Wolf-Gordon in the Mart
20. January 2015
2014 installation (All images courtesy of Wolf-Gordon)
Since 2012, Wolf-Gordon has created an annual site-specific installation for NeoCon as a means of highlighting the company’s products and adding an exclamation point to the “heart” of Chicago’s Merchandise Mart.
Whereas most manufacturers partaking in NeoCon display their wares on the showroom floors above, Wolf-Gordon augments their 10th floor showroom by situating these installations above the escalator that connects the ground floor to the food court and adjacent "L" station one floor above. Exploding triangles of color in 2012 gave way to a spiraling gradient made up of rectangular panels in 2013 and last year’s “Ribbon Cloud,” with its coiling strand suspended from a diamond-shaped frame.
The annual installations are the brainchild of Marybeth Shaw, Wolf-Gordon CCO (Chief Creative Officer). With a background in architecture that is evident in the installations, Shaw developed them as a means of communicating the company’s products to the NeoCon audience in a well-trafficked area of the Mart. Creating three-dimensional forms from two-dimensional materials means conceptualizing, and Shaw told me in a conversation that she initially thought of the first installation as a crystalline, multi-faceted object. This formal idea came across clearly in the final product, as the triangular panels appear to be frozen in a state of expansion.
To help execute the first installation, as well as each of the subsequent ones, Shaw turned to karlssonwilker, a design firm, for determining their graphic representations and “form vocabularies,” as she called it, and the Guild, for their fabrication and installation. The tripartite team worked together during the design and production process, making the installations collaborative efforts rather than situations where the design was handed off from one party to the next.
Their second collaboration built upon lessons of the first installation to create a piece with a much more dynamic form. Like the first, the second installation used a basic shape that was repeated, but instead of a triangle it was a long rectangle. Only the blocking pieces between the panels varied, creating what Shaw described as its “barrel roll” over the escalator.
The third and most recent piece, “Ribbon Cloud,” took the level of complexity higher by incorporating curved pieces that give the impression of an unfurled ribbon. Like the earlier installations, the pieces covered with Wolf-Gordon wallcoverings were made from repeated elements. Graham Kelman at the Guild told me that fabricating the ribbon from a continuous piece would have been impossible, as it would “want to structurally tear itself apart.” So they used shorter strands of the same length and double-curve made from bendy board (1/4” plywood) that was wetted and then stretched across a form. Breaking the ribbon into shorter segments resulted in small gaps between boards, but they hardly detracted from the intended effect.
A major difference between the 2014 installation and the precursors was the means of hanging the panels. The first two sculptures were hung from a long box truss that was supported a few feet below the ceiling, an approach that worked with their fairly balanced loads but not the twisting and curling ribbons from last year. Therefore, the team devised the diamond grid that the Guild fabricated in their shop and theater riggers installed in place; the strands playfully loop above and below the grid to make it an integral part of the installation.
Seeing the movement from crystalline structure to barrel roll to ribbon cloud makes me wonder what will happen next. What will the team of Wolf-Gordon, karlssonwilker and the Guild come up with for NeoCon 2015? Shaw would not even give me a hint, but I’ll wager it will make quite a statement when it’s lifted into place in June.