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Urban Choreography

In 1852, Louis Napoleon III was made emperor of France, and one of his major missions was to transform the chaotically congested mediaeval streets of Paris into a modern city of architectural symmetry, and provide it with an aesthetic identity. In June of 1852 Napoleon hired Baron Georges-Eugene Haussmann to rebuild Paris. Napoleon lobbied for new materials and techniques while Haussmann focused on aesthetic qualities, and together both men pursued the neoclassical model. Haussmann designed a geometric grid, created new and improved city parks, formed new streets, widened boulevards, built new water supply, sewers, bridges, the opera house, numerous monumental buildings, and rows of chestnut trees along new roads. The new sewer system cleaned up Paris, eliminated the smell of decay, and made the environment healthier to the residents. Haussmann added an extra floor and balconies to many buildings, built extravagant hotels, municipal buildings, and hospitals. The train stations that linked Paris to the rest of the country were designed to be tall and classical in style, decorated with arcades and balustrades, and highlighting the power of the steam engine.
The most celebrated building of the changing city was the Paris Opera House, built by Charles Garnier, in 1861. The building was designed as neoclassical with Baroque elements. The lower entrance level was given an arcade of arches adorned with sculpture, and the second level was built with Corinthian paired columns. A central dome rose with opulent decorations that mirrored the richly decorated interior, while two smaller domes added to the overall grandeur. The Paris Opera House was seen as a symbol of the new prosperity and the rise of modernity. Over a period of twenty years Haussmann and Napoleon III succeeded to create a powerful western metropolis that became a worldwide source of inspiration.
During the 1870s many impressionist painters depicted the new Paris with open brushwork and dissolving light, while a young and independently wealthy artist, Gustave Caillebotte (1848-1894,) chose a different perspective. With solid brush strokes, reflecting light and shadows, he captured his impressions of how the modernization of Paris affected the social landscape. Caillebotte's best-known work, “Paris Street; Rainy Day” (1877, Oil on canvas, 1/2 x 108 ¾ inches,) is an almost life size, complex painting, showing a broad cobblestone street, that runs along grand, impressive apartment buildings. The urban landscape is marked with dark umbrellas held by sharply dressed bourgeois men and women. Behind the main figures, the artist painted others, including a working- class man holding a ladder and crossing the street. The reflectivity of the light and rain on the cobblestone, the movement on the street, and the overall balance captured modernity similar to the    work of a camera.
Caillebotte’s “Paris Street; Rainy Day,” has been in the permanent collection of the Art Institute of Chicago since 1964. It is usually on view in gallery 201 and from June 26- September 22, it will show at the Regenstein Hall for the exhibition entitled “Impressionism, Fashion, sand Modernity,” that is going to focus on the role fashion played in the impressionists’ goal to paint modern life and its style. The exhibition is looking to uncover the fascinating relationship between art and fashion from the mid-1860s through mid-1880s, as Paris was becoming the style capital of the world.
Featurisng 75 major figure paintings by Caillebotte, Degas, Manet, Monet, Renoir, and Seurat, including many never before seen in North America, the show will reveal how these early avant-garde artists embraced fashion trends as they sought to capture modern life on canvas.
Currently running at the Chicago Cultural Center is “Spontaneous Interventions: Design Actions for the Common Good” featuring 84 urban interventions initiated by architects, designers, planners, artists and everyday citizens that bring positive change to neighborhoods and cities. Organized by Cathy Lang Ho on behalf of the Institute for Urban Design, the show is devoted to the growing movement to bring improvements to the urban realm, creating new opportunities and amenities for the public. In conjunction with the exhibition, “Spontaneous Interventions” will include a pop-up “outdoor living room” in Millennium Park, designed by Chicago-based MAS Studio, led by architect Iker Gil. The space will serve as an outpost for the exhibition, and a venue for exhibition-related programs, including talks, panels, tours, workshops and more. The space will feature a colorful canopy and seating made of salvaged lumber by local artist/woodworker John Preus of Dilettante Studios. Through September 1, programs will take place at the Cultural Center, in the pop-up pavilion in Millennium Park, and at various offsite locations.

Published: June 15, 2013
Issue: Summer 2013 Issue