Archive for the ‘Brunelleschi’ Category

Mies and sculpture


That’s not a very buff Mies, that’s the other “Mastermind of the German People” Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. (Did he have über-abs like that?) Goethe is seen in an extra-fine post by Lynn Becker, seeing Mies’ buildings as sculptural backdrops. SuperGoethe, cape and all, stands by Mies’ Commonwealth Plaza, 330-340 Diversey Avenue in Chicago.

Here’s a fuller shot

I think they should replace it with a statue of Mies himself, his cigar pointing towards his building.

As Florence, Italy has a statue of Brunelleschi looking up at his great dome.

My friend Tim Samuelson suggested we just replace Goethe’s falcon with a martini and call it a day.

Busts of Mies überwache (watch over) the entrances to the (former) IBM building and Crown Hall. The one in Crown Hall is by Hugo Weber, the one in IBM is by Marino Marini.

Then there’s this bust (not of Mies, though it almost could be, put a cigar in the bottom photo.) It’s from Easter Island and in 1968 it stood temporarily in front of the Seagram building, on a pedestal by Philip Johnson.

Read why: “In 1968, when, quite unbelievably, Lan Chile airlines and Air France were planning to bulldoze part of Easter Island (perhaps one of the finest sites of ancient indigenous sculpture) to create a mid-Pacific refueling station for transoceanic airplanes, (the creator of the Landmarks Foundation Protecting Ancient Sacred Sites Globally, Samuel Adams Green) and actress Yvette Mimieux, among others, hurriedly traveled there. Green had been contacted by retired U.S. Army colonel James Gray, the high-minded founder of the International Fund for Monuments, who asked Green to help bring attention to the impending archaeological and anthropological disaster.

Green … working with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), helped to divert a cargo plane from Vietnam to transport one of the sculptures to Park Avenue’s Seagram’s Plaza, where he arranged to have it set on a pedestal designed by Philip Johnson. With his experience moving statues for the city, he managed to close the 59th Street Bridge and two lanes of Park Avenue while trucking in the hand-carved five-ton head. The stunt generated plenty of publicity, enough, at least, to stop the bulldozers: funds were raised to expand the University of Wyoming archaeological study of the island by professor William Molloy, and under UNESCO rules, all commercial development was halted.”

In the early 70’s a many-tonned Olmec head from what is now Mexico stood for a while on Seagram Plaza. (And one in Houston by his museum there, if I remember right.) Lord Palumbo used to have outdoor sculptures on the grounds of the Farnsworth House, and Bertoia rods on the porch, but I never thought that worked. The house is too pure. The same reason, I’d say that Mies didn’t put sculptures in the waterpools at Seagram (though he thought about it.) I’ve seen Bertoias in units in 860-880 Lake Shore Drive and they look great.

And then of course, there’s Mies and sculptor Georg Kolbe at the Barcelona pavilion

And the Calder by the New National Gallery in Berlin

I don’t think it works. It’s not needed, doesn’t add anything and throws off the symmetry. (The contrast to the New National Gallery is Scharoun’s Philharmonic Hall nearby, with anything but a flat roof, and in golden-yellow metal.) In Chicago’s Federal Center the Calder works well, it adds color, curves and contrast.

Come to think of it, it’d be nice to see what the plaza would look like without it! When they remove all the potted plants from a Mies lobby (for restoration work) the lobbies look better. Again, more pure. The light and the volume is the sculpture. No further ornament is needed.

Then there’s this, perhaps as close as Mies himself came, to sculpture

Mies’ Monument to Rosa Luxemburg and Karl Liebknecht, Berlin, 1926

They talk about rebuilding it in Berlin.
– E.

Thanks for the inspiration Lynn!


The most urban Skyspace by James Turrell, ever.

The skyspace by James Turrell at the very busy intersection of Roosevelt Road and Halsted Street in Chicago, near the University of Illinois at Chicago, where the College of Architecture and the Arts commissioned this. This is what you see looking up through it.

Here’s another view.

Just kidding, that’s the ceiling of a wine shop on Wells St.

The skyspace is supposed to heighten your perception of the sky, its colors and its meaning. Turrell is a fine artist, see this and this .

Ours, here in Chicago, on the campus of the University of Illinois at Chicago is not finished, so one can’t judge, but the first mistake to me, seems to be that our skyspace is not a peaceful place. Since it’s open to the busy streets around it

you hear all the noise. It has “that Pantheon thing” going for it — rounded, open at the top, a nice spot of light moves with the sun, but at the Pantheon you enter a world, a universe, since it’s self-contained. And the only way out is up – to where live the gods. I guess we’re more democratic than that so here you can also look out straight ahead, at life around you; and we have security concerns, so we couldn’t really close off all the walls. Oh well.

The structure itself – not pretty. The benches look (almost vintage UIC!)like this:

And, like the Pantheon in Roma, the skyspace at Roosevelt and Halsted (just doesn’t sound the same, does it? as, “the Pantheon in Roma”) our skyspace casts a moving spot of light, which looks like this

at one particular moment in time. Never again. That’s part of it. Since the opening is oval-shaped, unlike at the Pantheon where it’s a perfect circle, here the sun takes on a nice Jean Arp-like amorphous shape.

The structure, as you see above, does have that Italian thing going for it. As does a restaurant not far away, on Taylor Street!

Back to the Skyspace. It’s done in a Burnt Siena color. Actually it reminds me of

a little-known structure by Brunelleschi (who of course also designed the famous and stirring dome of Florence Cathedral) – the only picture of which I have, includes me in it! Sorry. See the Brunelleschi in the background?

And why is their piazza (and pizza) so much better than ours?
Because they’re Italian!
But tomorrow’s post will be about — Piazza DiMaggio
at least that’s what I call it – here in Chicago on Taylor Street.

‘Til then, “Cin, Cin!”