Chicago’s Very Own Night Light

POSTED BY , ON December 05, 2011, Comments Off on Chicago’s Very Own Night Light

Contemporary artist Spencer Finch continues his exploration of color and light with Lunar, a site-specific installation on the Modern Wing’s Bluhm Family Terrace. The “lunar lander module” is a self-powered piece that collects sunlight during the day through solar panels and then emits light at night through the central “buckyball.” That the bright white ball closely resembles the moon is testament to Finch’s efforts to create a three dimensional “picture or image of moonlight.”

Hear more about how Finch precisely determined the color of the moon, how he chose the shape he did for the module, and why the installation doesn’t just fly off the roof in the video above.


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Artist Interview: Pae White

POSTED BY , ON September 15, 2011, Comments Off on Artist Interview: Pae White

In May, the artist Pae White came to the Art Institute to install her site-specific work Restless Rainbow (2011) on the museum’s Bluhm Family Terrace. She kindly agreed to talk to us about her large-scale installation during her visit.

Erin H.: Can you tell me a little bit about the process of doing this? How did the work come about?

Pae White: I made a site visit to the museum last year [2010]. And I was here again that fall, lecturing at the School of the Art Institute, and then I came back again. We went through a number of iterations. I always knew that because the space had been determined as a sculpture courtyard there was a sort of expectation of a type of volume, a belief that some sort of a three dimensional form should be in here, and I really didn’t want to do that. I wanted the space itself to be the form. Even though it’s volumetrically empty, it takes on this other kind of spatial volume through a supergraphic.

I knew that I wanted to do something that also had presence from Millennium Park, something that engaged multiple viewpoints. Maybe you can see this from Google Earth? I don’t know. But I wanted to take into account all those different viewers.

EH: I don’t think we’ve featured any other artist on the Bluhm Family Terrace who was thinking about Google Earth or what the space looks like from the park. It has all been pretty contained.

PW: Right, it’s never been about treating the architectural space itself. It’s always been about an object in its space. And I’m really interested in signage and graphics and supergraphics and all the kind of vernacular of even just those materials. And I love using this street wrap; I mean that’s just a whole new terrain of method now.

EH: I love the reflection of the work as it comes off the window glass of Terzo Piano [the third floor restaurant]. It comes back at you in this very whole and encompassing way—truly like a demented rainbow.

PW: That’s what I was hoping. If the rainbow had covered the windows as well, you would not get the reflection. So it’s always this kind of trade off, I guess.

EH: The thing that I also like about this is that it’s very un-Chicago in a way. Chicago is a steel and glass and brick city. Restless Rainbow is situated up against a skyline of 19th-century architecture, and it’s such a pop, right in the middle of it. The incongruity of it really adds to its success. Did you consider anything about the aesthetics of the skyline or the sense of Chicago as an industrial city?

PW: Not really, actually. I was really more interested in the space, and the transparency of the space, and the kind of views into and out of the terrace. You can’t help but absorb the context of the place, and I think that definitely on some sort of molecular level it’s there, but the skyline is a nice way to sort of frame this high-key flattened, or folded, thing. I don’t know if it’s flattened or folded. But it is kind of nice that there’s this train [the Metra commuter train] right outside there. And that maybe the viewers of the train will see this. I think that’s really interesting.

EH: Is there an ideal vantage of the work?

PW: Not really. Certainly when you come in you get a more extensive view of the graphic, but I think it’s really nice that, as I’ve been walking around the piece, one thing looks like an oculus and another looks like a really specific type of rainbow curve, but then it loses its logic when it turns the corner. The other logic would be asserted if, in your mind, you unfolded this. And so I don’t think there’s any kind of ideal viewing situation; I just like that there are multiple views.

EH: What else have you seen at the museum that you like? Have you had a chance to look around at the other installations?

PW: You know, I have been here a number of times, and I have to say I always find myself seeking out the Tadao Ando gallery. I think it’s really amazing. So I always go in there. But there are so many other amazing things. I think the Ellsworth Kelly [White Curve, 2009] is incredible, outside in the courtyard; that is extraordinary. You know, I played the game “Masterpiece” as a kid, so I know the collection well!

EH: It seems like some of your work is really about making permanent a sort of temporality, like Smoke Knows (2009), which I think is just such a gorgeous, arrested moment. What’s the role of temporality in Restless Rainbow? Or is that any component of it at all?


PW: Well, maybe just sort of a fantasy story, where I was thinking about this rainbow, which is probably the most temporal thing there is, kinda crashing into the space. And what happens when it gets trapped? And what happens when you have an expectation of a rainbow—is this recognizable as a rainbow simply because of a curve? Or is it the logic of the color spectrum? And what happens when that is disrupted? So I suppose just in that sense, making that idea, giving it some sort of a form, might have some connection to permanence and temporality. But, you know, this is totally temporal anyway. This goes away in a few months. So to me there’s something interesting about a really large temporary gesture.

