Weekly Editorial

Inspiration Is All Around Us

Written By Rob Kirkbride, Editor-in-chief, OI Publications • June 17, 2024

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When you get back from a show like NeoCon/Design Days (or NeoDays), it’s hard not to be inspired. If you attended last week, you are probably still feeling like I am — energized and confident about our industry’s future.

I was in Chicago through Thursday — a day longer than most, I suppose — and after a few morning meetings, I took the extra time before my train left for home that evening to visit The Art Institute of Chicago, one of my very favorite places in the city.

As I was riding home on the train, I started thinking about inspiration. And I realized that NeoCon and Design Days are just two of the many places I’m inspired. While many visit The Art Institute in Chicago to see the museum’s world-class paintings and sculptures, I’m drawn to places in the art museum few seem to venture, at least based on the crowds last Thursday.

Visitors flock to see Georges Seurat’s pointillism masterpiece, “A Sunday on La Grande Jatte,” Edward Hopper’s “Nighthawks” or Grant Wood’s “American Gothic” — and they should. They are true masterpieces and there is a reason these paintings attract throngs of art lovers.

But there’s a lot to see at The Art Institute “off the beaten path.” There’s also plenty for our industry to study there as well and I encourage anyone who has time before or after NeoCon to take some time to visit.

Tucked in each end of the lower level are two exhibitions worth studying for our industry. At one end, visitors can find the Architecture & Design exhibit and at the other end, the museum’s collection of textiles.

The work represented in the Art Institute’s collection showcases the many voices that have shaped the fields of architecture and design and continue to do so today, including Daniel H. Burnham, Marion Mahony Griffin, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Charlotte Perriand, and Enzo Mari, as well as contemporary practitioners such as Stan Allen, David Adjaye, Bless, Yuri Suzuki, and Dunne and Raby.

The textile collection includes work like “Smokestacks,” a fabric designed by Sergi Petrovich Burylin and produced by the Kokhma Textile Mill in Japan in 1930. The Art Institute also has a number of tapestries, both new and old, including a pair created by Roberto Burle Marx, a Brazilian artist best known for his landscape designs. Like his gardens, the tapestry features a combination of colors, forms, and textures carefully arranged to highlight contrasts and produce an overall sense of balance and harmony.

There are also a number of furniture pieces on exhibition at The Art Institute. Items on display include pieces from Charles and Ray Eames and Isamu Noguchi, which should come as a surprise to no one, but it also includes Gilbert Rohde’s Paldao “Ectoplastic” Desk made by Herman Miller as part of the Paldao Group. I personally love Paul Frankl’s Skyscraper Cabinet, designed in 1927, which experimented with spare, geometric shapes that mimicked the setback contours of New York skyscrapers.

Inspiration comes from a lot of places in Chicago and not just at THE MART and Fulton Market. Why are all these old, musty pieces of furniture and textile important to us as an industry today? As Confucius said: “Study the past if you would define the future.”

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