April 3, 2017

Photographer James Welling Focuses on Mies for Chicago Architecture Biennial

James Welling, 8183, 2016 from the series Chicago, 2016-2017. Image courtesy of the Artist and David Zwirner, New York/London.

Architecture has long been one of James Welling’s primary inspirations. Early in his career, the influential photographer shot buildings by Henry Hobson Richardson, particularly interested in their massive facades. More recently, he photographed Philip Johnson’s Glass House, depicting the seminal residence in a new light by layering color filters in front of his camera during exposures.

For the recent Chicago series, Welling has turned his attention to work by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Commissioned for the Chicago Architecture Biennial, he photographed the Illinois Institute of Technology and the Lake Shore Drive apartments. Digital techniques were used to artificially saturate the photographs, imposing Welling’s palette on the architect’s work. “I was especially interested in combining intense colors with the monochromatic colors of Mies,” Welling writes.

James Welling, 8729, 2016, from the series Chicago, 2016-2017. Image courtesy of the Artist and David Zwirner, New York/London.

Seeds for the project were planted in the 1980’s, when Welling briefly worked as a photographer at the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Architecture and Design. In that role, he documented a drawing in the archive of the modernist architect in preparation for the museum’s renovation. Impressed by the work, he would later take pilgrimages to see buildings in person. A few years later, Welling waded through a foot of snow to photograph the Illinois Institute of Technology campus, where the chapel especially moved him. He later visited the architect’s Farnsworth House and took multiple-exposure photographs of the iconic residence.

James Welling, 8482, 2016, from the series Chicago, 2016-2017, Courtesy the Artist and David Zwirner, New York/London.

The theme of the Chicago Architecture Biennial, “Make New History,” (borrowed from the title of a limited-edition book by artist Ed Ruscha) encourages the 100-plus participating firms and artists to frame new ideas by architectural precedence. Work will be shown at the Chicago Cultural Center and additional sites in the city from September 16 – January 7, 2018.

A retrospective of Welling’s work, including images of the Glass House, is currently on view at S.M.A.K. in Ghent, Belgium until April 16th.

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