The Formwork

– The exhibition, Chicago @Wrightwood 659, Sep. 24, 2021 – Feb. 26, 2022

Curated by John Vinci, Tim Samuelson, Eric Nordstrom, Chris Ware and Jonathan D. Katz, Romanticism to Ruin was a double exhibition held in Chicago (@Wrightwood 659) between September 2021 and February 2022. The two exhibitions were: Reconstructing the Garrick: Adler & Sullivan’s Lost Masterpiece, curated by John Vinci with Tim Samuelson, Chris Ware, and Eric Nordstrom; and Reimagining the Larkin: Frank Lloyd Wright’s Modern Icon, curated by Jonathan D. Katz. To illustrate the Schiller Building, the curators provided the precious opportunity to showcase here digital drawings and videos produced by the Iuav team.

Romanticism to Ruin


“Romanticism to Ruin presents a single building by each of two eminent Chicago architects: the Garrick Theatre in Chicago, by Louis H. Sullivan, and the Larkin Administration Building in Buffalo, by Frank Lloyd Wright. Though outwardly two very different structures, they are united in several respects: both were heralded upon their completion, razed prematurely, and are significant works of their respective architects that continue to resonate with every successive generation who mourns their senseless destruction. Both Sullivan and Wright understood that all architecture dictates how it is used, but transcendent architecture fundamentally alters how people interact within it. Both the Garrick Theatre and the Larkin Building show how these masters used the power of architecture to redefine the inextricably linked sociocultural life of a building. Each building was commissioned for a specific purpose, but then transcended that initial function to become something more iconic in the public memory. Romanticism to Ruin traces the life and death of these iconic buildings and shows that architecture consists of more than bricks and mortar.

Reconstructing the Garrick: Adler & Sullivan’s Lost Masterpiece uses fragments, drawings, photography, and narrative to elucidate the life and death of an iconic building that once towered over downtown Chicago. Opened in 1892 and initially called the Schiller Theatre in tribute to Friedrich Schiller, the great German playwright, poet and philosopher, the Garrick Theatre was then, at seventeen stories, one of the tallest buildings in the city. Its opulent ornamentation drew upon German history, especially evident in the second story arcade decorated with terra cotta portraits of accomplished men of arts and letters. The destruction of Dankmar Adler & Louis Sullivan’s lavishly decorated Garrick Theatre cast a long shadow. It was razed in 1961 amidst a great protest that eventually organized itself into the historic preservation movement in Chicago and led to the city’s Landmark Ordinance of 1968.

The Garrick is deeply interwoven not only with the history of the city, but also with the life of yet another well- regarded Chicagoan, John Vinci. As a young architect, Vinci (b.1937) worked alongside the celebrated photographer Richard Nickel (1928– 1972) to salvage the sumptuous ornamentation characteristic of Sullivan’s work. It was an experience that left a deep imprint. Several years ago, Vinci “revisited” the building, creating a series of drawings on display in the Garrick section of Romanticism to Ruin. It was Vinci’s exploration that sparked the idea for this part of the exhibition that traces the construction and ill-fated demise of the Garrick, a building that helped cement Chicago’s reputation as the originator of the skyscraper. Vinci was assisted in curating the show by Tim Samuelson, an eminent Chicago historian and another participant in the salvaging of the Garrick’s ornamentation; graphic artist Chris Ware, who designed the Garrick section of the exhibition; and Eric Nordstrom, owner of the salvage shop Urban Remains, whose encyclopedic knowledge of Nickel, Sullivan and his ornamentation proved invaluable to the curators.”

This text was published in the Wrightwood 659’s Exhibition Guide. Fall/Winter 2021.