Sep 22, 2023 - News

Thompson Center transformed for Chicago Architecture Biennial

V-shaped light-colored wood structure in front of red beams.

The "HygroShell" at the Thompson Center. Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Artistic directors of this year's Chicago Architecture Biennial (CAB) say they're disrupting the traditional way art and architecture are presented.

Why it matters: Though the Biennial celebrates Chicago's global reputation for architecture, the event's main goal is to highlight creativity in our neighborhoods and reimagine well-known spaces.

Driving the news: This weekend, CAB is hosting performances and unveiling artworks in Hyde Park, the Loop, Edgewater and Little India.

What's happening: The art collective Floating Museum, the Biennial's artistic director corps this year, seeks to move away from creating art behind closed doors, presenting it for a finite time at one location and then leaving.

  • Instead, CAB will invite the public to participate in the installations.

Details: CAB is making closed spaces more accessible and interesting, including those at the Thompson Center, closed to the public since July 2022.

  • As part of the Biennial, the public will be invited inside to experience "HygroShell," a curved sculpture made of malleable timber, at the center's LaSalle entrance.
  • Artists are also transforming an abandoned Sprint store there into an art gallery. Ghanaian artist Ibrahim Mahama is using natural materials to drape artwork around the steel, austere structure of the building.
Up close image of wood and metal V-shaped sculpture.
Photo: Carrie Shepherd/Axios

Context: The state sold the Helmut Jahn-designed, post-modern Thompson Center last year for $105 million last year to a private developer, who in turn sold it to Google.

  • Google plans to move its business there in 2026.

What they're saying: This year's theme, "This is Rehearsal," represents the involvement of community in the creation of art, Biennial organizers say. "A lot of times you go to exhibitions and what you see are realized mountings of things conceived and conceptualized," Chicago's poet laureate and Floating Museum member avery r. young tells Axios.

  • "We're saying, 'Hey, what if we open and allow the buildings and the processes to happen when people can actually be a witness?'"

What's next: Some CAB projects will open to the public this weekend, and HygroShell at the Thompson Center will be open Thursday-Saturday, 10am-5 pm, starting next week.


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