Ed. note: As it turns out, “a few months” ends sooner rather than later. This installation closes on September 20. Also, word to the wise, entry to the Bluhm Family Sculpture Terrace does not require museum admission. This space is free and open to the public during regular museum hours.

United Colours of Anxiety

POSTED BY , ON September 10, 2010, 3 COMMENTS

By Jitish Kallat

Jitish Kallat’s installation, Public Notice 3, opens at the Art Institute of Chicago tomorrow, September 11, 2010. The artist was generous enough to give us his thoughts on the work for ARTicle. Public Notice 3 draws on the historical convergence of an enormously influential call for religious tolerance by Swami Vivekananda at the Art Institute on September 11, 1893 and the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the United States. The installation will be on view until January 2, 2011.

This Saturday, September 11, as Public Notice 3 takes up tenancy on the risers of the Art Institute’s Grand Staircase, one of the elements it draws upon is the memory inscribed within the architecture of the museum building (site) and commences its engagement with the visiting public by evoking recent memories enshrined within 9/11 (date).

Through its connection with the history of this building, it evokes yet another date, that of the first Parliament of Religions that took place at this very site at the Art Institute on September 11, 1893. The Parliament was the first attempt to create a global convergence of faiths—not nations, possibly with the knowledge that in the future it will not “only” be nations that become sole commissioners of carnage—and Public Notice 3 overlays these contrasting moments like a palimpsest.

On September 11, 1893, the crowd of 7,000 was addressed by Swami Vivekananda. Now his speech is illuminated, conceptually and actually, in the threat coding system of the United States Department of Homeland Security. I find it interesting how the advisory system co-opts five colours from a visual artist’s toolbox into the rhetoric of terror, by framing them as devices to meter and broadcast threat (much like its predecessors, the British BIKINI alert state and the French vigipirate). Treating the museum’s Grand Staircase almost like a notepad, the 118 step-risers receive the refracted text of the speech. I see Public Notice 3 as an experiential and contemplative transit space; the text of the speech is doubled at the two entry points on the lower levels of the staircase and quadrupled at the four exit points at the top, multiplying like a visual echo.

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New Roger Brown Installation

POSTED BY , ON July 30, 2010, Comments Off on New Roger Brown Installation

Things are always changing in the contemporary galleries. Recently a new room of paintings by Chicago artist Roger Brown (American, 1941–97) was installed in gallery 296, on the second floor of the Modern Wing. Brown was a student at the School of the Art Institute in the 1960s and later became the most well known of a group of local artists called the Chicago Imagists. His clear, bold paintings depict stylized human figures, comic book-like narrative scenes, and surreal architectural constructions that reflect the contradictions of contemporary urban life.

Hands down my favorite work in this installation is that pictured above,  Museum without Ceiling, a painting that must have been inspired by Brown’s many visits to the Art Institute. Recognize the façade?

The title plays on the phrase “Museum without Walls,” coined by French art critic André Malraux in the 1940s to describe the infinite institution that is created in one’s mind by viewing art reproductions. In his work, Brown depicts a museum that has solid walls but a transparent roof, suggesting the sense of freedom and possibility that looking at art can provide even within the boundaries of a brick-and-mortar building. The tiny figures in Brown’s museum express awe, delight, and surprise in response to sculptures resembling the work of Constantin Brancusi, Alexander Calder, and a many-armed Hindu deity, among others. By lining up silhouettes of human figures and art works side by side, Brown also suggests that visitors are often just as interested in observing other people as they are in contemplating the art works on display.

There’s a lot out we have to say about Roger Brown! Here are a few more resources:

–Art historian Sidney Lawrence compiled a list of Roger Brown’s favorite works in the Art Institute, including paintings by Giovanni di Paolo, Giorgio de Chirico, Georgia O’Keeffe, Marsden Hartley, and Edward Hopper. Here is a selection.

–In addition to the Renaissance and modern paintings he saw at the Art Institute, Brown was inspired by various aspects of visual culture including signs, billboards, folk art, and flea market junk. He amassed an amazing collection of objects from around the world, a collection on view at his former home and studio on Halsted Street and run by the School of the Art Institute. It’s a great place to visit if you want to learn more about Brown’s art. Visitor info is online here, and you can also read a bio of Brown here.

— Be sure to check out more works by Brown (including the cool decal above) in the Chicago Stories exhibition on view in the Prints and Drawings galleries through August 15th.

–There is also an exhibition of his work at the Hyde Park Art Center through October 3.

An artist who constantly mined the museum for inspiration, Roger Brown’s work always makes me see new connections between art works in the collection that I would never have imagined.

-Grace M., Department of Museum Education

Source: Sidney Lawrence, Roger Brown. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1987.

Images: Roger Brown, Museum without Ceiling, 1976. Oil on canvas. Restricted gift of Ruth Horwich; Ann M. Vielehr Prize Fund.

Roger Brown, False Image Decals, 1969, Color silkscreen decals, commercially manufactured, Gift of the Roger Brown Study Collection of the School of The Art Institute of Chicago.