Racine Art and Design Tour
by Aron Packer, Senior Specialist, Contemporary & Outsider Art
Earlier this fall, I ventured with my wife to Racine, Wisconsin, which is an underrated destination 75 miles from Chicago on the shores of Lake Michigan. We had the pleasure of making our drive north as the leaves were changing color, but Racine has much to offer in the way of art and design at any time. Even though both Milwaukee and Chicago have influenced the cultural life of Racine over the years, it is a dynamic small city (under 80,000 residents) with the independence and warmth of a small town.
S.C. Johnson Wax Headquarters
Our first stop in Racine was the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed S.C. Johnson Wax Headquarters. The Administration complex opened in 1939 and the iconic Research Tower was completed in 1950. With only a 13-foot-wide core and reaching 153 feet in height, Wright’s Tower is one of the tallest cantilevered buildings ever constructed. Alternating bands of Pyrex glass windows and brick give the Tower an immediately recognizable appearance from a distance. Unfortunately, we did not arrange a tour of the facility in advance, so we had to settle for the impressive exterior view.
Racine Heritage Museum and St. Patrick’s Catholic Church
From there, we made our way to the Racine Heritage Museum, which had various informative exhibits, including But Wait … There’s More! The Irresistible Appeal and Spiel of Ronco and Popeil, with many items from the collection of Toomey & Co.’s friend Tim Samuelson, Cultural Historian for the City of Chicago. Upstairs we explored a compact yet fascinating art and design show, Blessings to Blenders — Spreading the Gospel of Modernism: Alfonso Iannelli in Racine, Wisconsin.
This wide-ranging exhibit dedicated to the sculptor-turned-industrial designer’s time in Racine was very enjoyable. I am not sure that I knew Iannelli created the Osterizer, which I have been using to make banana milkshakes for many years. Iannelli really was a grand equalizer of design. To illustrate this, the show presented his renderings for blenders in tandem with scale drawings of the windows in Racine’s St. Patrick’s Catholic Church. Before leaving Racine, we would make a point to drive by St. Patrick’s, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright-trained architect Barry Byrne. Iannelli produced not only stained-glass windows but also bas-relief interior panels for the church. Toomey & Co. offered the two lots below by Iannelli and Byrne in the Art & Design with Tradition & Innovation auction on Sunday, December 8, 2019.
Racine Art Museum
After lunch, we went to the Racine Art Museum (RAM), which holds the largest and most significant contemporary craft collection in North America. Among their amazing shows running currently, my favorite was on the second floor: OBJECTS REDUX: 50 Years After OBJECTS: USA Defined Craft (September 21, 2019 – January 5, 2020). OBJECTS REDUX celebrates the 50th anniversary of OBJECTS: USA by combining works from the original exhibition with later works. There are over 50 individuals represented in the exhibit who boldly innovated in the areas of modern art and design, such as Wendell Castle, Claude Conover, Paolo Soleri, and Robert Arneson.
On the first floor, RAM had a companion exhibit, OBJECTS REDUX: Clay, Glass, and Metal, 1960-1985 (August 11, 2019 – January 26, 2020), featuring examples from Arneson, Ruth Duckworth, Dale Chihuly, and others. In both of the OBJECTS shows, I observed important works by several artists and designers whom Toomey & Co. has regularly featured in its auctions. Below is a sampling of gallery scenes from RAM juxtaposed with relevant Toomey & Co. lots from past sales as well as the Art & Design with Tradition & Innovation auction on Sunday, December 8, 2019. (NOTE: Clicking on Toomey & Co. lot images will open the associated detail pages in separate browser tabs.)