Burnham, Sullivan and Wright
September 5 - November 29, 2014
Drawings, prints and photographs of the work of three great Chicago architects.
Daniel Burnham, Louis Sullivan and Frank Lloyd Wright are some of the most famous names in Chicago architecture. Tourists come from around the world to photograph their many buildings. Burnham, also, is credited with its impressive layout, making Chicago one of the grandest of the world's modern cities. Sullivan is studied because the appearance of his buildings broke away from the Euro-centric copying of ancient structures. And Wright's works transformed the traditional "rooms" of houses into flowing "spaces."
Burnham was the corporate titan, making D.H. Burnham and Company into the equivalent of General Motors. He started with a partnership with John Wellborn Root as "Burnham & Root" to create some of the most impressive buildings for what became known as "The Chicago School of Architecture." When Root died in 1891, Burnham re-invented his firm to become the model for all large architectural practices today.
Louis H. Sullivan clothed his buildings in a kind of beauty that had never been seen before, celebrating its first floors with a type of natural geometry and its upper floors with a vertical emphasis that became known as a "skyscraper."
Sullivan also became the only architect Wright ever admired. And even though he died in 1959, Frank Lloyd Wright is still the most famous architect in the world. His name may be remembered for a thousand years as he became one of the greatest artists of world history. His drawings are among the most sought-after works in the art world.
Daniel Burnham's sons continued their father's firm, designing one of the most splendid Art Deco skyscrapers in the gold and green Carbide and Carbon Building, modeling its color on a champagne bottle. They went on to create some of the more streamlined designs of the 1930s.
The destruction of Louis Sullivan's Stock Exchange building in 1972 enflamed preservationists so much that few historic structures in the city have met the same fate and its salvaged ornaments have become treasured icons to this day.
ArchiTech Gallery has collected drawings, blueprints, photographs and objects from the designs of these three great architects. "Burnham, Sullivan and Wright" opens September 5th and continues through November 29th, 2014 in a special show and sale of original works of these giants.
ArchiTech Gallery remains Chicago's only commercial gallery of architectural art. It's located on the second floor of 730 North Franklin in the art gallery district of River North.
Notes on the exhibition:
Burnham, Sullivan and Wright
The three most important architects in Chicago's early design were Burnham, Sullivan and Wright. The order changes depending on who you're talking to. Frank Lloyd Wright devotees most likely put him before Sullivan and will dismiss Burnham altogether. The name of this show was just about syllables, though. A writer gets that privilege.
Actually, the main reason Chicago has such good bone structure is mostly about Burnham anyway and not Wright. The city seems to have made him a "Patron Saint." His name is invoked whenever the lakefront or boulevards are threatened. Yes, he turned his back on Modernism and shifted to Classicism as his new vocabulary (especially with the 1893 World's Fair architecture). But it was that "White City" Classicism that was a more powerful symbol to the world view of "grandeur." His 1909 Plan of Chicago pictured the ideal city as a sort of "Paris of the Prairie" and ignored the already towering Loop skyline (some of which he had built).
Frank Lloyd Wright may have been a more influential "artist" but Daniel Burnham may have known it was always about the money in America. Since he could speak "business," his firms built for the tycoons responsible for the great corporations that made Chicago. Wright didn't hobnob with the movers and shakers like Burnham did. Wright mainly had to settle for brave clients building dream homes. They may have been adventurous but they weren't building skyscrapers.
Louis H. Sullivan was considered to have been the "Poet of the Skyscraper" but he wasn't a back-slapper like Burnham. In fact, he never seems to have kept any client more than once. Though he probably tolerated them, they didn't turn into friends. Funny that they became more famous in the long term from their Sullivan designed buildings than they could on their own. Isn't that what art does?
So, "Burnham, Sullivan and Wright" it is. Mies van der Rohe came a lot later and his vocabulary was adopted after the war years by the corporate world. He was extremely influential but this exhibition is about Chicago's earlier architectural greatness.
I started planning this show around the rare 1887 Root design drawing of his un-executed "Chateau-like" mansard roof of the Chicago Club building. The actual building housed the first incarnation of the Art Institute and so most people respond to that tidbit and not to the fact it was the Chicago Club. The Burnham & Root firm was his earliest successful architectural business in what became D.H. Burnham and Co. Most of Burnham's own sketches were sold to private collectors and institutions to eventually find their way to museums. But John Wellborn Root, being the great engineer of the early firm, knew how to put Burnham's fantasies into stone and steel. This drawing seemed to encapsulate their partnership.
The 1906 photographs of Sullivan's great Owatonna bank were in the collection for the second component of the show. His early 20th Century banks were considered "Jewel Boxes" and the Minnesota one was his best. I also had MoMA's exhibition photograph of the Carson, Pirie, Scott building and the Aaron Siskind print of Sullivan's Auditorium. The other great visuals were the Stock Exchange artifacts pulled from the building before it was demolished in 1972 to make way for a boring, black glass high-rise on LaSalle Street. I also had the Richard Nickel photographs of the building in a pre-demolition view before Nickel started pulling out those chunks. There's no way of knowing if it was those pieces he was salvaging before he fell though that same building to his death.
The Wright drawings and 1910 lithographs make up the third component of the show. The drawings have been exhibited here but some of the Wasmuth Portfolio prints have not. A 1908 photograph of the interior of the Coonley house mirrored one of the Wasmuth lithographs for that same house, proving this image was the one used to make the print.
Since Daniel Burnham's sons became the backbone of the firm after his death, and designed Art Deco and Streamlined buildings well into the 1930s, they would also share wallspace.
And I've finally decided to sell the bronze head of Julius Caesar that was on Daniel Burnham's desk when he died in 1912. It was a 1909 gift from Rome's American Academy to Burnham for the efforts he had made to get the school started. Burnham thanked George Breck, the Academy's director for shipping it to him, writing: "The Julius Caesar (bust) is something I desire greatly."
Now, that bronze is the Classical piece the show needed.
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730 North Franklin suite 200
Chicago, IL 60654