Sunday, May 11, 2008

National Elks Memorial - Chicago

Finally got over to the Elk's Memorial this weekend,
it's been nearly 30 years since I saw it last.

The problem being --

I just didn't like it.
It felt dark, heavy, and depressing to me.

But I have been getting more interested in cemeteries lately,
so I thought I'd give it another try.

And I'm afraid
I still don't like it.

But I am kind of interested in the program of murals
that Eugene Savage did up near the ceiling.

They're a bit hallucinogenic.

Unfortunately -- they're also very high and not well lit,
but with the wonders of a high exposure on the camera,
and a bit of photoshop manipulation,
they do look rather exciting.

What would you call such a style?

Byzantine Mannerist?

How do you design something
for such a dark and high location?

To tell a story, it needs to show strong contour lines
with heavy stylization so the action
could be seen from the floor.

It's a shame they couldn't afford mosaic,
where the reflective surface could have
captured whatever light was available.
(which is what the Byzantines used
on those high, dark ceilings)

So ... yes... it's kind of goofy and fun... but...
sad compared with the great Byzantine churches

And I am so glad that Savage
went for the fanciful instead of the sedate.

He would have qualified as a
Viennese Secessionist.

It was really tough to take good photos
in this dark place -- a real challenge to
my image stabilization chip.

But I don't think I did that much worse
than these images from the Elks' own website
that don't really give a feeling for the paintings on-site.

I'm less enthusiastic about the program
of sculpture.

A.A. Weinman was a leading American
public sculptor of his day,
but I've kept him off my sculpture site
because the place for good illustration
is in magazines -- not on buildings.

Even more disappointing
were the pieces by James Earle Fraser
inside the rotunda.

What distinguishes a theme park
from a sacred space?

I'm afraid that Americans
have never quite figured that out.

I'm more interested
in this heavy, convoluted piece
by Fraser's wife, Laura Gardin Fraser.

I find it repulsive,
but at least it's not banal.


So ... it might be another 30 years before I return.
(except -- I want to see Savage's paintings in the library,
which will re-open in July)

And I suppose a place like this
shows why America dropped the figurative
entirely out of art and architecture
in the later decades of the 20th C.

We failed.


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