Modern Master Mackintosh Exhibit Opens at Chicago's Art Institute

Article excerpt

Until 30 years ago, wrecking crews in Glasgow were tearing down buildings designed by Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

Today, he's the city's hero.

The Scottish architect and designer, born in Glasgow in 1860, is known for his unique style, which combined the starkness of hard-edge Arts and Crafts with the sensous curves of Art Nouveau. You can visit Mackintosh's most famous buildings in Scotland, have a cup of tea in the Willow Tea Room, and walk the streets of Glasgow, soaking up the atmosphere that influ enced his designs. But much closer to home, you can see the Ladies Luncheon Room from Miss Cranston's Ingram Street Tea Rooms and more than 250 examples of Mackintosh's work in "Charles Rennie Mackintosh," a visually rich exhibit that opened last weekend at The Art Institute of Chicago. Seeing Mackintosh's work in Chicago, home to Frank Lloyd Wright's early work, is especially appropriate. While both were influenced by the British Arts and Crafts movement, each spawned a unique design style of his own. "Both designed total environmets that not only spoke of individual works, but of something more powerful," said Ghenete Zelleke, curator of the Mackintosh exhibition in Chicago. The parallels between Glasgow and Chicago, both expanding second cities home to industry and trade, are just as intriguing. The chronologically arranged show tells the Mackintosh story through sketches, drawings and paintings, original furniture, stained glass panels, portions of whole rooms and several carefully executed models of houses and schools that were among Mackintosh's early commissions. A highlight of the show is a room from Cranston's tea rooms, designed by Mackintosh and his wife, Margaret Macdonald, in 1900. Catherine Cranston, a character who dressed in Victorian costume, was one of the first to give Mackintosh free reign in interior design. Like most of Mackintosh's work, the tea rooms blur the boundaries between architecture and interior design, creating a totally integrated environment. The couple designed virtually everything used in the room, from the wall panels that define the space to the menus and the waitresses' dresses and necklaces. The room has been recreated using the original chairs, light fixtures, coat racks and wood panels. Tables are set with homey blue willow china. A pale scrim outside the windows creates a ghost-like image of Glasgow. Above eye level are stunning oil-painted gesso panels by Macdonald, who was one of the most skilled workers in gesso at the time. The panels are set with glass beads, thread, mother of pearl and tin leaf. (You can inspect a smaller one at close range later in the exhibition.) "We unpacked more than a thousand huge crates just for the tea room alone," said Daniel Robbins, a coordinator of the exhibit in Glasgow. The tea rooms, designed between 1900 and 1911, had remained open until the 1940s. In the '50s, the entire complex was bought by Glasgow Corp. In the '70s the entire room was dismantled piece by piece and put into storage. The restoration took more than four years. The Mackintosh exhibit opened in Glasgow last spring, where it was seen by more than 200,000 people. A Changing World The turn of the century was a time of easier communication among artists and architiects like Mackintosh, Wright, William Morris, the Vienna Secessionists and other European artists, so there is a continuing controversy over who influenced whom. Several of these designers, including Mackintosh, were influenced by Japanese design. …