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September 7 - December 29, 2012
The career survey of the commercial artist who created "Iannelli Studios"
Alfonso Iannelli (1888-1965) was a throw-back to another age. A Renaissance artisan lost in the Twentieth Century, he operated a successful design studio in the Chicago area and became very famous as a sculptor and industrial designer. Then, in a familiar American pattern, he was forgotten.
As a Vaudeville illustrator, Iannelli was brought to Chicago in 1914 to sculpt for Frank Lloyd Wright. His "Midway Gardens" concrete Sprites brought him delight as well as heartache as Wright's name alone was remembered for the famous project and not the sculpting talent Iannelli had brought to it.
For fifty years, Iannelli Studios in Park Ridge designed theaters, churches, advertisements, fountains, houses and monuments. His bronze corner panels for the Adler Planetarium and monumental "Rock of Gibraltar" carving for the Prudential building are well known icons in Chicago.
He designed numerous pavilions and exhibits for "A Century of Progress," the 1933 World's Fair and countless kitchen gadgets for America's countertops.
His sculptures, drawings and stained glass windows were exhibited in 1925 at the Art Institute. But after World War II, his name and face were forgotten by the public and he died with the products of his invention consigned to basements and storerooms in another man's masterpiece.
Over the last two decades, ArchiTech Gallery acquired hundreds of his drawings and the bulk of his office archives. Years of reading those archives and writing this story have produced the definitive monograph of this amazing artist and the book "Alfonso Iannelli: Modern By Design" will be released this Winter.
ArchiTech Gallery will exhibit and sell Iannelli's illustrations and design sketches for some of his more well-known projects and Art Institute drawings beginning Friday, September 7th and running through Saturday, December 29th, 2012. The release of the Iannelli monograph will occur in December.
Notes on the Exhibition
This show has taken ten years to get here. I had noticed that in writing the first chapters of Alfonso Iannelli: Modern by Design, the text files had first been started in 2002 and this exhibition had been roughly planned as an accompanying show of some of the drawings in my book on Iannelli. So, in a sense, this thing took ten years to get on the walls.
The book will be released this winter as a deluxe coffee table volume with a biography of the man interspersed through the hundreds of images. Writing the story took so long because Iannelli did so many different things in his storied career. It also took me seven years to read all the original job files from the Studios.
Iannelli had started the Iannelli Studios in Los Angeles in 1912. In early 1914, he got a telegram from Frank Lloyd Wright's son, John. Wright was building Midway Gardens in Chicago and asked Iannelli to sculpt the roofline and interior statues, since known as "Sprites."
While my book designer, Eric, was helping me load the flat files with what he'd previously scanned, he pointed to a sheaf of notepapers that had gotten lost in a bag of photographs. "Is this anything important?" he asked. "It has 'Mrs. Wright' and 'Midway" written on it."
Unbelievably, they were Iannelli's handwritten daily accounts during his 1914 stay in Chicago. After I had re-sorted and carefully read the papers, it was obvious the pencilled entries were each day's expenditures (down to the penny) of his cash payouts for models, clay, brushes and shipments!
To the 21st Century art historian, this was an earth-shattering discovery. These 1914 accounts list what day he got off the train--February 24---and when he got back on to Los Angeles---July 20th. Historians hadn't known those precise dates. His notes also suggest that the Art Institute's own plaster cast of the face and head of the Pylon sculpture to have been that of a boy as he paid "Boy model" $3.00 on June 22nd, 1914.
This diary chronicles the day-to-day advance of this particular show. Many of the artworks in it have been hidden away from view for years and are just now seeing frames. Others were in the Iannelli show I did here in 2001. That one opened September 14th and (ahem) few people came into galleries after September 11th so these works, too, have rarely been seen.
Several artworks had to have my conservator, Jackie, either piece them together from decades of improper storage or cleaned (and pressed, so to speak) for this career survey of Iannelli. There's an example from most of the major periods of his life including the 1933 Chicago World's Fair and the rare Vaudeville days in 1914 and 1915 Los Angeles for the Orpheum Theater.
Included, also, are studies shown in his 1921 Art Institute exhibition and a tempera painting he showed at his one-man show there in 1925. I'm also showing a rare tempera from his files of 1929 for the Adler Planetarium that show he had also planned the interior design for an exhibition gallery there. The architect, Ernest Grunsfeld had other plans.
On view (and also for sale) are designs for movie theaters and churches and private homes and so on. This show of 40 works fits the whole space but really, an entire career survey of this particular artist should have consumed the walls of a gallery ten times bigger.
I've done few exhibitions here that took over the whole room but as I have an entire flat file filled with thousands of Iannelli drawings, you could be here for some time.
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Chicago, IL 60654