited RPBW’s work in Los Angeles- the Broad Contemporary Art Museum (BCAM)

(okay, the palm trees and blue sky are nice)

– as in Chicago, a wing for contemporary art attached to an encyclopedic museum (the L.A. County Museum of Art) – I can say I much prefer the work in Chicago. It’s far more elegant both outside and in. In L.A. the outside is a forbidding, too-solid, stone box. The light is nice in the top floor galleries, coming through metal fins and treated glass and then scrims, as in Chicago. I find Chicago’s ceiling composition to be more pleasing. In L.A. RPBW put ventilation grills in the floor of the galleries. They create dark lines in the floor, which have no relationship to the temporary walls that curators build, and the thick dark lines on the floor distract your attention from the art on the walls. I’m glad we don’t have those in Chicago.

Where the third floor views are the most stunning, through the double panes of glass, which make everything quiet and serene.
The third floor will feature European painting and sculpture since approximately 1900, including works by Picasso, Matisse, Kandinsky, Brancusi, and Giacometti. The new building will allow the Art Institute for the first time to display these works in galleries filled with natural light.

Renzo Piano Building Workshop is one of the busiest firms in the world. And at some of their projects the detailing is exquisite. At others it is less so. You’ll be pleased with the detailing in Chicago. It is fine throughout the Modern Wing.
Notice the slight indentation (called a ‘reveal’) when the gallery walls meet the floor. (It won’t be as prominent when finished.) This makes the floor seem to float, it makes it seem less solid, makes the space for art seem more ethereal.

Look at the glass staircase.
Glass in this building is for looking out at the city; also to reflect the city.

Take the stairway down to the first floor.

Much of the space in the new wing will be devoted to Museum Education. It’s on the ground floor, easily accessible, free of charge, no need to pay museum admission. The Art Institute will double its space for Museum Education. To inspire a cultured populace and future generations of visitors to the Art Institute!

You enter this directly off of Monroe street. Walk through the birch-lined corridor.

You’ll find 20,000-square feet of classrooms and studios for school kids and families. Again, Piano let the natural light pour in.

At times the light is almost Edward Hopper-esque, as in this room, which fronts a new garden.

A new garden? Yes. Again, that combination of nature, art and architecture that Piano strives for. He pulls the outside into the building. The garden, designed by a woman familiar to Chicagoans (and garden-lovers around the world), will go underneath this great Renzo Piano “flying carpet.”
Read my next post on the Art Institute to find out who is designing the garden. This view is from Columbus Avenue, between the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute, and the old east entrance to the museum.

Read about it, and I’ll tell you about the exterior of the building (which I find too large for its site) in my next post.

When the Modern Wing opens on May 16, 2009, the Art Institute of Chicago will be the second largest museum in the United States in square footage, behind the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

As for sustainability, the Art Institute seeks silver LEED certification for the Modern Wing,

I’ll also write soon about the 620 foot long bridge also designed by Renzo Piano Building Workshop. In daring Chicago structural style it will span Monroe Street with few supports, and fly above the street (what a view from there!) to the third floor restaurant and to the admission free third floor sculpture terrace of the Art Institute.

Those unseemly seams in the steel will come out and the bridge will be painted.

Check back on this site soon
for a look at the exterior of the new Modern Wing
of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Renzo Piano gets all Midwestern, at the Art Institute of Chicago


Coming soon to Hello Beautiful! – a sneak preview, with images, of the new Modern Wing of the Art Institute of Chicago, by the Renzo Piano Building Workshop. (It’s due to open May 16, 2009.)

For now, here’s an image of the east facade, as seen from Grant Park.

For a while during construction, this facade- which faces Grant Park and Lake Michigan to the east- was just stone, and rather blank. I thought it a shame. Why deprive visitors to the Art Institute, of what would be great views, surely from the upper floors?

If we’re going to build such a tall building in the park, we at least should give ourselves some new vistas in return.

I was relieved when they mounted this glassed-in modernist ornament.

