Coming soon…

POSTED BY , ON January 12, 2010, 4 COMMENTS


If you visit the Art Institute sometime in the near future, you may be disappointed to learn that the Japanese galleries will be closed until fall 2010. The good news is that the reason for this closing is a renovation of the existing space and reinstallation of the Japanese art collection.

One set of works that will be displayed for the first time in the new Weston Wing for Japanese Art are four carved wooden architectural transoms (ramma panels) that were created by master Buddhist sculptor Takamara Koun for the Japanese pavilion, the Phoenix Hall, at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition here in Chicago.

The Phoenix Hall was Japan’s main national pavilion at the fair. Modeled on an 11th century temple outside Kyoto, it stood out against the beaux-arts buildings that made up the majority of the rest of the fair, the so-called “White City.” After the fair, the Japanese government gave the Phoenix Hall to the city of Chicago. However, two fires in 1945 and 1946 (supposedly acts of arson) destroyed the structures and necessitated their demolition. The only four pieces of the building remaining were the four ramma panels. These were stored—and forgotten—by the city under the bleachers of Soldier Field until they were discovered there in 1973.

These icons of Chicago history and Japanese art were then separated: two panels were given to the Art Institute and two to the University of Illinois at Chicago. However, following UIC’s concerns over the condition of their ramma, their two panels were given to the Art Institute in order to better conserve and display them. The museum is currently raising money for the restoration of the four panels so that they can be displayed together for the first time outside of the Japanese pavilion.

And the moral of this story is…you never know what you’re going to find under the bleachers at Soldier Field.

Takamura Koun. Japanese, 1852-1934. Carved transoms (ramma) panels from the Phoenix Hall (detail), 1893. Wood with polychromy. 79.4 x 278.8 x 7.6 cm (31 ¼ x 109 3/4 x 3 inches) each.

4 Responses to “Coming soon…”

  1. Richard Frehs says:

    Good news in these bad times!

  2. Keith Bringe says:

    What an amazing journey these panels have been on! It’s important to remember how influential the Hooden was on Chicagoans – and especially Frank Lloyd Wright. Elements of that building can still be seen in buildings like Wright’s 1906 masterpiece Unity Temple in Oak Park. This will be a very exciting addition to the collection!

  3. David says:

    I wasn’t aware until recently Frank Lloyd Wright did a lot of work in Phx.

  4. Chris Miller says:

    Rotating exhibits of Chinese paintings used to be shown Gallery 10, which now seems to be earmarked for Japanese material.

    So where will the Chinese paintings be shown in the future?

    I really miss that stuff ! – almost as much as I miss the constantly changing displays of Japanese prints in the Buckingham Gallery.