Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Prairie flora ornamentation: portraying early 20th century modernism and the wonderful photography of Clarence Fuermann

Louis H. Sullivan, Architect
Merchants National Bank, Grinnell, Iowa
NW corner of Fourth Ave. and Broad St., Grinnell, Iowa, U.S.A.
Exterior detail / front entrance
Photographer: Henry Fuermann and Sons [Chicago]
Image is from the Art Institute of Chicago, Historic Architecture and Landscape Image Collection. Copyright, © Ryerson & Burnham Archives, All rights reserved. (1)

This is a wonderful photograph depicting the architectural façade of one of Louis Sullivan’s jewel box bank buildings. This documentary image shows photographer Clarence Fuermann’s interest in the literal flatness of the picture plane and is indicative of twentieth century modernism.

  1. Fuermann, Henry, and Sons,. Merchants National Bank (Grinnell, Iowa). Ryerson & Burnham Archives, Historic Architecture and Landscape Image Collection, Chicago. Web. 28 Apr. 2013.

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Wednesday, April 24, 2013

An interesting history of design changes—the Vernon S. Watson residence of Oak Park, Illinois

Current view of the Vernon S. Watson residence (east elevation)
643 N. Fair Oaks Ave. Oak Park, Illinois, U.S.A.
Photograph by versluis, 2013

View looking northwest—this architectural rendering of the Watson house was made in c.1906 (1)

The initial elevation and section drawings of the Vernon S. Watson House, Oak Park, Illinois, 1904 (2)

These series of images shown above, which pictorialize the Watson House in Oak Park, Illinois, are interesting when you compare the original preliminary drawings to the actual built structure. Architectural historian, Richard Guy Wilson gives a general description of Watson’s house:

Watson’s own house exemplifies a type of house design, the so-called “four-square” that became the ideogram of the Prairie School. The origins of this essentially boxy and rectilinear form lay in the middle-class houses illustrated almost continuously in house pattern books from the mid-1800s onward. Frequently cubical or square in both plan and mass, the “four-square” was the standard housing stock used—and repeated ad infinitum—across the United States. (3)
Wilson further adds:
In this case, Watson imparted a horizontal emphasis to the form with the low hipped roof, the high clapboard basement, the heavy stringcourses [horizontal bands], and the banking of the windows on the south and east elevations. The entrance is on center, [south side entrance] and the rectilinear character is emphasized through trim and broad flat surfaces. (4)
  1. Vernon S. Watson residence. 1906. Art Institute of Chicago / Chicago Architectural Sketch Club Collection, Chicago., n.d. Web.
  2. Watson, Vernon S. Elevation and Sections of the Vernon Watson House, Oak Park, Illinois. 1904. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. “Prairie School Works in the Department of Architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago.” The Prairie School: Design Vision for the Midwest. By Richard Guy Wilson. Art Institute of Chicago: Museum Studies, 1995. 101. Print.
  3. Wilson, Richard Guy. “Prairie School Works in the Department of Architecture at the Art Institute of Chicago.” The Prairie School: Design Vision for the Midwest. Ed. Michael Sittenfeld. First ed. Chicago: The Art Institute of Chicago, 1995. 100. Print.
  4. Ibid. 102.

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Sunday, April 14, 2013

Robert Motherwell’s “A la Pintura” — art of the epic dimension: a collaboration of painter, poet, printmaker, and publisher

Robert Motherwell, (American, 1915–1991)
Frontpiece – from A la Pintura, 1971, published 1972
Color aquatint from one copper plate and letterpress on white wove paper
121 x 197 mm (image/plate); 647 x 965 mm (sheet)
Belknap 82 artist's proof; Sparks 15 artist's proof
Prints are from the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago. Photographs by versluis are for educational purposes.

Motherwell’s “A la Pintura” is being shown as part of a wonderful exhibition titled, The Artist and the Poet at the Art Institute of Chicago, Galleries 124–127, through Sunday, June 2, 2013.

Other credits for A la Pintura include:

Written by Rafael Alberti (Spanish, 1902–1999) and translated by Ben Belitt (American, 1911–2003). Printed by Donn Steward (American, 1921–1986); typography by Juda Rosenberg and Esther Pullman. Published by Universal Limited Art Editions (American, founded 1955).
A la Pintura is a book/portfolio of loose-leaf prints by painter Robert Motherwell, which combines and contrasts the linear expression of typography with painterly emotionality. “A la Pintura” comprises sensitive graphic images thoughtfully printed on the rag paper surface. The impact is shared with an equally masterful orchestration of positive and negative space for the effect of an epically dimensional composition.

In writing about this piece Judith Goldman comments:
A la Pintura, illustrating Rafael Alberti’s cycle of poems in homage to painting is Motherwell’s major graphic work. The grand book’s brilliance stems from the visual and literary collaboration and from a more essential one between the painter and bookman. In A la Pintura, the sensibility of the painter, editor, translator and man who knows type, work together. Motherwell designed the book, laid out the type, and determined the placement of each image on the unlikely sized, hand-torn loose sheets of J. B. Green paper. He had the original Spanish verse printed in color, keyed the poem’s subject (the English translation appears in black) to unite word and image. Alberti’s poem travels a gallery of art and colors and evokes in words what Valázquez, Brueghel and Bosch [and others] could only say with paint. (1)

Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991)
Red – from A la Pintura, 1971, published 1972
Color aquatint and lift-ground etching from two copper plates, with letterpress, on white wove paper
140 x 254 mm (image/plate); 647 x 965 mm (sheet)
Belknap 93 artist's proof; Sparks 27 artist's proof

Robert Motherwell (American, 1915-1991)
To the Paintbrush – from A la Pintura, 1969, published in 1972
Color soft-ground etching with aquatint from one copper plate, with letterpress, on white wove paper
254 x 406 mm (image/plate); 647 x 965 mm (sheet)
Belknap 101 artist's proof; Sparks 35 artist's proof

For further insight this text is from the The Artist and the Poet exhibition label:
According to John McKendry, former curator at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, if nothing else survived of Robert Motherwell’s oeuvre save his A la Pintura, he “would still be seen as a major artist of the twentieth century.” Motherwell’s book of 24 unbound pages, with 21 mixed intaglio prints, “illuminates the poetry” of Raphael Alberti. After Robert Motherwell discovered Ben Belitt’s translation of Raphael Alberti’s A la Pintura (On Painting), Motherwell recalled, “I had found the text for a livre d’artiste, a text whose every line set into motion my innermost painterly feelings. . . . This poetry is made for painters, and this livre was made for the poetry. I meant the two to be wedded, as in a medieval psalter, but with my own sense of the modern.” Just as Motherwell was inspired by poetry, Alberti found constant source material in the visual arts. A la Pintura was his homage to the collection of master paintings in the Prado Museum in Madrid and was dedicated to his friend and fellow Spaniard Pablo Picasso. (2)
  1. Goldman, Judith. American Prints: Process & Proofs. First ed. New York: Whitney Museum of Art / Harper & Row, 1981. 114-23. Print.
  2. Collections: About This Artwork. Art Institute of Chicago, n.d. Web. 13 Apr. 2013. 

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Sunday, April 7, 2013

“They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950” and The New Bauhaus

This is the cover of The New Bauhaus course catalog, 1937-38 that is on display in the Art Institute of Chicago’s exhibition “They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950.” photo by versluis 2013

The following is from the didactic label that accompanies this iconic piece in the exhibition:

The New Bauhaus: Design in Chicago 
As Chicago’s social realists were striving for social change, a new set of immigrants appeared on the scene. In 1937, a group of Chicago industrialists invited the Hungarian-born artist Lázló Moholy-Nagy to found the New Bauhaus (now part of the Illinois Institute of Technology). It would be based on the Bauhaus, an innovative German school that operated between 1919 and 1933. A renowned avant-garde painter, photographer, and graphic and industrial designer, Moholy-Nagy had taught at the Bauhaus in 1923-1928. With the threat of World War II looming, he accepted the invitation, asking the photographer György Kepes to join him in Chicago. 
Like its predecessor, the New Bauhaus featured an integrated curriculum of art and design that prioritized open-ended learning and creative processes. Abstraction and pure visual qualities were emphasized, as students were encouraged to inventively experiment with forms as a means of finding solutions to artistic and social questions. This attitude was certainly revolutionary in Chicago although modernism could be seen in limited quantities, the representational preferences of Chicago’s left-wing social realists still dominated. Moholy-Nagy was equally committed to progressive social issues, however, which he demonstrated through his mission to develop good design and indicate a social consciousness in his students. 
This fostered a rich and lively connection between these two groups in Chicago, as they met, argued, and exchanged ideas. Moreover, it offers another window onto the vibrancy of the Chicago artistic community during this period. In the face of wartime oppression, Chicago’s diverse and brash new society had an enticing vitality for Moholy-Nagy: “There’s something incomplete about this city and its people that fascinates me; it seems to urge one on to completion. Everything seems still possible. The paralyzing finality of the European disaster is far away. I love the air of newness, of expectation around me. Yes, I want to stay.” (1)
  1. Oehler, Sarah Kelly, exhibition curator. Exhibition: They Seek a City: Chicago and the Art of Migration, 1910–1950. Art Institute of Chicago, Chicago. 2013.

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Friday, April 5, 2013

Russian Futurism in print: “Tango with Cows” (Tango s Korovami), 1914

cover page
pages 4 and 5
pages 6 and 7

David Burlyuk (American, born Ukraine, 1882–1967) and Vladimir Burlyuk (Ukrainian, 1887–1917)
Written by Vasily Kamensky (Russian, 1884–1961)

Tango with Cows (Tango s Korovami), 1914
A 36-page book with lithographs in black and letterpress in black on yellow wallpaper.
From the collection of the Art Institute of Chicago, Mary and Leigh Block Endowment Fund, 2009.238. We gratefully acknowledge the images are from the Community Associates of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Turning the Pages pilot project. 

The following brief but concise description of this piece is taken from the AIC website:
Tango with Cows is a supremely fine example of Russian Futurism in print. Subtitled “Ferro-Concrete Poems”, this collection was printed in letterpress on wallpaper samples, the sheets cut at a provocative angle so that the book’s quality as a visual object overwhelms the legibility of the verses it contains. An encounter between industrial production and personal creativity is compared as a meeting of ballrooms and farm pastures—with the poet merging the two in his guise as a freewheeling, bovine dancer.
This delightfully disconcerting piece is included in the AIC’s Department of Prints and Drawings Gallery Exhibition:
The Artist and the Poet, February 1–June 2, 2013, [has been] curated by Emily Vokt Ziemba, with Mark Pascale. The exhibition [was] designed by Kulapat Yantrasast, principal architect of Workshop Hakomori Yantrasast (wHY).

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