art | design | fashion

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

the fifth fable : flyovers

note: fables 1-4 are from my commentary on episode one of bravo tv's top design show (da bear and other fables) but this is a more generic statement so I moved here to the arts | design section

the fifth fable : flyovers

For the stylemakers on the coasts Chicago is just part of the big "flyover" world of non-culture between New York and Los Angeles. Or, with O'Hare aiport it is more of a "stopover": a place you don't want to bother with; you are just waiting to get out it of as soon as possible.

(What's missed is the other, older, vertical axis -- running down the center -- Chicago/New Orleans, the Mississippi River. It is a deeper, darker line but that is another story.)

Of course anyone who knows anything about architecture knows that Chicago is the most important architectural city in America.

If you don't know this, here's a place to start: 1871 Great Chicago Fire. After that try:
  • Birth of Skyscraper.
  • Columbian Exposition/Neo-Classical revival.
  • Prairie School.
  • Modern/International Style.
Chicago is also the center for furniture design. (The Merchandise Mart is a thing to behold.) It used to manufacture the most furniture but with union busting the industry went south. Now it is probably all done in Asia. However Chicago is still known for its custom furniture design.

And all that modernist design that people in LA and NY worship? Where do you think much of that came from?

(Also, while Chicago may not be at the center for fashion design, many consider it the best restaurant city in the country.)

People will go there for business conferences and tell me, with surprise, that they discovered it was a really amazing city. Like it didn't occur to them that this a place of international significance not just in manufacturing but in arts and design and culture. After New York and Washington DC it has musuems with the most established and largest collections.

I can play city booster but part of me also wants to keep things a secret, like the jazz clubs that are such gems that they would be overrun with tourists if they were in New York or LA. A lot of what I like isn't glitzy stuff. It is the city of neighborhoods. The entire lakefront is public property. And Wrigley Field is one of the last great parks but you have to be a native to really understand the Cubs. (They are different from the Red Sox.)

Although midwesterners are seen as a bit dopey compared to the smarter east coast and hipper west coast, in fact, Chicago is the home to the university that fosters the most intellecually intense and challenging environment of any place in the world. The University of Chicago is truly devoted to fostering the life of the mind. Even the Ivy League thinks those people are total dorks.


mumblesalot said...

Great post. I spent my youth in Chicago. I guess it seems odd now, but as teenagers we would take long drives just to look at architecture. It wasn't odd for a Chicagoan.

I have no idea what is like now, that was 30 years ago, but the restaurants were the best I have ever encountered.

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