But I couldn’t quite figure out why I liked it as much as I did. Yes, it’s a nicely designed and crafted piece of ornament, which in modernist tradition will be functional. It is less solid than the wall, thus it brings out the essence of the stone. It even offers transparency; which we always find interesting. It creates desire, a good thing for an art museum. It also creates a satisfying, three part facade. The parts are nicely proportioned to each other and to the whole, and we “hear” a nice rhythm, of solid / void / solid. This is far more musical than a plain stone facade would have been.

But it has more power over me than those reasons would cause, and I was trying to figure out what it is. So I walked around this facade, looking at it from all angles, until I saw

the great relic. The arch from Louis Sullivan’s demolished Stock Exchange.

Yes, that’s it. The way Renzo Piano placed this form-follows-function ornament on the facade, and the way it contrasts to his minimalist stonework, reminds me of Louis Sullivan’s Midwestern “Jewel Box” banks. Such as this one in Grinnell, Iowa.

Merchants National Bank, 1914

Go to the Art Institute and see if you feel it. Renzo Piano channeling Louis Sullivan.

(Much more on Piano’s Art Institute wing soon.) .

Happy New Year! Past and future architecture.

In with the old, in with the new.

And isn’t that what makes cities great?

What I’m looking forward to in 2009: The grand opening of Renzo Piano Building Workshop’s Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago.

Above, on the left – Piano’s Modern Wing due to open May 16, 2009.
Above, on the right- Right, Louis Sullivan Arch from the entryway to the Chicago Stock Exchange (1893, demolished 1972.)

Here’s another photo of the new wing-

And the blade of a bridge Piano designed to cross the street from the Art Institute to Millennium Park, and back-

Yes, that is Frank Gehry’s Pritzker Bandshell and trellis you see above.

Neatly engineered, this bridge shoots across the many lanes of Monroe street. Of course the bridge will be modernist white when finished. And doesn’t the city look great, in this winter photo taken yesterday? That gleam, rising on the left, is the still-rising Trump Hotel and Tower. You do see it even from afar.

I’ll have more on Renzo Piano in Chicago soon. Including views inside the galleries.

Happy New Year! Here’s to a fine ’09 – together.

A Great Day in Chicago!


And, among other issues, clearly Obama’s victory will help Chicago bid for the 2016 Olympics:

‘‘I wonder how IOC members will react when Mr. Obama appears in a presentation for Chicago,’’ Japanese Olympic Committee (a rival bidder for 2016) President Tsunekazu Takeda told Japanese media Wednesday.” More here.

Photos: Top: Pan-African News, Art Institute by spudart, Metropolitan building with beacon by spudart, aerial view with lake and light: Chicago Tribune, Obama et al onstage via Reuters.

Renzo’s looking good in Chicago


Approaching Renzo Piano’s Modern Wing at the Art Institute of Chicago, from Michigan Avenue.

That’s it on the right. The “flying carpet” stands out. Reminds one of a cross between a cantilevered Frank Lloyd Wright roof, and a Miesian modernist flat roof.

And flying across Monroe Street is the Nichols Bridgeway, designed by Piano.

A straight pedestrian bridge, contrasting with Frank Gehry’s curvy, winding bridge, which also originates in Millennium Park.

But I say close Monroe Street, the street between the Art Institute and Millennium Park. Make the park a sculpture garden of the museum, and make it easier to get families from the park into the Art Institute.

When they close the street for repairs or any reason, the cars simply go around and take another route. It’s not difficult. Maybe with gas prices going up we’ll realize that cities are not for driving through anyway.

If Monroe isn’t going to be closed, please update the (new) streetlights. Have Renzo Piano design something contemporary. Those aggregate and concrete shafts with their plastic retro globes are not good enough for the site, between two modernist masterworks, Millennium Park and the Art Institute Modern Wing. This small area of the city should scream “Design!” as LaSalle Street boldly says “Money,” North Michigan Avenue says “Shopping” and Dearborn says “Business.”

