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Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park Unfolded

At Optima®, our appreciation for public sculpture runs deep. For those who are always on the lookout for memorable leisurely activities, we have a truly special recommendation. The Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park, situated just south of Optima Verdana®, presents a captivating mix of artistic wonder and natural splendor to explore. 

The history of the Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park began when the land along McCormick Boulevard and the north channel of the Chicago River had deteriorated into a “neglected eyesore” and was in desperate need of revitalization. This land was owned by the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago. In the mid-1980s, the Village of Skokie envisioned transforming it into a recreational haven, complete with jogging paths, biking trails, and picnic areas for visitors to enjoy. Concurrently, a group of citizens saw this as a canvas for displaying large-scale contemporary sculptures.

Jim Agard – Gapingstock. Photo: Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

By 1988, Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park was realized. Through the combined efforts of the Village and its citizens, the park was transformed into an amenity rich, open-air art exhibit. Today, the park stretches two miles, from Dempster Street to Touhy Avenue, and proudly houses over 60 sculptures. These art pieces come from local, national, and international artists, making it a repository of diverse artistic expressions.

Visitors are encouraged to delve deeper through expert-guided tours which offer rich insights into the stories behind each sculpture and the artists who created them. Additionally, the park has fostered an educational environment, hosting tailored workshops and sessions. These sessions are designed to cater to schools, groups, and individuals, ensuring a comprehensive understanding of sculpture and art.

Ted Gall – Charger I and II. Photo: Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park

Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park is open year-round with free admission, underscoring the park’s dedication to making art accessible to all. It’s a haven for joggers, cyclists, and families who enjoy picnics. Additionally, the park is fully accessible, accommodating individuals with disabilities. 

While the park is open seven days a week, access is limited between 11 PM and 4:30 AM. For art lovers and nature enthusiasts alike, Skokie Northshore Sculpture Park provides an unforgettable experience!

The 2023 Canal Convergence

As residents of Optima Sonoran Village® know, Scottsdale is a treasure trove of vibrant cultural events, artistic showcases, and community gatherings. Among these, the Canal Convergence stands out, brilliantly illuminating the Scottsdale Waterfront every year, beckoning both locals and visitors for an immersive experience of art, light, and much more.

Sym by AlexP. Photo: Canal Convergence

The Canal Convergence, a free, annual 10-night extravaganza, beautifully melds light, art, and water along the waterfront. Each year, artists from around the globe captivate audiences with their large-scale public artworks. For 2023, attendees will be treated to mesmerizing pieces like Sym by AlexP, the playful Flario by Walter Productions, the geometric Dice by Montreal-based studio Iregular, the fluid Aquatics by Philipp Artus, and several other awe-inspiring installations like Light Forest, Octavius, Ripple, and Spectrum Swing. Beyond these installations, the event is also a hub for live performances, music, dance, creative workshops, and so much more, including food trucks and a beer and wine garden.

Dice by Iregular.

What makes each Canal Convergence special is its central theme. This year, it dives deep into “The Power of Play,” highlighting its profound significance in our lives. Play isn’t reserved just for children; it’s a vital aspect of human existence, molding our learning, creativity, and social interactions. As the sun sets and the artworks come to life, attendees can immerse themselves in the wonders of play, feeling its influence firsthand.

For those ready to dive into this magical experience, the event runs from Nov. 3–12, 2023, at the Scottsdale Waterfront. Starting from 6 p.m. each evening, the event extends until 10 p.m. on the 3rd, 4th, 10th, and 11th of November, and until 9 p.m. on the other nights. For those wondering about parking, there’s ample free space in the parking garages around Old Town Scottsdale.

Octavious by Petter Hazel.

To residents and beyond, the Canal Convergence is a heartfelt celebration of creativity, unity, and reflection. Don’t miss the chance to be part of this enchanting blend of play, light, and art!

Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park

At Optima®, we relish the opportunity to immerse our residents in experiences enriched by cultural discovery and aesthetic delight…which is exactly what you can expect when you wander through a captivating wonder nestled in the heart of Chicago – the Garden of the Phoenix.

Situated within the lush expanses of Jackson Park, the Garden of the Phoenix, once known as the Osaka Garden, gracefully expresses the timeless allure of traditional Japanese aesthetics. With a history that dates back to the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, it stands as a picturesque landscape on its own, while also serving as the canvas for cross-cultural dialogue between Japan and the United States. 

