As artistic directors of the Chicago Architecture Biennial and chief architects of the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago‘s interior redesign, both opening in September, Sharon Johnston and Mark Lee are about to have a moment, one that already has elicited a mix of hopeful anticipation and anxiety.
The Los Angeles architects, whose deceptively simple, artfully layered designs contrast with the sculptural eruptions of LA’s Frank Gehry, are emerging players in the global design conversation. Yet they still must deal with the challenge of curating the second biennial, which invariably will lack the newborn sheen of the inaugural 2015 show.
“The second time, the freshness and the novelty might have worn off a little bit. But it also gives us a chance to have a more focused theme,” Lee said.
Opening to the public Sept. 16 and titled “Make New History,” the exhibition will build on the foundation of the first biennial, an energetic, intelligent, sometimes-unwieldy global design survey called “The State of the Art of Architecture.”
Like that biennial, in which Johnston and Lee exhibited images of houses, the new one will emphasize the work of up-and-coming architects rather than established stars. Yet this time around, the architects have introduced four main themes — Image, Material, Building and Civic Histories — to draw things together. Don’t expect separate sections devoted to each idea. They’ll be “mixed together like a salad,” Lee said. A series of immersive environments, custom-designed for the biennial’s headquarters at the Chicago Cultural Center, may add to the show’s popular appeal.
The big idea is to explore the link between innovation and architectural history, especially as it’s revealed in the work of the biennial’s 140-plus participants, who come from more than 20 countries.
“For these architects, history isn’t understood as shackles that constrain us,” said Johnston. “It’s part of accrued knowledge.”…