Saturday, August 22, 2009

a series of interpretations

Illus: Hugo Weber, Mies van der Rohe, 1961

It turned out to be a series of interpretations. But what else has a portrait ever been?

Hugo Weber speaking of his charcoal series of the architect Mies van der Rohe on 29 October 1961, as cited in a contemporary issue of Arts and Architecture.

A handful of Weber's sublime portraits (he called Mies "a conservative revolutionary") are on display at the Elmhurst Art Museum as a part of their Glass and Steel show which runs through the 13th of September. Weber's iconic bust of Mies is on display as well (a photo of which has been hard to come by).

We visited this afternoon and had the place to ourselves -- a shame on a Saturday when it should have been overrun with fans of mid-century modernism. The exhibit opens with a room full of Eames pieces -- mostly chairs -- and a couple of molded plywood leg splints.

Come to find out the Eames shipped over 150,000 of the splints during WWII, beautiful forms, the prototype of which was shaped around Charles Eames' leg, replacing the bulky and ill-fitting metal splints that the U.S. Military had been using for their soldiers.

It was the slow cessation of legs that needed splinting after the war that led Charles and Ray Eames into the design and manufacturing of their molded plywood furnishings after the war.

The exhibit moves through stellar examples of modernism -- the art glass of Michael and Frances Higgins, dinnerware by Russel Wright, furnishings by Knoll and McCobb, lighting by Isamu Noguchi, drawings by Richard Koppe -- before it spills out into a hallway that leads to the administrative arm of the museum where I found Mr. Hoo poking around the shuttered staff offices.

Surprised by his presumption (he is a not a presumptuous man) I suggested we should head in the opposite direction -- before he pointed out to me that we were standing in Mies van der Rohe's McCormick House, which was under threat of demolition in a nearby neighborhood around the same time the museum was under construction, and was purchased and relocated by a band of believers in 1994.

The house merges into the museum without pretense or pronouncement. If it hadn't been pointed out to me I would have walked by without realizing that I was in the presence of "the most significant piece in the museum’s permanent collection." Once you search them out Mies' lines peer through the clutter, but the clutter -- the folding tables that serve as a conference table, the office cubicles piled high with workday detritus -- feels like the messy inattention of a grandchild dashing through the living room with mud on his shoes, oblivious to grandpa's work and mastery.

Glass and Steel
August 2-September 13, 2009
Elmhurst Art Museum
150 Cottage Hill Ave.
Elmhurst, Illinois 60126

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