Chicago gala - "Marshall's wall" - East Lake Shore Drive - turns 100

    March 4, 2011

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    More information at The Benjamin Marshall Society.

    100 years ago, in 1911, the flamboyant architect and developer Benjamin H. Marshall, began turning what was then landfill into what is now one of Chicago's toniest addresses and defining postcard scene of the city: East Lake Shore Drive. Marshall's firm, through the jazz age and slightly beyond, designed some of the most perfect, graceful and satisfying melanges of older styles ever built in the Chicago area. 

    Marshall was another one of those who as a young man had been impressed by Chicago's World Columbian Exposition of 1893.  He decided to become an architect. Mostly with a partner, Charles Fox, he designed the Drake, Blackstone, and Edgewater Beach Hotels, the ill-fated Iroquois Theater, the Blackstone Theater, the Sheridan Trust and Savings Bank (now Bridgeview) in Uptown, and the South Shore Country Club - now South Shore Cultural Center - where Barack and Michelle Obama held their wedding reception. The firm designed five of the buildings on East Lake Shore Drive. While not innovative in terms of defining modernism, Marshall and Fox promoted civilized living. Look in the top image of East Lake Shore Drive and see how it is even more lovely with a lawn and trees in front of it than it is today separated from the beach with that gash of a very wide and speedy concrete highway. 

    Marshall and Fox worked in urban and suburban settings. Marshall's own home was a 32 room "Shangri-La" in Wilmette, near where Plaza del Lago stands today. The firm designed several mansions on the North Shore, including one in which I was lucky enough to spend time when very young.  There I absorbed some of my earliest experiences of how architecture works, of how divine proportions can brighten your life, quality craftsmanship and solid construction can help form a complete person, and touching and looking at fine materials can enrich one's thinking. If you let it.      
    where Oprah lived briefly, and advice columnist columnist Ann Landers lived for many years. 
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When cherry trees blossom

    After a rain in L.A. 
    you see the world afresh

    After two days of heavy rain
    I went out today 
    and stopped still when I saw 
    snow-covered mountains like diamonds in the distance

    I thought of Mt. Fuji
    and how good it is to live beneath sacred mountains

    I went in to the park and saw 

    a Japanese-American girl in a kimono, wooden shoes and all 

    And when I noticed

    (click any image to enlarge)

    cherry blossoms
    I understood

    I remembered my time in Kyoto

    Where a man sees his shadow   

    and other sights impossible to categorize

    Today in L.A.
    on a fine day

    Asian-American kids 

    dress up 
    and photograph each other 

    when cherry trees blossom 

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Vivian Maier's mysterious mid-century Midwestern misfits, masters and more

    A very moving and exciting find is the street photography of Vivian Maier. From the 1950's to 1990's, Chicago-based Maier traveled the world. See as many of her photographs as you can. This one caught my eye.       

    The second image is Boulder. Frank Lloyd Wright put this work by Richard Bock by the entrance to his studio in Oak Park, Illinois. It shows the theme of this post - the soul's eternal struggle to break free of its bonds and to express the self. 

    My friend, the critic and educator James Yood, notes that Chicago art often portrays the distressed body. Think Chicago-born Leon Golub, e.g.,

    Interrogation III - (detail)

    The Greeks began to show the life of the mind in their sculpture; much later, Rodin gave us this weighted-down   

    Crouching Figure

    And in popular 20th century culture   

    Harry Houdini
    breaks free of his chains.

    . Wright's Boulder, of course, owes much to Michelangelo's


    ... which we used to call "slave." 

    Which takes us back to where we started, to the Vivian Maier photograph at top. She shows us a man, perhaps born free, but in chains. Fallen man, with unwashed clothes and inward-turned pose, she has us think he doesn't believe that another human being in the world could care for him. He makes a cube, like the pair in Brancusi's "The Kiss," but he hugs no one and no one hugs him.  Instead, he, maybe instinctively, takes the fetal position, with some memory of a time when someone must have cared for him. Now, only a thin, rumpled coat protects him from the buffeting and the elements of the world. His shoes are past their half-life; now perhaps best-suited to walking downhill. The man hides his face, with a hat that in better times would be his crown, and now can act as a shield for shame. 

    The material world in Maier's photo puts him at around 1963, the year of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech on the condition of bondage and the longing to be free. The speech, given at the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, is scriptural and sculptural.

         With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope... 
         Let freedom ring from Stone Mountain of Georgia.
         Let freedom ring from Lookout Mountain of Tennessee.
         Let freedom ring from every hill and molehill of Mississippi.
         From every mountainside, let freedom ring.
         And when this happens, when we allow freedom ring, when we let it ring from every     
         village and every hamlet, from every state and every city, we will be able to speed up that 
         day when all of God's children, black men and white men, Jews and Gentiles, Protestants 
         and Catholics, will be able to join hands and sing in the words of the old Negro spiritual:

                 Free at last! Free at last!
                 Thank God Almighty, we are free at last!

    Another photograph by Vivian Maier.

    The elder's identity is hardly seen.  The young one reaches up towards a circle-like perfection. A circle figures in many of Maier's works. 

    It's also interesting as we watch current events unfold in the Middle East, with people there demanding dignity and freedom, to note that Maier had traveled to Egypt and around the region. 

    See a second, also poignant, collection of Vivian Maier's photography here.  
    She lived the rich, if eccentric, life of a woman refusing to be shackled, finding her self, and expressing it.  

    Vivian Maier 

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Practical and philosophical: Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley

    Mayor Daley, announcing today the good news that Target plans to open a store in Louis Sullivan's vacant department store on State Street in downtown Chicago: 
    "State Street’s not just State Street. It’s Michigan Avenue, it’s Wabash, it’s Dearborn, it’s Wacker, it’s Clark, it’s Roosevelt Road. It’s all of it. It’s not — it has to be more than just one street, and that’s what it is. I mean, everything’s connected."   
    Designer Charles Eames:
    "Eventually, everything connects." 

    Louis Sullivan medallion 
    from the store 
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The more things vanish...




    Contemporary - Computer rendering 
    Resort Alila Villas Uluwatu, Bali, Indonesia by WOHA

    Modern (1939) - Photomontage
    Resor House (unbuilt), Wyoming, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

    Renaissance - Painting
    Ideal city

      Italian Renaissance vanishing perspective 

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