As global nations joined the Exposition, Japan, in particular, sought to cast an enduring impression in Chicago. And with the inception of the Phoenix Pavillion between 1891-93, the U.S. received its first glimpse of the refined nature of Japanese architecture and landscape design. It even drew the attention of a young Frank Lloyd Wright and served as a revelation in his practice. 

In 1935, the land surrounding the Phoenix Pavilion was transformed into a picturesque Japanese strolling garden that harmoniously blended with its surrounding environment. However, the escalating tensions between Japan and the U.S. during World War II took a toll on the garden, which fell into disrepair for decades due to a lack of funding. In 1981, the Chicago Park District completed efforts to restore and reimagine the garden, working with luminary landscape architect Daneji Domoto. Once the work was completed, the garden was renamed ‘Osaka Garden’ to honor Chicago’s sister city relationship with Osaka, Japan, strengthening this unique cross-cultural bridge.

Over the past several decades the garden has enjoyed waves of transformation. In 2013, the garden welcomed a new resident, Skylanding, a mesmerizing art installation by Yoko Ono. With 12 large steel lotus petals rising from the earth, Ono’s vision of peace and harmony came alive, inviting visitors into a unique, multi-sensory encounter.

Yoko Ono's Skylanding
Yoko Ono’s Skylanding sculpture, Jackson Park. Photo: Richard Bartlaga

Today, the Garden of the Phoenix breathes harmony and balance within the energetic pulse of Jackson Park and will be home to the Obama Library. As a symbol of rejuvenation, resilience, and enduring friendship, the garden offers a cherished sanctuary within Chicago’s vibrant cityscape.

Chicago Sculpture Spotlight: Ceres by John Bradley Storrs

At Optima®, we have a keen appreciation for the confluence of form and function in architecture. It is with this sense of admiration that we turn our spotlight to a piece of Chicago’s history that is as breathtaking as it is groundbreaking. This iconic gem, standing sentinel over the city, is none other than the Ceres sculpture, an embodiment of Modernist art and a testament to the vision and talent of Modernist American sculptor, John Bradley Storrs.

Born in Chicago in 1885, John Storrs was a sculptor who left an indelible mark on the world of American Modernism. Schooled at some of the finest art institutions, including the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Académie Julian in Paris, Storrs’ work blends the classical with the modern, and the human with the industrial.

His contribution to the Modernist movement was unique in its ability to bridge contrasting worlds. His work was firmly grounded in the traditional forms of sculpture, yet boldly embraced the dynamism and aesthetic of the burgeoning machine age. His sculptures captured the soul of a society caught in a transformative period with the comforts of the old world, giving way to promises of the new.

John Bradley Storrs, Photo: Chicago History Museum

Perhaps nowhere is this more apparent than in Storrs’s iconic Ceres sculpture. Perched atop the Chicago Board of Trade Building, rising majestically at the southern end of the LaSalle Street canyon, Ceres is a tribute to the Roman goddess of agriculture — a fitting emblem for a building that was home to the largest grain exchange in the United States.

This 31-foot figure, however, is no ordinary depiction of a goddess. Storrs deviated from the typical portrayal of deities in classical realism. Instead, he rendered her in a form that was abstract and streamlined, reflecting the popular Art Deco style of the 1930s. This faceless figure, devoid of any discernible features, was a deliberate departure from tradition. Storrs recognized that from the ground, the details of Ceres’s face would be lost. In response, he sought to create a silhouette, an impression, something that would be striking against the backdrop of the Chicago skyline.

Initially, the abstract representation of Ceres drew mixed reactions. However, over the years, it has come to be celebrated as an integral part of Chicago’s architectural landscape — a symbol of the city and a beacon of the Art Deco era.

We are endlessly fascinated by the harmonious architectural aesthetics and symbolic functionality found in Ceres. This beloved Chicago icon remains a timeless testament to Storrs’ profound creativity, encapsulating the spirit of Modernism, standing as a monument to an era that dared to redefine the rules of art and architecture.

The Cranbrook Connection: Right Place, Right Time

Connections often happen in the places where we least expect to find them. At Optima®, a connection sprang from a love of modernization, to an idea, backed by an ever-lasting willingness to adapt through experimentation in the right place, at the right time. Imagine our surprise when a number of world renown architects and designers such as Florence Knoll, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, and Harry Bertoia met at Cranbrook Academy of Art at the right place, at the right time, becoming colleagues, collaborators, and lifelong friends. 