Back to the Art Institute. A friend says the Nichols Bridgeway currently looks like an arm in a sling. That’ll change when the stainless steel mesh is installed on the sides.

Here’s how it meets the Art Institute. Looks a little clunky for now, like an add-on, which it was. But we’ll wait to see. Those I know who’ve been up there say the views are spectacular, of the buildings on the Michigan Avenue streetwall and of Millennium Park, especially of Gehry’s bandshell and trellis. The experience of rising up above the city, through the trees, seeing the lake and crossing the street should also be thrilling. A little like rising up vertically and forward in Renzo Piano’s escalators at his (with Richard Rogers) Pompidou Center in Paris.

That having been said, the building, while a winner, is too large and tall for its park setting. Particularly when seen from the east.

From the lakefront, or from Columbus Drive, built Chicago used to stop on the west side of Michigan Avenue. Now, with this behemoth, the built environment encroaches a couple of blocks closer to the lake. Into the park. Into the much needed open space parkland of a big noisy city. And is that east wall of the Modern Wing nearly windowless?

Add this structure to the list of what’s been going up in Chicago’s lakefront parks and you have a disturbing trend. The enlarged Soldier Field. Millennium Park. The Notebaert Nature Museum. Even the kiosks around Buckingham Fountain. All are worthy. Some are great places, amenities to the city in their ways. But we can not abandon or trample on our “Forever Open, Clear and Free” lakefront. The latest battle of course is the Children’s Museum which also wants to build at the end of Gehry’s bridge in Daley Bicentennial Park. Reminds me of Washington D.C. where the National Mall is being overbuilt with war monuments and other construction.

Of course the views from the inside the Modern Wing of the Art Institute will be good, given its once-protected park setting.

The facade seen from just inside Millennium Park. You see aluminum, steel, glass and- Indiana limestone, that last blends with the Art Institute’s 1893 Beaux-Arts building to the right.
If you closed Monroe Street you could continue this “creek” up to (and into!) the new Modern Wing.

Piano’s roof looks neoclassical, as at an Italian villa.

The facade is so clear to read, in a modernist way, like the Chicago street grid, or the surveyor’s plots.

Remember, Chicago’s official motto is “Urbs in Horto” – City in a Garden.
I say more horto, less urbs on the lakefront from now on.

But this building, in its quiet elegant way is a beautiful sculpture itself. Here it is at the “magic hour” of dusk.

The thin columns look like pencils or paint brushes. Piano’s “flying carpet” roof is to provide interesting, changing light in which to view the art in the galleries beneath it. It’ll be filtered through this steel mesh, and through translucent vellum. The light should appear alive and make the rooms, and the art, breathe.

And from well inside Millennium Park.

From underneath Frank Gehry’s trellis at the bandshell in Millennium Park.


I hope the throngs descend on the Art Institute Modern Wing as they did at last week’s Chicago Blues Festival:

Update: Blair Kamin gets an inside look at the as-yet-unfinished galleries.

“Here’s a prediction about the Art Institute of Chicago’s modern and contemporary art wing that opens next May: The third-floor galleries, which overlook Millennium Park, will be hailed by critics and the public as some of the most beautiful rooms in Chicago.”

*On the exterior, this is something of a contemporary, light version of Mies’ columns and glass box at his New National Gallery in Berlin,

a building I once walked through with Renzo Piano, as he expressed his admiration of it to me.

Photograph of Frank Gehry’s bridge by “i_am_hydrogen”

Renzo Piano’s bridge between Chicago’s Millennium Park and Piano’s new Art Institute building


That’s Piano’s building on the far left, the new Modern Wing, with the “flying carpet” roof slightly in view. Millennium Park is on the right.

The views should be great, as you rise through the trees of Millennium Park, look over Michigan Avenue, and out at Grant Park and Lake Michigan. It’ll be nice to get new vantage points from a new outdoor level, in a city of unrelenting flatness.

