An Architect Collects
Art meets design at a University of Illinois exhibition honoring Robert Kleinschmidt
Stanley Abercrombie -- Interior Design, 4/1/2007 12:00:00 AM
It is commonplace for interiors to incorporate art, but seldom is art as conceptually intrinsic to interiors as it is in the work of architect Robert Kleinschmidt. Over the past three decades, this magazine has been proud to publish many of his projects. Now the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign's Krannert Art Museum and Kinkead Pavilion is presenting a different but closely related accomplishment in "An Architect Collects: Robert D. Kleinschmidt and a Lifetime of Fine Arts Acquisitions," on view through July 29.
Designing and collecting are inextricably intertwined in Kleinschmidt's case, his inclinations in one field informing and reinforcing those in the other. In both, we see a strength and authority derived from minimalism; a reverence for orthogonality, the right angles sometimes relieved by a lyrical curve; and an unexpected passion for color. Kleinschmidt's special enthusiasms in art—for work from the Bauhaus or inspired by it, for constructivism, for color field painting—closely correspond to his interior design. "His professional beliefs have continually influenced his collecting," the Krannert's director, Kathleen Harleman, writes in the exhibition catalog, to which I contributed a brief introduction.
An early example of art as a key element in a design by his firm, Powell/Kleinschmidt, is an insurance company's headquarters in Indiana: In 1978, Kleinschmidt and his partner, Don Powell, commissioned Al Held to paint a floor-to-ceiling exploration of solid geometry for the building's main reception area. Among the most recent examples is the Chicago law firm Mayer, Brown, Rowe & Maw, a 2005 project featuring 12 floors of work by Alex Katz, Kenneth Noland, Le Corbusier, and others. Highlights along the way have included a woven wall composition by Sheila Hicks, commissioned for the lobby of 1 Main Place in Dallas, 1985, and a Sol LeWitt mural for the dining room of the Standard Club in Chicago, 1988. Indeed, it's difficult to imagine a P/K interior not enlivened and humanized by Kleinschmidt's knowledge of and enthusiasm for art.
Naturally, numerous artists he has selected for his clients are represented in his own collection as well. The pieces were either purchases or, often, sketches or maquettes that contributed to a final artwork. Several such gifts had entered his possession before he had any concrete plan to form a collection.
The works appear on a rotating basis in his two homes, an apartment in one of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe's glass towers in Chicago and a beachfront apartment in Naples, Florida. The rotation is based not on a seasonal schedule but instead derives from Kleinschmidt's dislike of the chaotic effect of having everything out at once. So when a Robert Motherwell lithograph becomes too familiar and expected, it might be replaced by a Bill Hedrich photograph, which in turn might make way for a László Moholy-Nagy print. "If the eye sees too much," Kleinschmidt explains, "it doesn't see anything."
Selected from this very personal collection, the Krannert exhibition features paintings, drawings, prints, and sculpture by Alberto and Diego Giacometti, Joan Miró, Josef Albers, Harry Bertoia, Frank Stella, Sam Francis, Jasper Johns, Helen Frankenthaler, Joan Mitchell, Mark di Suvero, Donald Sultan, and several others. Also included are watercolors and drawings by two architects who have been Kleinschmidt's mentors, Gene Summers and Jack Dunbar. The newest acquisition is a work on paper by Brice Marden, whom Kleinschmidt has admired for 30 years. "I love the energy, the rhythm and color of the ribbons on the black background," he says.
Whether he's acquiring or commissioning art for himself or for a client, framing and placement are a major concern. This is, after all, the exact intersection of art and interiors—and an integral part of Kleinschmidt's skill. That skill is impressively evident in the Krannert galleries, where he not only determined the overall plan and juxtaposition of pieces but also designed a frosted-glass wall, resin shelving, and pedestals fashioned from sections of steel I beam.
Kleinschmidt has special ties to UIUC. He received his bachelor's degree in architecture there and, each year, he donates pieces from his collection to the Krannert, the second-largest art museum in Illinois. His entire collection will eventually go to the museum, his art and architecture books to the school's Ricker Library of Architecture and Art. In addition, Kleinschmidt has agreed to fund a professorship in interior architecture—a plan that will be announced officially at the opening of "An Architect Collects."