Sep, 27, 2011,
10:12 AM

Flamingo plopped onto Federal Plaza

When I was a graduate student in downtown Chicago I would often walk by Federal Plaza, on the corner of Dearborn and Adams, usually finding the plaza teeming with business people.  My eye was initially drawn to Alexander Calder’s monumental sculpture Flamingo, which sits in the plaza. At the time, this sculpture from 1974 seemed to me to be quintessential “plop art”. 

 The idea behind plop art came from Miwon Kwon’s One Place After Another: Site Specific Art and Locational Identity. She explains in her book that “Initially, from the mid 1960s to the mid 1970s, public art was dominated by the art-in-public-places paradigm- modernist abstract sculptures that were often enlarged relics of works normally found in museums and galleries. These art works were usually signature pieces from internationally established male artists (favored artists who received the most prominent commissions during this period include Isamu Noguchi, Henry Moore, and Alexander Calder). In and of themselves, they had no distinctive qualities to render them ‘public’ except perhaps their size and scale.” (60) Kwon, arguing the merits of site-specific works, believed these works to be “plopped” onto public spaces without any thought given to the sculpture’s interaction with the surrounding area.

Going back to the modernist plaza, though, I began to notice the relationship between the curvilinear bright sculpture and the rigorous grid-like buildings. Both the buildings and the sculpture were made of steel and shared basic design principles, such as the importance of the structure versus ornamentation. The sculpture’s graceful curves help break up the buildings’ angles, giving the eye a rest and providing the plaza with additional dynamism. The colors, Mies’s black and Calder’s red, complement each other and again add to the perceived vitality of the plaza. I observed pedestrians walking underneath and around the sculpture; touching the material, while gazing up at the surrounding buildings. Flamingo did interact with its surroundings, both with the architecture and with the people frequenting the area. Suddenly, I realized that Calder’s work was not plop art after all. Instead, it seems like the perfect modernist complement to Mies Van der Rohe’s creation.

Guest Contributor Claudia Mooney, Chipstone Foundation Assistant Curator and New Media Manager/Milwaukee Art Museum Adjunct Curator of Decorative Arts

Photo by MARIA from Flickr

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Sep, 22, 2011,
1:31 PM

Genius and the IIT gang

IIT students will work with architects Chris Lee and 2011 genius-grant winner Jeanne Gang, who have been appointed by the City of Chicago to make the city’s river more attractive.

Gang and Lee will work with IIT students to design boathouses for the Chicago River. Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s crew hopes more attention to the river will improve clean-up efforts.

And if there’s anything IIT students can do, it’s create attention-worthy structures! We’ll keep you posted on the progress.

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Sep, 20, 2011,
12:01 PM

EU Prize exhibition comes to Chicago

October 25 through November 11, 2011
Opening night celebration: October 25, 6 p.m.
Instituto Cervantes
31 W. Ohio St., Chicago

The Neues Museum in Berlin by David Chipperfield Architects in collaboration with Julian Harrap won the European Union Prize for Contemporary Architecture this year, and now you can see an exhibition featuring details of the work at the Instituto Cervantes in downtown Chicago.

The opening night, October 25, includes a lecture by Ramon Bosch and Bet Capdeferro, who were selected for the Emerging Architect Special Mention. We’ll update you with more special events in connection with the exhibition as we learn of them.

The exhibition is sponsored in part by the Mies van der Rohe Foundation of Barcelona, Spain, which grants the EU Prize every two years to acknowledge and reward quality architectural production in Europe.

Photo: Audringje

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Sep, 14, 2011,
4:09 PM

Volunteers needed for a tour de force

The free weekend festival openhousechicago seeks volunteers! This Chicago Architecture Foundation event is October 15 and 16 and offers a backstage pass to 130 buildings in Chicago.

Sites include:

  • the original Sears Tower in North Lawndale
  • Louis Armstrong’s Sunset Cafe in Bronzeville
  • Uncommon Ground’s rooftop farm in Roger’s Park
  • backstage of the Pritzker Pavilion
  • rooftop garden of Lake Point Tower

Volunteers will welcome and assist visitors at all of the sites. Choose one four-hour shift on Saturday or Sunday (or both days). Then receive a commemorative shirt, discount at the CAF shop and a free walking tour pass plus priority access to all openhousechicago 2011 sites.

Interested? Contact volunteer coordinator Patrick Miner at


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