Review: ‘American Framing’ highlights trio of new exhibits at Wrightwood 659

By Nancy S. Bishop, Third rib examination:

Wrightwood 659 is a small museum tucked away in a residential block of Wrightwood Avenue in Lincoln Park. It is not a collection museum, which means that it has no permanent collection to display. The four floors of this beautifully renovated structure (design by Tadao Ando) can be used for large exhibitions or divided into several small or medium ones. The current set of exhibits is a striking example of this last use of the building. Here is a brief description of each, followed by more details.

The main exhibit is American frame, co-hosted by two UIC architecture faculty members, which showcases the interior structure of softwood construction, the most common American building system for nearly 200 years. It is the prosaic inner structure hidden beneath the more glamorous finishes, facings, gizmos and adornments of a building’s exterior.

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Two other exhibits are also on display at Wrightwood 659, all very different and each with its own charm.

Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who is afraid of red, yellow and green) transforms the second-floor gallery into a communal dining room while protest images are created on the walls by artists. (If you’re there at the right time, you’ll be treated to a delicious curry lunch.)

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Mog: Modern Women and Girls in 1930s Japan is a small exhibition of paintings that portrays the urban “modern girl” and reflects on the roles of mothers and daughters. This exhibition is presented in part of the gallery on the fourth floor.

Besides, We will challenge, a permanent exhibition of photographs and texts by Bangladeshi human rights activist Shahidul Alam, is also on display in the fourth-floor gallery. The images and verses, by Alam and others, tell the story of Alam’s protests against the elite power structure and his life in prison.

American frame

You are introduced to the concept of American frame as soon as you enter the atrium at Wrightwood 659. Curators have created a three-story installation, an abstraction of an interior Chicago wood-frame structure that envelops the atrium. The structure even has a roof, albeit inverted.

the American frame The installation, which occupies the third floor of the museum, is a reinstallation of the American exhibition presented during the 17th International Architecture Exhibition at the Venice Biennale 2021. The exhibition was curated by the professors of the UIC Paul Andersen and Paul Preissner. The exhibit shows how, since the early 19th century, timber framing has been the most common construction system in the United States. It is currently used in over 90% of new home construction.

“Wood framing is the great forgotten foundation of American architecture,” Preissner said. “It’s especially exciting to bring this project to our audience in Chicago, as we raise awareness for this form of building that is often dismissed or ignored on a global scale.”

Throughout the gallery, you’ll see newly commissioned furniture produced in common wood, including chairs, rockers and benches, designed by UIC School of Architecture assistant professors Ania Jaworska and Norman Kelley and her design partner Carrie Norman.

The scale building models on display were researched and built by UIC architecture students; the models reflect the history of timber framing from its beginnings to the 20th century. The exhibition also features a series of photographs depicting the development and use of timber framing by photographers Chris Strong and Daniel Shea.

the American frame The exhibition is also on display at the Jaroslava Fragnera Gallery in Prague, Czechia, until June 24. The gallery is one of the few in the Czech Republic dedicated to the presentation of architecture. The program is accompanied by a series of outreach programs at the gallery and at universities and educational centers around the city.

Andersen and Preissner are also co-authors of the book American Framing: the same thing for everyone to be published later this year by Park Books. The book summarizes the architecture exhibition of the Venice Biennale and develops the scientific resources of the project. Images and text explore this quintessentially American method of wood construction; it includes stories linking timber framing to popular culture.

Rirkrit Tiravanija: (who is afraid of red, yellow and green)

Tiravanija’s conceptual exhibition combines communal dining and conversation with images of protest created by local artists. The exhibition is organized by the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington DC. The selection of images highlights Tiravanija’s interests in social relations between citizens, the role of government and individual freedom.

In the second-story gallery, overhead projectors project enlarged images of the Chicago protests onto the walls, where artists draw outlines of figures, banners and buildings, then complete the murals using their own style of drawing, usually in charcoal. We spoke with two graduate students from the School of the Art Institute while they were working.

From 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays (the days Wrightwood 659 is open), visitors can sit on a wooden stool or bench and dine on red, yellow, or green curry provided by Bliss Resto in Ravenswood. While you savor the curry (the yellow curry was delicious), you can chat about art and protests and watch the artists at work.

Moga: Modern Women and Girls in 1930s Japan

This intimate selection of 10 paintings, exhibited for the first time in the United States, comes from the private collection of Naomi Pollock and David Sneider, who lived in Japan for 30 years from the late 1980s to 2019. During their stay, they collected interwar art and design from the 1920s and 1930s.

Many paintings are of note Meguro Gajoencurrently Hotel Gajoen Tokyo, a large entertainment complex opened in 1931. Minori Egashori, a doctoral student at the University of Chicago, is a consulting curator.

The paintings depict the urban “modern girl” who captured the public imagination in 1920s Japan. They show an independent lifestyle and challenge the traditional ideal of “good wife, wise mother”. The paintings show mothers and daughters in scenes of everyday life alongside images of the “modern girl”.

American frame exposure. Model of Jim Kaney’s round barn in Adeline, Illinois, 1905. Photo by Nancy Bishop.

How to visit. These three exhibits exploring Japanese architecture, social engagement, and “modern girls” are on view at Wrightwood 659, 659 W. Wrightwood Ave., through July 16. The gallery is open Fridays from 12 p.m. to 7 p.m. and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tickets cost $15 and are available online only. Admission is by advance ticket; walk-in visits are not permitted. Wrightwood 659 requires all visitors to present proof of vaccinations and boosters as well as photo identification. Masks must be worn while in the building.

Chicago Supplement. Chicago’s oldest house, the 1836 Henry B. Clarke House on the near south side, is an example of timber framing (using timber joinery rather than the metal ties used in the more common stick frame). The house, part of the Prairie Avenue Historic District, is a house museum open for tours. If you visit the house, you will be able to see the original building system through an open panel on the wall of an upstairs bedroom. Guided tours take place at 1 p.m. on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Free entry; only eight visitors can visit at a time.


Third Coast Review is Chicago’s local website specializing in coverage of Chicago area arts and culture. Learn more at thirdcoastreview.com

Julia P. Cluff