The Cranbrook Campus was designed by Eliel Saarinen in the years 1925-1942. He also had help from his wife and artist, Loja, and his kids, Eero and Pipsan at the request of founders — George and Ellen Booth. Everything on campus was highly considered — from the masonry, to the walls, the chairs, textiles, and colors through the use of what they called — total design.  When Eero Saarinen, Florence Knoll, Charles and Ray Eames, and Harry Bertoia were on campus, Cranbrook was essentially a crucible for the beginnings of modernism in which many of these luminary architects and designers practiced and perfected their craft. 

Cranbrook Academy of Art

In late 2022, the design studio at Herman Miller released a short film entitled, The Cranbrook Connection. The film traces the history of Cranbrook as one of America’s greatest examples of modernist architecture and design, weaving in a thoughtful examination of furniture designed and produced by mid-century visionaries for Herman Miller and Knoll. This sweeping survey brings into sharp focus the staying power of total design, while inspiring us with the power of bringing structure and interior space into harmonic alignment.

During these seminal years, Cranbrook encouraged its students to practice experimentation in design, alongside the use of new materials. Eero and Charles had an interesting obsession with plywood. How it bent, how it felt, and sat in space. They later entered into a number of competitions with and sometimes against one another using this material. At one point, they entered the Organic Design for Home Furnishings competition with a suite of modular furniture using molded plywood chairs, and tables that would come to be the seeds of some of the most successful lines of furniture such as the Eames chair, and Womb chair.

Cranbrook Academy of Art (1940) Eliel Saarienen, Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, Flickr

Today, the Cranbrook Academy of Art remains one of the country’s top-ranked, graduate-only programs in architecture, design, and fine art. Just 75 students are invited to study and live on the Saarinen-designed campus, which features a suite of private studios, state-of-the-art workshops, a renowned Art Museum, and 300 acres of forests, lakes, and streams, all a short drive from Detroit. The focus at Cranbrook is on studio practice in one of 11 disciplines: Architecture, 2D, 3D, and 4D Design, Ceramics, Fiber, Metalsmithing, Painting, Photography, Print Media, and Sculpture.

Landscape + Light: David Wallace Haskins at the Edith Farnsworth House

For the architectural icon Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, his impact continues to resonate throughout the worlds of design, architecture, and art. For our spotlight series, we’re happy to introduce the most recent exhibition of Chicago conceptual artist David Wallace Haskins, Landscape + Light, at the Edith Farnsworth House, which engages in a fantastic dialogue with one of van der Rohe’s most legendary homes.

The Edith Farnsworth House, formerly the Farnsworth House, is an historical house designed and constructed by van der Rohe between 1945 and 1951. The house was constructed as a one-room weekend retreat in Plano, Illinois. A rural community 60 miles southwest of downtown Chicago, and was opened to the public in 2004 as a National Historic Landmark.

Over the past decade, Haskins has had the opportunity to create experiential sculptures and architectural interventions in response to various works by van der Rohe. Haskins is one of the few midwestern artists working in the tradition of the Light & Space movement and considers Mies to be one of its earliest pioneers as he was creating minimalist works of light and space thirty years before the movement took hold in southern California in the 1960s. 

As part of the solo exhibition for his 2022 artist-in-residence — Landscape + Light  is composed of three installations across the Farnsworth wooded property including The Memory of Glass, Image Continuous, and Stone Landing. 

Edith Farnsworth House
Memory of Glass, Photo: courtesy of David Wallace Haskins

Memory of Glass examines the recent scientific discovery that certain types of glass retain memories in a form resembling neurons. It envisions Farnsworth House as hearing and remembering an ambient soundscape that has washed over it for the last 70 years. Haskins engineered a way for these sonic memories to emanate from the house. The structure’s 12 large glass panels to reverberate as floor-to-ceiling glass speakers. Sound is both sent inward and outward, further blurring the lines between the indoors and outdoors. “Dissolving the boundary between the interior and exterior world” Haskins notes.

Landscape + Light is also the world premiere of the site-specific sculpture, Image Continuous from Haskins’ Skycube series — fabricated from a ton of skyscraper glass, which is actually half of the glass van der Rohe used to glaze Edith’s home. This visually perplexing sculpture turns the sky inside-out. Thus engaging the spectator as a participant as their position in space shifts. 

Concerning its sculptural presence, Haskins explains: “We tend to ignore the sky as it enwraps and illuminates the landscape, but with Image Continuous, the dynamic is reversed — the landscape enwraps the sky, giving it presence and form. We forget the sky, or troposphere, starts at the ground and rises 10 miles high. Here, we see ourselves in the landscape in relationship with the sky. Whilst allowing us to behold its presence in a truly personal and embodied way.”

