Todd Eberle: Architectural Abstractions

This exhibition showcasing a radical approach to architectural photography runs from May 20 to August 13, 2006 at the Art Institute of Chicago. Traditionally, architectural photography focuses on the “iconic” image. Buildings are pictured either as a whole Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater, Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion or as the sum of recognizable parts, such as Louis Sullivan’s intricate ornament or Gaudi’s organic fantasies. Todd Eberle’s works, on view from May 20 to August 13 in Gallery 24 of the Art Institute of Chicago, subvert these traditional ways of picturing architecture. In these 13 large-format photographs, Eberle takes the most unlikely architectural details here, mostly ceiling planes and recasts them as haunting, abstract images. In Eberle’s work, photography is not a means to identify or document buildings; rather, photography is a means to isolate supposedly “mundane” architectural elements, such as fluorescent light panels and tiles, and give them new life as glowing, mesmerizing compositions in their own right.

Eberle draws his subjects from the most widely known architects of the modern era, including Wright, Adolf Loos, Gordon Bunshaft, and Philip Johnson. Focusing on ceiling planes in such buildings as the Lever House, Johnson Wax Building, Seagram Building, and the Museum of Modern Art, Eberle reorients them (from horizontal to vertical) and strips them of all contextual and environmental details. The result is a series of grids, illuminated from within, that are in dialogue not with other architectural elements but rather with the rectilinear work of modern painters such as Agnes Martin or Piet Mondrian. By decontextualizing these ceiling details of notable buildings, Eberle reframes them as striking two-dimensional compositions.

In this exhibition, viewers will find images of ceiling details from Wright’s Unity Temple in Oak Park and from Yoshio Taniguchi’s Museum of Modern Art; the ceiling outside an elevator bank n Gordon Bunshaft’s Lever House in New York; and a detail from the powder room of the Philip Johnson-designed Kentmere House in Dallas, among others.

Eberle was born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1963, and studied photography at Cooper Union in New York City. His subjects have included Donald Judd’s works and buildings in Marfa, Texas; noted artists and architects such as Philip Johnson and Agnes Martin; and architectural monuments such as Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall and Herzog & de Meuron’s Prada Aoyama Boutique in Tokyo. His fashion photography has also been featured in Vogue and Vanity Fair.