But I still say, close Monroe Street and truly connect the art to the park.

Does anyone have other photos or videos of the pedestrian bridge that went up this weekend?

The completed Nichols Bridgeway will span some 620 feet.

Photo by Al Podgorski/Chicago Sun-Times

Bertrand Goldberg’s masterworks at risk


Blair Kamin points out threats to two Goldberg structures.
An “architecturally-disruptive incursion from Dick’s Last Resort” at Goldberg’s Marina City; and the possible demolition of two little-known Goldberg buildings at the Elgin, Illinois Mental Health Center.

Also at great peril, last time I checked, is

Goldberg’s marvelous Prentice Women’s Hopsital on Chicago’s Gold Coast. It ought to be saved. Northwestern Memorial Hospital owns it. What’s the latest on the status of this Chicago treasure that enlivens a rather boxy near-north side neighborhood?

Dwell Magazine wrote on the great work of Bertrand Goldberg recently.

And if these demolitions occur, it would not be the first time that we tear down an architect’s important work, even as we honor him or her. The Art Institute of Chicago plans a major Bertrand Goldberg retrospective in the fall of 2010 in its new architecture galleries to open in the Renzo Piano-designed new wing.

Lego Nighthawks


To mark the Art Institute of Chicago Edward Hopper exhibition.
Up through May 10.

Taking off from the previous post: the large pane of glass of the cafe reinforces the modernity of the scene, as well as the isolation of the people and their vulnerability. In an older building with more “wall” and less glass, especially in an urban ground floor setting, at night- they’d seem more protected. And looking through this framed glass makes it seem that something is about to happen. Without the large glass we’d feel less voyeuristic, and less excited.

Remember the Lego Farnsworth House?

go via
Glass House photo: Todd Heisler/The New York Times

Ed Ruscha in Chicago on March 1st


Artist/photographer Ed Ruscha will be at the Art Institute of Chicago on March 1st for a free day long symposium to open the exhibition
Ed Ruscha and Photography.

The symposium will run from 10:30 a.m.–4:30 p.m. on Saturday, March 1 in Rubloff Auditorium. It will begin with a talk by the artist. Ruscha will also participate in a conversation featuring cultural critic Dave Hickey and exhibition curator Sylvia Wolf. Lectures by art history professors Ken Allan and Thomas Crow will complete the day.

The exhibition will run through June 1, 2008. More info and other events here. From the press release:

Ed Ruscha and Photography on View March 1–June 1, 2008
American Pop Art Icon to Lead Free Symposium on Opening Day

Ed Ruscha is perhaps best known as a seminal American pop and conceptual artist. His iconic paintings of words, American landscapes, and vernacular architecture speak of his deep affinity for the commonplace. But the medium of photography has always been a source of inspiration and discovery. The eye-opening exhibition, Ed Ruscha and Photography , on view at the Art Institute of Chicago from March 1 through June 1, 2008, features Ruscha’s signature photographic books and dozens of previously unseen original prints. It provides the most comprehensive view of how photography functioned for this leading American artist. Organized in conjunction with the exhibition, a free daylong symposium on March 1 will include a talk by the artist, a conversation with Ruscha and cultural critic Dave Hickey and the exhibition’s curator Sylvia Wolf, and lectures by scholars Ken Allan and Thomas Crow.

Organized by Wolf at the Whitney Museum of American Art to celebrate its acquisition of a deep collection of Ruscha’s photographs, the exhibition features more than 100 original prints, many of which have rarely been published or exhibited. Exclusive to the Chicago presentation of Ed Ruscha and Photography are an additional 13 paintings, drawings, and prints from the museum’s own outstanding holdings as well as from local private collections.

