Artist Spotlight: Raaf Part 2 - "Curtain Wall" Sculpture

Behind the Curtain Wall

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Digital Rendering of Curtain Wall from 2007 (pre-sprinkler-issue version)

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McCormick Place is a convention center, a public space where you walk right in and stroll for miles (Klein's art tour of McCormick place was 2.5 miles, the building is bigger than O'Hare Airport). But it's unlikely you'll find yourself there, which is a real shame. Fifty commissioned, large-scale artworks by top local and Illinois artists are housed there. And the whole thing got press for about two days. You can see more works here.

Sabrina Raaf's Curtain Wall was the last piece to go up, one year after all the other pieces were installed. It is a big, elaborate, highly-technical sculpture, weighing in at 6,000 pounds. It is made of steel and covered with LED lights that connect to a wall panel where viewers can make interact with it. According to Raaf, the sculpture can be "played" by the audinece, with low tones creating a "billowy" effect, and high tones creating "little ripples" via the LED lights that respond to sound. Raaf would like to see a "ring tone concert" happen with the sculpture, as cell phone rings cause a particularly spectacular effect .

Klein's charter was to get local artists to create work that had a connection to the city or state. This piece follows those rules on a few levels. One, it's about the windy city moniker - a curtain blows in the wind. It also gives a nod to the "hot air" of politicians which was the real meaning of the term "windy city".

But even more, it's a reference to Ludwig Mis van der Rohe, a sometimes Chicago-based architectural icon who is a topic in himself. But in a nutshell, van de Rohe's claim to fame was near-empty buildings, and making walls out of steel-enforced glass, rather than solid walls. (Note that my dad is quick to mention that in the early years "the windows were always popping out").  Raaf's original design took a page out of van der Rohe's book  (or a wall out of van der Rohe's building (yuk yuk) - see how the curtain matches the windows in the AutoCad image?)

The behind-the-scenes stories about Curtain Wall and the other large artworks are fascinating and not available for public consumption. What becomes clear is that there are no instructions for building this type of sculpture, you figure it out as you fabricate, and make adjustments as new, unexpected issues arise. Among them, according to Klein, was that the piece had to be totally re-conceived due to the rules regarding the emergency sprinkler systems. It couldn't block the stream of water, so it couldn't be a solid piece.  So back to the drawing board they went.  Now, the sculpture is latticed and water-proof. It's rated for indoor /outdoor use and you could sit the whole thing in the snow.

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 sculpture at night

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  • Nothing like interactive art to help expand public awareness of art.

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