Everything is illuminated
Hyde Park Art Center lights up the scene with new digs and a high-tech facade
In the weeks before its grand opening, the newly relocated Hyde Park Art Center was looking more like a construction zone than a finished space. Designed by renowned architect Douglas Garofalo, the nonprofit’s vastly expanded quarters in a renovated building includes tripled exhibition space, a resource center, a café, a kiln room and airy studios suffused with natural light. But the most intriguing element is the glass and steel portion of the facade that doubles as an 800-square-foot, ever-changing piece of art.
At press time, though, workers were still hustling to install the windows in time for last weekend’s opening gala. This 128-foot-long surface runs along the second floor of the center and sits above an exterior sculpture court, along a portion of the length of the building on Cornell Street. Behind 10-foot-tall windows, a screen rolls down to a second-story catwalk mezzanine to display imagery from projectors mounted on the ceiling. The whole system is powered by 11 computers.
Creating this experimental electronic space was foremost in the minds of Garofalo and HPAC’s executive director, Chuck Thurow, but they needed to find someone to make it work. A board member hooked them up with Mark Hereld, an Argonne National Laboratory scientist who specializes in display systems and scientific visualization. Hereld outfitted the computers with high-performance sound cards and powerful technology used in the video-game industry. Until now, this technology has not been available for artists to use in such a public, large-scale way.
“A lot of different possibilities exist for anyone who has the chops to play with it,” Hereld says.
The facade will be one of the crown jewels at HPAC, which was given a 35-year rent-free lease with the provision that it raise its own renovation funds. So HPAC added this feature to the existing building, a bland brick structure owned by the University of Chicago.
The center definitely deserves such a noteworthy structure: Established in 1939, HPAC nurtured the early careers of local artists like Jim Nutt, Gladys Nilsson and Ed Paschke. For many years, it was the only noncommercial venue that exhibited Chicago artists.
HPAC’s inaugural show, aptly titled “Takeover,” honors its local tradition by inviting 47 artists from Chicago or who have strong ties to the city. “Ideally we were thinking of the building as a medium for the artists to make new work,” says Allison Peters, HPAC’s curator. Among the invited artists are Kerry James Marshall, Kay Rosen, Anne Wilson and Joan Livingstone.
After Hereld was brought on board, artist Inigo Manglano-Ovalle was tapped to design the first piece for the facade. The MacArthur award winner employs natural phenomena and scientific data as materials in his work, so he created his piece for HPAC, titled Random Sky, with the use of a weather station, which gathers local data and interprets it visually. For the piece, sound artist Richard Gribenas crafted an ever-changing sonic sculpture based on abstract tones created by subtle shifts in nature that normally we can barely hear.
But don’t expect Random Sky to tell you which way the wind is blowing. “Nobody is going to look at our projection system and know if it is raining—they’ll have to go outside,” Manglano-Ovalle says. He has absolutely no interest in “fetishizing” the heavens—there will be no bright blue background with puffy white clouds. “I’m not after a Hollywood sky,” he says, “but it will still have that spectacle.”
Yet in the weeks prior to HPAC’s opening, the artists had no way to give their project a true test run. They fine-tuned the concept and tested it on small computers, so they knew it was going to work, but there was still an element of uncertainty. Yet Manglano-Ovalle remained calm. “It will be a surprise,” he says.
The other surprise is HPAC’s interior. Peters, who formerly curated a 7,000-square-foot exhibition space, now has several gallery halls to program within the nearly 35,000-square-foot structure. And proposals are flowing in fast for the facade: Future video works will have the potential to use interactive systems programmed to respond to human movement.
But Peters hopes to see more ideas for installations, as well. After all, the other major component to the facade is the interior catwalk, wide enough to house work and also for people to view the enormous gallery space below. On bright, sunny days—when it won’t make sense to project—or if the expense of replacing the bulbs becomes prohibitive, the screens will roll up and the catwalk will be on display.
HPAC does not have the resources or desire to become a collecting museum, but artworks created for the facade can be stored easily in a computer. Random Sky will be the first piece the center owns. If HPAC wants to use it again, it will be simple, Hereld says: “All they will have to do is turn on a switch.”
“Takeover” runs through June 11 at the Hyde Park Art Center (5020 S Cornell Ave).