Saturday, August 7, 2010

Louis Sullivan's Idea

Two special exhibits on Louis Sullivan's works..
- "Louis Sullivan's Idea" ..
at Chicago Cultural Center..
June 26–November 28, 2010..
Chicago artist Chris Ware and cultural historian Tim Samuelson present an installation of photographs, drawings, documents, and artifacts that portrays Sullivan's life, writings, and architectural works.. And planned in concert with this exhibition is
- "Looking after Louis Sullivan: Photographs, Drawings and Fragments"..
at the Art Institute of Chicago..
June 19–December 12, 2010..
where photographers John Szarkowski, Aaron Siskind, and Richard Nickel are on display. It explores how these photographers employed the camera to document and interpret Sullivan’s architecture and, in the process, helped shape his legacy. The exhibition is drawn from the permanent collections of the Department of Photography and the Department of Architecture and Design at the Art Institute of Chicago..

Next few posts are on based on the special exhibit, "Louis Sullivan's Idea" at the Chicago Cultural Center...

To me, one of the most interesting feature of the exhibit was to see how his early blocky ornamentation evolved into more lacy foliate patterns.. See the difference within a span of about 20 years.
Left image: Rothschild Store [1881, demolished]
Right image: Schlesinger & Mayer Store / Carson Pirie Scott Bldg. [1899, external terracotta ornamentation now removed]..

Also of great interest to me was the display of his works that he created between 1922 and 1923, for the Art Institute's Burnham library illustrating his philosophy of architectural ornamentation, which was later published by the American School of Architects in the form of a book, "A System of Architectural Ornamentation According with the Philosophy of Man's Powers", published posthumously in 1924..

This post is on the special exhibit, "Louis Sullivan Ideas", and, as usual, my coverage is divided into several posts..

Early years [1870s to 1880s]..
Many of his commissions in the early years, where of residential buildings. His foliate ornamentation were rather blocky then [beautiful anyways!].. Auditorium Building, in 1889, was perhaps Adler and Dankmar's first project that landed their name to the national fame. the exhibit has many architectural fragments from Sullivan's early residential buildings, most of them demolished now..
# For more, click here..

By this time, the firm of Adler and Sullivan started getting many commissions for commercial buildings. One of the most famous being the Chicago Stock Exchange Building. And looking at the fragments, one cannot help but regret that this masterpiece was demolished..
There are also photographs and fragments from other gems like..
- Condict Building, New York [1898]
- St. Nicholas Hotel [1893, demolished]
- Schiller Building/later Garrick Theater [1892, demolished]..
# For more, click here..

- Schlesinger & Mayer Store [1899]
- Holy Trinity Cathedral [1903]
- Krause Music Store [1922]
All of these buildings survive!!!
# For more.. click here..

Krause Music Store [facade ornamentation], was Louis Sullivan's last executed project...
The exhibit then throws light on some moments of his private life, his interest in rose cultivation, how he helped his [then-seperated] wife publish her book, The Goddess of Dawn, his liking for cigarettes and so on..

Collaboration with friend and consultant, Louis J. Millet..
Sullivan worked in close collaboration with Louis J. Millet [in at least two projects two projects that I know of]..
- Stencil decorations in the interior of Schiller Building's theater ..
- Stencil patterns at the Stock Exchange Trading room, where 52 colors were used to give depth, movement and dimension to the walls of the ceiling..

I think his biggest contribution was his uniquely American architectural style, rather than continue to adapt classical, Gothic or even historical elements..

A lot more needs to be written, some of which I know but have the time-constraint, some of which I am not aware of.. I'll add a few more texts and images, as I get time.. Although not absolutely comprehensive, I hope it gives a rough idea of the wonderful exhibit that is..

Also check out some images in my album, the "Legacy of Louis Sullivan" ..

And, if you havent already, then probably this sketch, by Louis Sullivan, should be motivation enough to visit, the special exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago, "Looking after Louis Sullivan: Photographs, Drawings and Fragments"..

Check out.. Chicago - Architecture and Cityscape.. click here..

Related Links..
# Louis Sullivan buildings, extant in Chicago..


Ultra Local Geography said...

I understand Richard Nickel's book about Sullivan will soon be completed. Just a few decades late and having passed through the hands of various authors.

His "System of Ornamentation" collection is flat-out amazing. He presents it as this very logical progression, but he must have realized that it soon leaves logic far behind.

therhettster said...

It's the great man's year. Not only can you see this fantastic exhibit, there is also the new feature documentary film, Louis Sullivan: The Struggle for American Architecture. More at