Drawing liberally from the history of architecture in her current show and contribution to the inaugural Chicago Architecture Biennial, architect and artist Ania Jaworska has a laugh, even when things turn dark.
BMO Harris Bank Chicago Works: Ania Jaworska at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago comprises two distinct sections. In the first part of the exhibition, A Subjective Catalog of Columns, Jaworska’s prints present a parade of architectural styles, with references ranging from the ancient to the contemporary. In the wall label accompanying #1, her first print, the artist speculates, “Two sticks tied together; the original column?” From there, she moves to Boring Office, a plain gray cylinder, and then to The Future, where the column’s cylindrical body is reduced to a stark, single line. Along the way, a curvaceous red shape suggests the silhouette of a female body in It’s Not Easy, recalling, at once, ancient fertility figures like the Venus of Willendorf, the tradition of caryatids (imprisoned female figures who stand in for columns in some ancient Greek buildings), and women architects who bear the burden of the profession’s structural sexism. The spiral column from The Future Is Informed by the Past refers to twining Solomonic columns from Byzantium, but its reflective coil also evokes optical fiber cables and the architecture of contemporary telecommunication. A haloed cruciform column, Saint, made with tongue gently in cheek, suggests architect Mies van der Rohe and his celebrated architecture of steel and glass that continued to exert strong influence in Chicago even after his death in 1969. Elsewhere are references to a Chicago address (2247 N Lakewood Ave, Chicago, IL 60618) and another Chicago architect, Stanley Tigerman (Where Is That Knife?). The fluted shaft and faux bois capital ablaze in Wooden Column on Fire (It Was Always Burning) bring to mind artist Ed Ruscha’s 1965–68 painting The Los Angeles County Museum on Fire. Jaworska may not have started the fire, but her print adds fuel to the iconoclastic flame. Nothing is too sacrosanct to burn, especially for the purpose of a mild roast.
Column Pavilion, Jaworska’s final print in the series, compiles the many columns from this personal catalogue under a single roof. But even before this last piece, the individual prints, identically sized, framed and spaced along two perpendicular walls, read just like a row of columns wrapping around a corner in a neat colonnade.
The five sculptures in the show’s second part, Cynic Architectures, installed in a room with slate walls and gray carpet, mine darker histories and connects more explicitly to other exhibitions that were in the Chicago Architecture Biennial, which this year celebrated “The State of the Art of Architecture.” In Jaworska’s Untitled (Empty Gesture), velvet rope hangs between steel stanchions arranged in a tight circle. They cordon off a small area, but there is nothing inside their center to enclose; they limit access only to empty space. The piece both brings to mind and contrasts French artist Didier Faustino’s BUILTHEFIGHT which showed at the Chicago Cultural Center, where similarly arranged modular architecture explicitly proposed to provide shelter for political protesters. Near Untitled (Empty Gesture) stands Jaworska’s VIP Lounge. With tall, flat columns held upright by sandbags behind, the piece makes structural support into postmodern scenery, evoking Barbara Kasten’s stage sets which showed in the Graham Foundation’s survey of the American photographer, printmaker and installation artist’s work, which was also on view as part of the biennial. And in Jaworska’s Sign of Their Place, letters spelling out the word “HERE” rotate atop a steel column. Like SuttonBeresCuller’s installation You Always Leave Me Wanting More, recently in Genius / 21 Century / Seattle at Seattle’s Frye Art Museum, Sign of Their Place seems at first to point, like good advertising, to something else. But ultimately, both pieces are signs for only themselves and the charged sites around them.
With smart playfulness, Ania Jaworska uses image and installation to remix architectural heritage and reflect on architecture’s fraught role as a tool of communication in a world of historic preservation and relentless development, of access and exclusivity, of luxury and kitsch.