Can you imagine lounging in the McCormick House living room, hanging out with your friends playing a game of chess or putting on a puppet show in the children’s playroom? How about sneaking into the kitchen looking for treats? Well, now you can do all that courtesy of Joseph Altshuler and Zack Morrison, who are bringing their playful design approach into the 1952 historic landmark. The duo behind the design practice Could Be Architecture—who are also architectural designers, educators, curators and writers—talks about their ideas and practices with Newcity design editor Vasia Rigou to shed light on the Elmhurst Museum‘s McCormick AfterParti exhibition that has the Mies van der Rohe home turned into a frosted candyland—complete with bright pink curtains and mint green furniture.
First things first: Can you talk about the title, “McCormick AfterParti”?
“Parti” refers to the basic diagram for an architectural design. This installation celebrates Mies van der Rohe’s floor plan for the historic McCormick House by arraying curtains and interpretive furnishings along the locations of the house’s original wall partitions. The furnishings invite audience interactions and prompt participatory events throughout the run of the installation—it hosts a party along the parti.
What kinds of boundaries do you feel you’re pushing in your effort to turn the McCormick House into a home?
Our installation demonstrates a totally normative approach to restage the walls and programmatic functions of the original house. However, in its current state, the McCormick House operates somewhere between a historical home (as a museum piece) and a contemporary gallery space. Our project challenges both identities. By “completing” the incomplete or removed components of the house, the installation invites visitors to experience the space as a type of historical reenactment. At the same time, the shapely attitude of the feature furnishing pieces entices visitors to literally sit on, play atop and eat from the gallery content and questions the often hands-off expectations of an art exhibition.
Can you talk about the importance of color in your work?
We see color—specifically bold and vibrant color—as an immediate signifier of joy. We position immersive, super-graphic fields of color to shape space and provoke character. Specifically within McCormick AfterParti, the choice of and use of color provides an exaggerated and playful counterpoint to the International Style material palette of the existing house. The minty green furnishings and bright pink curtain partitions complement and question the modern, neutral palette of dark wood floors, clear glass, white-painted steel and honey-colored wood panels that make up the existing building. We hope that our installation’s juicy color qualities—think watermelon-mint agua fresca!—will tempt visitors to linger a little longer within this midwinter oasis of funky furniture pieces.
What was the biggest challenge you had to face bringing this exhibition to life within a historical space?
Our biggest challenge is grappling with and making accessible meaning and pleasure out of the complexity of histories represented by the building. Like so many other architects, we admire Mies van der Rohe’s canonical contributions to the advent of modern architecture. At the McCormick House, we’re inspired by the modernist approach to modularity, adaptability and clarity. At the same time, seventy years later, we believe that it remains important to question the values and politics embedded within its design, including the stark architectural separation between an adults’ wing and a children’s and servants’ wing. Our installation challenged us and challenges others to negotiate admiration and critique simultaneously. By reenacting the missing original walls, but then undermining their boundaries by positioning colorful furnishings that poke through them, we hope the installation engages audiences to similarly question the values within their own domestic spaces.
Your design approach is focused on creating “seriously playful spaces, things and happenings that celebrate what your world could be.” What do you hope the viewer will take away from this exhibition?
Candy. Really, we hope viewers will take away and enjoy small, tasty confections offered from the “sink fixtures” within our reenacted kitchen-counter installation. In a broader sense, we hope that visitors will question the physical and behavioral qualities that they may take for granted about their own houses and homes—including furniture, color, shape and intimacy, and the overlap of all of these domestic ingredients.
What are you most excited about?
We’re particularly excited to give license to visitors to inhabit a significant Mies van der Rohe-designed space in unexpectedly playful, hands-on and irreverent ways. Steel-and-glass modernist architecture often exudes a pristine, polite and perfectionist quality that we hope our installation will challenge by inviting people to get a bit goofy and make themselves at home, whether it involves lying down on a bed, playing with puppets in the playroom or sneaking a treat in the kitchen.
“Could Be Architecture: McCormick AfterParti” at the Elmhurst Art Museum through April 12
Greek-born Vasia Rigou is a Chicago-based art critic and pop culture journalist, largely on the subjects of contemporary art, design, and fashion. She moved to Chicago in 2013 to study Arts Journalism at the School of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC,) where she was awarded the New Artist Society Merit Scholarship. She grew up to appreciate art after years of carefully planned, culture-filled travel itineraries and museum-hopping around Europe with her family. During this time, she received a bachelor’s in English Literature, in her native Athens; a master’s in Media, in Nottingham, UK; and studied foreign languages—English, German, and Spanish at the University of Salamanca, Spain. Her writing—reviewing museum exhibitions, gallery shows, art fairs, fashion shows, and music festivals among others—has been published nationally and internationally both in print and online. In 2017, she founded and now serves as editor-in-chief of Rainbowed.—an independently published website focused on the visual and performing arts, digital media, and popular culture. When she’s not writing about art or looking at art—wine in hand, she keeps up with Chicago’s creative entrepreneurial and startup community, makes lists for pretty much everything, drinks immense amounts of coffee and takes cross-country road trips every chance she gets.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org Website: www.rigouvasia.com