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Art, architecture merge in Cedar Rapids Museum of Art exhibition
‘Built This Way’ looks at architecture’s aesthetic influences
Every building is a work of art, from the most humble abode to the historical designs of the Paramount Theatre and Brucemore mansion in Cedar Rapids, as well as Hancher Auditorium in Iowa City, fashioned with a facade propelling it into the future.
“Built This Way: Architecture in Art,” which opens Feb. 4 at the Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, blurs the lines between the art that hangs on the walls inside a structure, and the aesthetics of the structure itself.
“This is a celebration of architecture as inspiring other art forms, so it's a lot of paintings and prints,” curator Kate Kunau said. She chose about 45 works from the museum’s collection, which will be on view through May 14 in the first floor’s back three galleries.
If you go
What: “Built This Way: Architecture in Art”
Where: Cedar Rapids Museum of Art, 410 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
When: Feb. 4 to May 14, 2023
Hours: Noon to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Sunday; noon to 8 p.m. Thursday; 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday
Admission: $10 adults, $9 ages 62 and up, $8 college students, $5 ages 6 to 18, free ages 5 and under
Also on view: “Through the Lens: Photography after 1950 from the Collection,” second floor back gallery, through April 30
Opening reception: For “Through the Lens” and “Built this Way,” 5 to 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023; remarks at 5:30 p.m. by Executive Director Sean Ulmer and Curator Kate Kunau
“I included some of Frank Lloyd Wright's plans for his houses and other domestic spaces, so there are actual architectural plans in the exhibition as well, but it is mostly visual artists in other genres who are inspired by architecture,” she said.
However, local architect Bradd Brown also has a piece on view — “Sinclair Meatpacking Plant 1” — which hearkens to the building blocks of Cedar Rapids’ industrial history.
“He did a really beautiful watercolor triptych — very precise, which is difficult to do in watercolor,” Kunau said.
Two other pieces of the past include Marvin Cone’s “Houses that Jack Built,” painted in 1960, showing the celebrated Cedar Rapids artist’s move toward abstraction; and Mildred Pelzer’s “We Build Our Capitol 1841,” from the mural the Iowa City artist created for the city’s Jefferson Hotel.
Painted in 1934, this Pelzer work — nearly 10 feet long — reflects a style akin to her teacher, Grant Wood, with whom she studied at the University of Iowa. She also studied with Cone, Wood’s lifelong friend and fellow Regionalist.
Cone was interested in depicting both nature and architecture, noted for his clouds and doors paintings. He made several variations of “Houses,” Kunau said, and this piece has been used in past exhibitions, but it’s the first time she has used it since she joined the museum staff in 2015.
Creating this exhibition allowed Kunau, an art historian, to examine the intersections and departures of art and architecture through the years.
“I just really liked the idea, because centuries ago, in the Italian Renaissance, artists were much more seen as generalists,” she said. “If you were a painter or sculptor, it was assumed that you could also design a building. And so there wasn't this strict concentration of you are an architect, you are a painter, you are a sculptor, and you don't do anything else — that we see today.
“So I have always been really interested in how art history generally came from this place where art was seen as much more collective, and you were just kind of a creative person generally, to this separation that we see today.
“I really wanted to look at how artists who are creating 2D works, which is what we have in the exhibition, are inspired by architectural scenes, whether it's through prints or paintings, or … photographs,” Kunau said. “I just really wanted to explore that.”
One especially intriguing image is Kentucky artist Jim Cantrell’s “Union Station,” painted in 1993. Merging the worlds of abstraction and realism, Kunau described it as “a dynamic exploration of a city skyline reflected in the endless windows of a modern skyscraper.”
Filled with movement, each section seems to melt into the next.
“It’s such a cool way to tackle a cityscape in a different way,” she said.
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