Stone Koan
Stone Koan. Photo: courtesy of David Wallace Haskins

The final installation of Landscape + Light consists of a large meditative monolith from Haskins’ Stone Koan series, made from the original Italian travertine that van der Rohe used to cover the stairs and terrace of Farnsworth House from 1951-2021. Due to severe weathering, these stones were replaced in 2021, allowing Haskins to utilize them to create a number of Stone Koans and a smaller Skycube. 

With our heads and hearts firmly rooted in the Modernist tradition. It’s a joy for the Optima team to see how the legacy of Mies van der Rohe continues to inspire contemporary artists. And if you’re a lover of all things Modernist, you won’t want to miss this extraordinary experience.

Landscape + Light continues through May 2023. Visit the Edith Farnsworth House website to learn more about visits and tours.

Chicago Public Art Spotlight: Agrifolia Majoris

With deep affection for Chicago and its commitment to public art, we can’t get enough of the monumental sculptures that abound in the city of big shoulders, from locked-land to lakefront. Today, we’re spotlighting Agrifolia Majoris by Nancy Rubins.

Nancy Rubins is an American sculptor, represented by the global gallery, Gagosian and Rhona Hoffman Gallery. She’s widely known for her otherworldly yet familiar assemblages of objects — toasters, hair dryers, canoes, mobile trailers, cast iron animals, plane parts — the list of objects continues to grow. 

As seen with Agrifolia Majoris, Rubins situates these forms in relation to one another using steel wiring, all of them cantilevering over the people that stand beneath them. The tension of these objects bound together investigates their static nature as sculptures, thus revealing their monumentality and ever-lasting plasticity. 

Blooming from its concrete base floats Agrifolia Majoris, recently installed (June 2022) just north of legendary Promontory Point on the lakefront in Hyde Park. To the observer or passerby, the sculpture seems to explode into a vortex of metallic animals fabricated from cast iron, each held together solely by steel wiring. This form multiplies into a variety of animals — alligators, hogs, elk, buffalo, and even a horse, much like the equestrian sculpture we recently covered, Impulsion in Scottsdale.

While completed in 2017, the installation at Promontory Point did not go as smoothly as one may have hoped. A supercell storm, with winds clocking in at 84 mph at O’Hare Airport, bypassed downtown Chicago entirely — but swept through Hyde Park instead, causing the installers to seek shelter. This left Agrifolia Majoris to brave the night ungrounded. One hundred and fifty trees fell that night. Thirty of which were found along the Lakefront near 51st Street, but the Majoris remained intact.

Dense Bud, 2016
Dense Bud, 2016, installation view, Chicago © Nancy Rubins. Photo: Brian Guido

Agrifolia Majoris, brimming with character and charm, isn’t the only Rubins work sharing the Chicago spotlight. Dense Bud, located on the North Side in Edgewater, at roughly 5300 N. DuSable Lake Shore Drive, is made of cast iron and a subdued patina of bronze, hinting towards the passage of time. The heavier animals featured — hippos and wolves — spill out of its concrete base. These two sculptures are part of Rubins’ sculptural series Diversifolia (meaning ‘separated leaves), and function as “bookends” to the lakefront.

Rubins’ sculptures join the long list of legendary public artworks across the city, including Picasso’s armadillo, the Calder Flamingo and Crown Fountain by Jaume Plensa.

Scottsdale Public Art: Impulsion

As part of our ongoing public art series, we’ve been exploring exceptional creations to be found across Scottsdale such as Water to Water, Pinball Wizard and today’s breathtaking focus, Impulsion.

Project Background

The project was commissioned by Scottsdale Public Art, and installed in December, 2014. It was announced that Impulsion, a work created by Jeff Zischke, had been chosen from 200 applicants as the new sculpture for the entrance of one of the most recognized equestrian centers in the country, WestWorld. The city of Scottsdale undertook an expansion that added 40,000 square feet of space to host special events and renovated their equidome, and wanted to celebrate the newly-opened space with a public art commission.

Today, you’ll find that the equestrian experience at WestWorld is complemented by any number of non-equestrian events ranging from dog shows to auto auctions, including the Barrett-Jackson Car Show. These various events provide great financial benefits to the community while contributing to Scottsdale’s treasure trove of things to do. 

