Some readers will remember the remarkable transformation of Krannert Art Museum in 1988, when the Kinkead Pavilion opened.
Named after Evanston drywall industrialist, art collector and UI graduate William S. Kinkead, the addition more than doubled the size of the museum. It added six galleries, including the breathtaking Bow Gallery, with its soaring ceiling and distinctive, curving wall. And, tucked away on the second floor are offices and a study room for our wonderful collection of works on paper.
Most people know the remarkable façade facing Sixth Street, a porch emulating an ancient temple, with massive columns, copper interior wall and large panes of glass. The architect, Larry Booth from Chicago, wittily blended ancient architectural references — a Roman frieze with THE KINKEAD PAVILION carved in marble, and square, neo-Egyptian columns.
Few people know that this was the architect’s second design. His first idea, three low brick galleries connected with a passage, evoked barns, intended to connect the art museum to the agricultural aspects of the UI’s south campus. But the university administration rejected the idea, partly because they wanted a really distinctive entrance.
They sent Booth back to the drawing board. Barns and brick became a marble temple — a more conventional look for 20th-century museums for sure, but reinterpreted in a clever, postmodern way.
Fast forward to 2018, when our curator of modern and contemporary art Amy Powell began talking with artist Nancy Davidson about ways to take advantage of the large space in the Kinkead entrance, visible from the street. Davidson was also struck by Booth’s rigid, classical forms and the whiteness of the marble. In her art practice, she creates large inflatable sculptures, usually evoking female bodies with startling, colorful and beautiful shapes. The Kinkead Pavilion entrance would allow her to create massive figures that could fill the space with new classical bodies.
As she worked, Powell forged a collaboration with Clara Bosak-Schroeder, a Classics professor at the UI, and Lakshmi Ramgopal, both a professor of Roman history and a sound artist, to create Hive. Inflatable sculptures hang from the ceiling of the Kinkead Pavilion portico, lit from within, with long braids that reach the floor. These two goddesses are inspired by the Artemis of Ephesus, a multi-breasted goddess of fertility, and they communicate with each other through lights that continuously change color. Ramgopal’s sound installation simultaneously fills the space with women’s voices breathing, sighing and exhaling. The installation is spectacular, especially at night, and will be on view for a year.
Jon L. Seydl is the director at Krannert Art Museum at the University of Illinois.