Photography as (Public) Sculpture: Amanda Ross-Ho at MCA Chicago

IMG_0848As far as public sculpture goes, the notion of an opening date seems a little odd. Unless done under total secrecy or very quickly, such large scale projects reveal themselves over time, after periods of long installation, and yet one day they are fully realized, completed and ready for public consumption. This past Tuesday, 23 July, marked such a day for The Character and Shape of Illuminated Things.

IMG_0857The third commissioned work in the Plaza Project series at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, the occasion was marked with an outdoor talk with the Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based artist Amanda Ross-Ho and MCA curator Julie Rodrigues Widholm; speaking at the height of rush hour, on a beautiful, if blustery Chicago summer afternoon, the receding sunlight streaming through the skyscrapers surrounding the MCA. I mention the artist talk, not only because the idea was both insane (honking cabs! emergency sirens! random tourists wandering around!) and a perfect, surprisingly successful venue for discussion of a work that by its placement alone is meant to engage and implicate the public, but also because it threw into sharp focus some of the stronger formal and conceptual aspects of the work on view. Continue reading “Photography as (Public) Sculpture: Amanda Ross-Ho at MCA Chicago”


Sottsass, Olivetti, and the continuing lure of the Typewriter

Ettore Sottsass (Manufactured by Olivetti), Olivetti Studio 45 Typewriter, c. early 1970s, ABS plastic and other materials, Art Institute of Chicago
Ettore Sottsass (Manufactured by Olivetti), Olivetti Studio 45 Typewriter, c. early 1970s, ABS plastic and other materials, Art Institute of Chicago

The other day, while mapping out an upcoming museum visit for the class I am teaching this summer, I found myself wandering through the design and architecture galleries at the Art Institute of Chicago. I have been thinking a lot lately about the often tenuous line that separates a designed object and a sculptural thing. The current exhibition, Sharing Space: Creative Intersections in Architecture and Design, culled from the AIC’s permanent collection, seemed like a particularly apt opportunity to further consider this liminal space, since the exhibition takes as its focus the point where two disciplines, in this case architecture and design, meet. Among the numerous schematic drawings of three-dimensional things, sculptural models, and hybrid objects was an bright teal Olivetti Studio 45 typewriter designed by Italian postwar artistic polymath Ettore Sottsass. Admittedly the color is what initially grabbed my attention, but the more I stood and looked at this object the more I was struck by its overall aesthetics: the considered selection of the font on the keys perfectly complementing the simple, clean lines of its frame; the single red key balanced by the red stripe on the ribbon; the small details, like the teal ends of the knobs, aspects that go beyond mere functionality. Sitting in its well-lit vitrine, its elements casting dramatic shadows, this object, this thing made to type words on paper, possessed some serious presence. Continue reading “Sottsass, Olivetti, and the continuing lure of the Typewriter”

Inhabiting: A woodsy reflection on the relationship between sculpture and architecture

Back CameraI spent the whole of last week on holiday in the north woods of Wisconsin – forcefully but happily disconnected from the connected world. I spent a lot of the week crafting cocktails, enjoying the exuberance of my nephews, and staring at trees, which, as I get older, has easily become the best thing about spending time in the woods. In the late 1970s, in an attempt to “live off the grid” my parents bought forty acres of land and built a modest house set a mile back from the nearest road, which only just recently was upgraded from gravel to blacktop. It was the first house my brother and I called home, but even more significantly this place–the land, the trees, and the house–has become the physical and emotional bedrock of our family. So what does this have to do with sculpture or sculptural things? Perhaps nothing. Perhaps this post is just excuse to remain a little longer amongst the singing birds and leaves blowing in the breeze, but after almost forty years my parents decided to renovate the property, an ongoing process that led to the addition of the structure pictured above, in its unfinished state a couple of summers back. Witnessing and being involved in these changes has made me acutely aware of the ways in which architecture exerts immense power over our experience of the spaces we inhabit; the power to contain and shelter, to both bring us closer to and separate us from surrounding landscapes.

Installation view of Henry Moore’s Maquette for UNESCO Reclining Figure, 1957 at the Art Institute of Chicago with Frank O. Gehry’s Pritzker Pavilion in the background.

Which is a longwinded and perhaps overly personal way of getting to the fact that my time in the woods prompted a good deal of reflection about structures, sites, and space, but very little about sculpture, at least as such. These are terms shared by both disciplines, whose histories have always been intertwined or at least adjacent to one another. In addition to their engagement with size, volume, and mass, architecture and sculpture both possess transmutable disciplinary boundaries and generate the equally ambiguous adjectives “sculptural” and “architectural.” Traditionally, they have been distinguished through functionality and accessibility to interior space. They both shape and construct, but architecture creates structures, often in sizes unmatched by anything within sculptural practice, involving imminently more rigorous, complex engineering. Simply put, buildings have use value and are spaces you can enter and inhabit. Continue reading “Inhabiting: A woodsy reflection on the relationship between sculpture and architecture”