CHICAGO, IL.- Elmhurst Art Museum
has opened the first museum exhibition in more than forty years of works by Richard Koppe (1916-1973), reintroducing an American modernist and one of the early stalwarts of abstraction in Chicago. Well-respected as a painter, sculptor, printmaker and designer, Koppe exhibited his work widely during his lifetime, yet is now largely unknown. Including 70 rarely seen paintings, prints and drawings, EAM's exhibition highlights Koppe's signature canvases from the mid-20th century-from his playful compositions of stylized fish and birds to his distinctive versions of abstract expressionism and hard-edge abstraction. Organized in cooperation with the University of Illinois at Chicago's College of Architecture, Design, and the Arts, Richard Koppe was curated by EAM's Chief Curator Staci Boris and is now on view at Elmhurst Art Museum through January 11, 2015.
Combining aspects of cubism and surrealism, Koppe explored line, color, composition and space, producing works that are both playful and intricate. A special section including photographs, studies, textiles, tableware and related objects is dedicated to the artist's celebrated murals and designs for Chicago's famous Well of the Sea restaurant in 1948. Koppe's rigorous experimentation with form, mastery of diverse media and interest in design reflect his experience as a student of transplanted European modernists like László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Archipenko at Chicago's New Bauhaus in the late 1930s. Koppe went on to promote the modernist program as Head of Visual Design and Fine Arts at the Institute of Design (ID) at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and later as Professor of Art at UIC.
This exhibition is largely drawn from UIC's Campus Collection, to which Koppe's estate donated nearly one thousand of his works shortly after his death. Koppe's modernist practice and legacy are of particular interest to EAM as we continue to explore art, architecture and design of the mid-20th century. Inspired by the museum's McCormick House, designed in 1952 by Mies van der Rohe, our goal is to present and study artists of this era such as Koppe, ripe for rediscovery and new scholarship. Koppe's New Bauhaus training and tenure at IIT overlapped with Mies' tenure as Director of the School of Architecture; this connection provides a greater understanding of Mies' concurrent architectural practice and contextualizes the work of other mid-century designers often shown in the McCormick House.