During the 1910s and '20s, Frank Lloyd Wright was a pariah in the United States, beset by numerous scandals. But in the eyes of European admirers, he was, as a new exhibition suggests, a "Most Distinguished Outcast." A small exhibit at the Ryerson and Burnham Libraries at the Art Institute of Chicago examines a little-known part of the famous architect's story during those scandal-plagued years, a small run of magazines from an avant-garde Dutch publication that helped introduce his work to a wider audience in Europe.
"When the magazine discovered Wright, who was unknown in Europe at the time, they found the one person who embodied all they believed about the future of architecture," says Anna Feuer, the curator of the show and a senior acquisitions specialist at the library.
The Dutch architecture magazine Wendingen, which means changes or upheaval in Dutch, was the mouthpiece for the Amsterdam school of Architecture during its brief run from 1918 to 1932. Like many groups of European intellectuals at the time, the organization behind the publication, Architectura et Amicitia (Architecture and Friendship), was looking for a new style and vision for the future, and when the group encountered Wright's work, it was a revelation, according to Feuer. In response, Wendingen ran a series of issues devoted to the American architect, starting with a 1921 special edition featuring a striking cover by Constructivist El Lissitzky, followed seven straight issues in 1925.
Wright, who had gotten a hold of the first issue and would contribute to later issues, started a correspondence with the magazine's editor, architect H. Th. Wijdeveld, who would later organize an early European exhibition of Wright's work in 1931. Like others on staff, he was, in the words of Feuer, "enamoured" with the American's designs.
"He's one step away from dotting his 'I's with hearts in his letters," she says.
Feuer came up with the idea for the show after spotting the Lissitzky cover in an Art Institute publication, and then when she went digging to find the original, discovered the library's archives contain the entire run of Wright-themed issues. In addition to the striking avant-garde layouts, the magazine also provides interesting juxtapositions of Wright's organic style with the more industrial work of Constructivists and others. Feuer was intrigued by the magazine, which reflected the intellectual ferment in Europe at the time, and the idea of Wright, who has become such an architectural icon, being viewed as an outcast.
"I think it highlighted how separated American and European intellectual life were at the time," she says. "The Dutch didn't understand how anybody couldn't fall in love with Wright's work, but they had only seen his output, and not that he had affairs and scandalized polite society. Not that the necessarily would have cared about that. They were mainly focused on how fantastic his work appeared to them."
"Our Most Distinguished Outcast: Frank Lloyd Wright and "Wendingen" is on display at the Ryerson and Burham Library at the Art Institute of Chicago through February 16
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