Remember last week, when we told you that our second-floor galleries are intended to someday play host to decorative arts exhibitions? Well, the time has (almost) come. Today we officially announced the Driehuas Museum’s inaugural exhibition, Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection!
Opening September 28, the exhibition weaves a wide variety of Tiffany’s gorgeous Gilded Age-era decorative arts with the interiors of the historic Nickerson mansion. To stay up to date this spring and summer, visit the exhibition site. You can also follow us on Facebook, where we’ll give behind-the-scenes peeks of installations in progress, highlight objects from the exhibition, and let you know as soon as advance tickets go on sale for public programs relating to the exhibition.
In honor of the official announcement today, we spoke with the exhibition curator David A. Hanks about the scope of this unique exhibition.
First let me say how excited we are to have you as Guest Curator of this exhibition. Can you share a bit of your background?
David Hanks: My background has been as a museum curator—at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. My field was American decorative arts with a special focus on the 19th- and 20th-century design. Since 1980, I have worked in developing the Stewart Collection in Montreal, and since 2000 have been Curator for the Stewart Program for Modern Design.
Let’s talk about Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection. What is the context and vision for the exhibition?
Hanks: The concept for this exhibition was to present the best works of Louis Comfort Tiffany from the Driehaus Collection, most of which were in storage and not available to the public. Certain pieces are on display in Mr. Driehaus’s private residence and office, and a selection of the Tiffany windows are on view at Navy Pier along with a selection other objects at the Driehaus Museum. This exhibition brings all of these pieces together for the first time, with a vision to present a range of Tiffany’s work, and the exhibition and catalogue explore Tiffany’s work in Chicago.
Who was Louis Comfort Tiffany? Why is he important to us today?
Hanks: Louis Comfort Tiffany is considered among the greatest of American artists. He was the son of Charles Lewis Tiffany, founder of the famed Tiffany & Co. He began as a painter, and, after he initiated a series of interrelated businesses to create glass, enamel and metal products, he continued with his painting. He brought an artistic sense to his work in interior design, which evolved into an entrepreneurial empire, initially funded by his father. Although his greatest contribution was in the area of functional decorative arts, it was the high aesthetic quality he achieved in glass through technological innovation and experimentation, creating stained-glass windows and lamps, for example, that are equal to the best in American art.
What type of experience can the Museum’s guests expect when the exhibition opens in September?
Hanks: It will be an immersive experience, which begins upon entering the magnificent interiors of the Nickerson House. These lavishly decorated rooms set the stage for Tiffany’s designs, creating the visual context of the era in which they were created. The glass objects are in vitrines so they may be viewed up close. A slideshow presentation shows a selection of Tiffany’s great work as an interior decorator in the late 19th century. In addition to wall text and labels to aid the visitor, an audio tour guide has been created especially for this exhibition by Acoustiguide, Inc. On the third floor, a slideshow of Tiffany in Chicago presents a selection of some of his great Chicago commissions. Throughout the exhibition’s duration, the Museum will also create opportunities for guests to place these objects in a wider context—through the forthcoming book Louis Comfort Tiffany: Treasures from the Driehaus Collection; lectures and concerts with themes from the period Tiffany worked within; and a symposium featuring a number of today’s top Tiffany experts; to name a few examples.
Although Tiffany’s firms and glassworks were located in New York, you have looked extensively at his work in Chicago. What are some of the highlights?
Hanks: Tiffany’s most famous and important work in Chicago was for the Columbian Exposition of 1892–93. He created a magnificent, richly-decorated chapel that greatly impressed the public. It also helped Tiffany to market his ecclesiastical goods, which were an important part of his business. It was a spiritual experience as well as good business. This exhibition was temporary, but the elements of the chapel were preserved and later installed at the Morse Museum in Winter Park, Florida. One of the more impressive pieces on view in the upcoming Driehaus Museum exhibition actually comes from this Tiffany Chapel: a bronze and molded glass benediction candelabrum.
Following soon after the Exposition, the most famous Tiffany interior commission was for the glass mosaic work at the Chicago Public Library—now the Chicago Cultural Center. As in the chapel, Tiffany’s glass mosaics were remarkable, and their beauty can still be appreciated today as they, and the glass dome, have been fully restored.All photographs by John Faier, © The Richard H. Driehaus Museum, 2013.