Skip to content

Events

Art & Art History

Through Amateur Eyes

Wednesday, March 01, 1989–Wednesday, March 29, 1989

View times

Through Amateur Eyes, curated by Jeff Stvan of UIC, is an exhibition of nearly 200 photographs, which comprised an informal catalog of the Modern architecture of western and northern Europe as witnessed by an anonymous American traveler in 1931. Altogether the collection represents an unofficial record of the Modernist response to the social, economic, and political chaos of the 1920s and early 30s, and it captures the essence of the prewar avant-garde.

In the spring of 1988 a small green metal box was uncovered at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Acquired years before, the box had languished in storage until its accidental discovery by a staff member. Contained within this box were over 950 architectural snapshots ā€“ as well as nearly 150 postcards ā€“ the majority of which were taken in towns and cities across western and northern Europe in 1931 by an unidentified American traveler. Perhaps an architect or student, this amateur photographer possessed a keen eye for form and succeeded in capturing on film many of the architectural monuments of the early Modern movement in Germany, France, the Netherlands, and Scandinavia. Works by Mies van der Rohe, Aalto, Starn, Le Corbusier, and Mendelsohn were but a fraction of the important structures documented in this collection, and were represented together with lesser known landmarks by such talented practitioners as Kreis, Dudok, Taut, and May, illustrating the rich pluralism that prevailed in the early years of the Modern Movement.

Taken as a whole, the collection engenders a deeper discussion of the role of the photograph in the dissemination of architectural ideas.

The mysterious photographer was obviously an individual of means ā€“ not only was he touring abroad at a point when the world was spiraling deeper into economic depression, but while in Germany he traveled almost exclusively by airplane. The photographer sought out developments such as Ernst May’s Neus Frankfurt and Stuttgart’s 1927 Weissenhofsiedlung, both of which were to have a profound impact on the direction of Modern architecture and the development of a functionalist aesthetic. As no documentation accompanied these photographs at the time that they were transferred to the collection at the UIC Architecture and Art Library, it was necessary to identify the structures depicted and catalog each photograph individually. Never before displayed publicly, 200 of these small (21/4″ x 1 3/4″) black-and-white snapshots were selected for the exhibition. By capturing the essence of the prewar avant-garde, these photographs provide an ideal viewpoint from which to examine and reassess the broad spectrum of early Modern architecture. Taken as a whole, the collection engenders a deeper discussion of the role of the photograph in the dissemination of architectural ideas.

EXHIBITION SUPPORT

Through Amateur Eyes is supported by the University of Illinois at Chicago School of Art and Design’s College of Architecture, Art and Urban Planning.

Exhibition Checklist
The Setting

Erich Gunnar Asplund

Stockholm Public Library, 1920-28
2 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.

Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret

Houses, Stuttgart Germany, 1927
2 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.

Willem Duok

Westerveld Columbarium, Velsen, Netherlands, 1925-26
2 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.

Erich Mendelsohn

Schocken Store, Stuttgart Germany, 1926-28
2 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.

Eliel Saarinen and Herman Gesellius

Central Station, Helsinki, Finland, 1904-14
Black & white snapshot, 2 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.

Max Taut and F. Hoffman.

ADGB Building, Frankfurt am Main, Germany, 1929-31.
2 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.

Camilo Vergara

Balloon Frame

Boston

Camden, N.J.


The Contractors

The Dynamics of Transformation

Greenpoint, Brooklyn

History of Popular House Types

Homeowners’ Notions of Taste and Style

Houses in Devastated Areas

Los Angeles

Materials

Pattern Books

Post-World War II Transformed Houses

Practical Reasons for Transformation: More Space, Less Maintenance

Practical Reasons for Transformation: Structural Deterioration

Pre-World War II Popular Housing

The Public Option

Row Houses

The Setting


Staten Island, N.Y.

Streets Full of Houses

The Threat of Decay

Transformed Houses

The Transformed Look: Old Shapes, New Surfaces

EXHIBITION CHECKLIST

Alfred S. Alschuler Jr.

Untitled, 1931
200 photographs and postcards, all 2 1/4 x 1 3/4 in.

At the time of the initial research it was not known who produced the photographs as no documentation accompanied the collection on either the buildings or the photographer. Two years later the photographer was discovered to be Alfred S. Alschuler Jr., who photographed these buildings while studying architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

PRINT COLLATERAL

Postcard: Through Amateur Eyes

PRESS RELEASE

Through Amateur Eyes

Gallery 400
Chicago, IL
March 1-28, 1988

Opening Reception: Wednesday, March 1, 1988 4-7pm

Nearly two hundred photographs comprise this informal record of the Modern architecture of western and northern Europe as witnessed by an anonymous American traveler in 1931. Canonical works by such masters as Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, Mendelsohn, and Stam are represented together with lesser known landmarks by such talented practitioners as Kreis, Dudok, and May, illustrating the rich pluralism that prevailed in the early years of the Modern Movement. A special section of the exhibition examines the architecture of Das Neue Frankfurt and the 1927 Weissenhofsiedlung and the profound impact of these projects on the further development of Modernism. Taken as a whole, the collection engenders a deeper discussion of the role of the photograph in the dissemination of architectural ideas. Curated by Jeff Stvan of the University of Illinois at Chicago, the show draws its material from the collection of over 900 architectural snapshots recently acquired by the University Library and never before exhibited publicly.

Contact JeffJeff Stvan (born 1964) is the editorial assistant for Design Issues, a scholarly journal of design history, theory, and criticism published by the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Architecture, Art, and Urban Planning and MIT Press. Since 1985, Stvan has served as a member of the Faculty Search Committee for the University of Illinois at Chicago History of Architecture and Art Department. His other research interests include historic preservation, product and graphic design theory and history, and exhibition design.
Stvan curated Through Amateur Eyes under the direction of Karen Indeck.