Included in Ed Ruscha and Photography are original prints made for his photographic books: Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1963); Various Small Fires and Milk (1964); Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965); and Thirtyfour Parking Lots in Los Angeles (1967). In addition, the show features a striking selection from the more than 300 original photographs made during a seven-month tour that Ruscha took of Europe in 1961. In these images of Austria, England, France, Greece, Italy, Spain, and Yugoslavia, visitors will see the stylistic elements that have marked Ruscha’s work—signage and his strong graphic sensibility—in a context very different from the more well known Ruscha landscapes of Southern California and the west. These photographs are also compelling records of Ruscha’s experimentation with his camera.

Another highlight of this exhibition is a selection of Ruscha’s photographic books of the 1960s and 1970s, which have come to embody conceptual artists’ embrace of serial imaging. These books have had a profound impact on the art and careers of many American artists, and they speak to the intermingling of Ruscha’s conceptual approach to imagery and photography as a medium. Lewis Baltz, Dan Graham, and Robert Venturi all cite Ruscha’s photographic books as highly influential, and the German photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher presented Ruscha’s work to their students, including the contemporary artists Thomas Struth and Andreas Gursky.

Born in 1937 in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Oklahoma City, Ruscha moved to Los Angeles when he was 18. He attended the Chouinard Art Institute until 1960, before working briefly in commercial advertising. In 1961, Ruscha embarked on a career as an artist and produced enigmatic paintings, drawings, and photographic books of gasoline stations, apartment buildings, palm trees, vacant lots, and Los Angeles’s famous “Hollywood” sign. The irony and objective stance of his works from this period placed him in the context of Pop art and Conceptualism, but Ruscha consistently defies categorization. Now 70, Ruscha is recognized as one of our most important and influential contemporary American artists.

The role photography has played in Ruscha’s career has not been deeply explored until now. What we see in Ed Ruscha and Photography is that the artist has consistently looked to photography, as a subject, a medium, and a vehicle, to inform his artistic practice.

Ed Ruscha and Photography was organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.

Edward Ruscha. Phillips 66, Flagstaff, Arizona, 1962. From Twenty-Six Gasoline Stations, 1963. Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. © Ed Ruscha.

Remember? My post on the Getty’s usurpation of Ruscha’s “Picture Without Words.”

Piano in Chicago


James Russell’s article today on Renzo Piano’s museums, with the memorable sentence,

It’s time for timid trustees to give Renzo a rest

reminded me to post this photograph taken two weeks ago of Renzo Piano’s “Modern Wing” for the Art Institute of Chicago.

Looking west on Monroe Street.
(Millennium Park would be on the right side of the street.)

People in Chicago are already buzzing about the size of the thing, since it is west of Michigan Avenue, in Grant Park. The built city used to stop at Michigan Avenue. East of that was supposed to be parkland. Now on Monroe the buildings seem to extend out in the park toward Lake Michigan another couple of blocks, all the way to Columbus Avenue.

It will be elegant. Renzo Piano’s museum buildings almost always are.

Russell says of the Chicago addition,

In design drawings, the modern art wing that Piano designed for the Art Institute of Chicago resembles three Beyelers stacked atop each other.

Beyeler Foundation Museum by Renzo Piano 1997

Russell continues,

Will the aloof, elegant structure transcend its model to reveal the Art Institute anew and engage an urban setting that’s got everything — skyline, park, lake? We’ll find out in May 2009, when the wing opens.

Piano has benefited from a trend away from sculpturally expressive museums to bland designs that are invariably described as “architecture serving art.” It’s true that spectacular atriums and strangely shaped galleries can make displaying art more difficult. Yet the best of them freshen our vision.

Piano’s L.A. County Museum of Art, due to open next week, does looks bland on the outside. His California Academy of Sciences, to open Sept. 27th in Golden Gate Park in San Francisco looks anything but bland. And the Art Institute of Chicago wing is appropriately somewhere in the middle.

Looking east on Monroe Street

But this great facade facing north seems to want to have open space in front of it. It “asks” for Monroe Street to be closed. That would also connect Millennium Park to the Art Institute with green space.

Instead a bridge over Monroe, designed by Piano, is planned.

I can’t wait to see this thing lit at night.