Wrightwood 659 is a stunning new art gallery in Lincoln Park and its current exhibition is a great way to get acquainted with the new space if you have not been there before. Located at 659 W. Wrightwood between Clark and Halsted, the building is a former 1920s-era 30-unit apartment building. Japanese architect and Pritzker-prize laureate Tadao Ando designed the gutted and reconstructed interior and his work is the subject of the gallery’s current exhibit.
Tadao Ando and Le Corbusier: Masters of Architecture devotes the top two floors to the work, history and influences of Tadao Ando. The second floor is devoted to the work and background of Le Corbusier (Charles-Édouard Jeanneret), the Swiss-French architect and urban planner, who is considered a pioneer of modern architecture.
On the fourth floor, the exhibits display the process of development of three major Ando works: the Clark Art Institute in Williamstown, Mass. (2001-14), the Pulitzer Arts Foundation in St. Louis (1992-2001), and the Modern Art Museum of Ft. Worth (1997-2002). The stories are told through photographs, drawings and beautifully executed models by architecture students and faculty at IIT, UIC and SAIC. Throughout the exhibits, you can see recent wall drawings and sketches by Ando done in blue marker.
The third floor is devoted to other Ando projects, which are shown on three large screens displayed behind a room-size representation of his Naoshina Island Model, built in a former industrial area on a small island now devoted to art, architecture and meditation spaces. The model is created by hand- and laser-cut basswood by Ando’s students in Paris, shipped here in pieces, and reassembled by 659 curators and staff.
The Le Corbusier gallery shows his early and later work and illustrates how Ando was inspired by Le Corbusier in the use of raw materials, especially concrete, and in natural elements such as light, wind and water. An early example is Le Corbusier ‘s 1923 worker housing, which used factory-made concrete cinder blocks. Once installed, a concrete finish was sprayed on, using a new Ingersoll-Rand “cement gun.”
Highlights include original models of key Le Corbusier projects, such as the Villa Savoye (1929), a modernist private house outside of Paris; the urban plan for the reconstruction of the small French city of Saint Dié (1945), in which the architect transformed the war-damaged town; and the Unité d’Habitation, a housing project in Marseille (1945). You also can see more than 100 Le Corbusier drawings, photographs and models—on loan from institutions including the Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris, and the Art Institute of Chicago—as well as 106 small models of Le Corbusier’s built and unbuilt houses made by students of Ando. In addition to the three main exhibition galleries, a large concrete scale-model of Ando’s Church of the Light in Ibaraki, Osaka, Japan, is displayed on the mezzanine level, beneath the building’s skylights. (Ando also designed the Art Institute of Chicago’s Ando Gallery, which holds the museum’s collection of Japanese screens.)
The interior structure of Wrightwood 659 is spectacular and evidences Le Corbusier’s strong influence on Ando. The spaces are open and free-flowing with outer walls in old brick and other walls in raw concrete. The creative use of light is spectacular. Open staircases flow from gallery to gallery. (The building is equipped with an elevator if you prefer to avoid stairs.)
Incidentally, the very modern home you see to the west of Wrightwood 659 was designed by Ando for Fred Eychaner, a longtime LGBTQ activist, philanthropist and president of Alphawood Foundation. He and Dan Whittaker are cofounders of Wrightwood 659. Whittaker is co-curator of the inaugural exhibition, served as owner’s representative for construction of Wrightwood 659, and as liaison with Tadao Ando Architects. The curator of the Le Corbusier section of the exhibition is Eric Mumford, Rebecca and John Voyles Professor of Architecture, Washington University in St. Louis.
Alphawood is a grant-making foundation committed primarily to advocacy, architecture and preservation, arts and arts education, promotion and protection of the rights of LGBTQ citizens and people living with HIV/AIDS, and other human and civil rights. Wrightwood 659 will be devoted to exhibitions of architecture and socially engaged art. The gallery will not have its own collection.
The first exhibit displayed in the gallery’s “soft’ opening was Ai Weiwei: “Trace” in Chicago last spring.The programming for the gallery began with exhibitions by Alphawood Exhibitions, which presented Art AIDS America (2016-17) and Then They Came for Me: Incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII and the Demise of Civil Liberties (2017). Both exhibits were held in the former Alphawood Gallery at Fullerton and Halsted.
Future exhibitions at Wrightwood 659 will include Dimensions of Citizenship, the official U.S. exhibition at the 2018 Venice Architecture Biennale, opening in February 2019; an exhibition coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall rebellion, opening in spring 2019; and a presentation of work by Japanese painter Tetsuya Ishida (1973–2005), organized in collaboration with the Museo Reina Sofia, in Madrid, which will open in fall 2019.
The Ando-Le Corbusier exhibit continues through December 15. Wrightwood 659 is open Wednesday-Saturday with visit times scheduled at 10am and 2 and 5:30pm on some days; there are at most 10 tours per week. Admission is by online reservation only and tickets are available for only brief periods. Each Monday at 10am, a two-week block of free tickets is released. If you can’t get a free ticket, you can buy tickets beyond this two-week window in advance for $20.
Visitor note.Wrightwood 659 does not allow walk-ins. If you think you would just like to stop in and see the building design, don’t even think about it. You have to make a reservation online, either free if available or for $20, at one of the times noted above. A tall security fence, tightly locked doors and a security guard ensure you will not walk in without a ticket. Once inside, you will find the staff very helpful and friendly.