Construction of Impulsion

Power, Nobility, and Beauty

Made of stainless steel tubing, the reflective quality of Impulsion exhibits the brilliance of an equestrian structure floating in formation. The artist’s desire was to create an iconic sculpture to welcome visitors with a grand entry experience as they step inside North Hall at WestWorld. 

Construction of Impulsion

Impulsion is an amalgamation of several horse breeds, projecting the excitement of explosive movement in equine form. In a recent interview, Zischke explains, “At the fundamental level, my intention is to create a site-specific work that is unique, educational, and interactive. To create a catalyst for an experience that tells visitors that Scottsdale is a place on the move. A place containing all the power of the large, elegant horse they are gazing at.” 

Jeff Zischke is an Arizona artist who works in both the public and private art sectors, creating sculptures, mixed media and urban transformation pieces. His viewpoint on the environment he lives in is addressed through varying installations centered on organic shapes and modern technology. 

Next time you’re out and about in your hometown or visiting Scottsdale from outside the community, don’t miss an excursion to WestWorld and check out Impulsion!

Scottsdale Public Art: Windows to the West

As part of our ongoing public art series, we’ve been exploring exceptional creations to be found across Scottsdale, from the unique Water to Water, to the latest installation, Pinball Wizard. Today however, the spotlight is on Windows to the West, Scottsdale’s first public art installation and one that still inspires the city today after more than 50 years in the city. 

In June 1970, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) awarded the City of Scottsdale a $20,000 matching grant to commission its own notable work of art by an American sculptor. The NEA program, Works of Arts in Public Places, would go on to fund more than 700 works of public art across the country, and Scottsdale was the first small city they approached at the time. 

Two years later, in February 1972, the City of Scottsdale finished raising their $20,000 of the matching grant, and the Scottsdale Fine Arts Commision chose acclaimed sculptor Louise Nevelson to create the first work of public art for the city. Nevelson, who is regarded as one of the best sculptors of the 20th century, completed the expressionist sculpture out of monochromatic corten steel designed to patina with time. Its abstract structure and shapes resemble some of her other iconic creations. 

Louise Nevelson, the creator of Window to the West, Gazing at her other artwork, 1978, Courtesy of Dixie Guerrero, ©Pedro E. Guerrero Archives

Although the sculpture was originally titled Atmosphere and Environments XVIII, thanks to its westward placement after its completion, it quickly became known as Windows to the West. Since its dedication in 1973, the sculpture has remained a treasured landmark of Scottsdale and continues to showcase how far the city’s appreciation for art has come.

Today, due to renovations on the Scottsdale Civic Center where the Windows to the West lived, the sculpture is in storage until the construction is finished in 2023. When it returns, art enthusiasts can expect the beloved sculpture to find its new home closer to the Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts, but with the same western spirit as before.

Scottsdale Public Art: Pinball Wizard

Scottsdale’s appreciation for art enables artists to publicize their talents and add to the environment’s imaginative aesthetic year-round. From initiatives like IN FLUX Cycle 10 to classic installations like Knight Rise, Scottsdale proudly embraces the impact behind sharing art with others. Today, we’re spotlighting Scottsdale’s latest addition of public art, Pinball Wizard

Completed in June 2022, Old Town Scottsdale welcomes Pinball Wizard as the city’s newest public art installation. Public Artist Annette Coleman worked with Scottsdale Public Art to design and construct the vibrant project using colored glass. Coleman is well-known for her illustrative mosaic public art installations, many of which reside in Colorado, and embraces a public art philosophy rooted in stimulating inspiration and creating community. 

Pinball Wizard resides at the Stetson Plaza Splash Pad at the Scottsdale Waterfront and features 30 disco-like mosaic orbs and various mosaic waves built into the environment. Designed to catch light from every angle, the myriad of shapes and bright colored glass in Coleman’s design embraces the playful attitude that already fills the area. 

Annette Coleman installing Pinball Wizard, Courtesy of Scottsdale Public Art
Annette Coleman installing Pinball Wizard, Courtesy of Scottsdale Public Art

Drawing inspiration from her appreciation for the outdoors, specifically water, wind, flora and fauna, Coleman included various serpent-shaped waves throughout the concrete wall of the splash pad. Her inspiration behind Pinball Wizard, and many of her other projects, also draws from television shows, games and science productions, and other pop culture references. 

Pinball Wizard brings a splash of color to the already lively surrounding at Scottsdale’s Stetson Plaza Splash Pad. Visit the public art yourself and hear more from Coleman about its creation here

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