This fall, in cooperation with the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), Elmhurst Art Museum presents the first museum exhibition of Richard Koppe's inventive work in more than forty years. Including 70 rarely seen paintings, prints and drawings, the exhibition highlights Koppe's signature canvases from the mid-20th century - from his earlier compositions of stylized fish and birds to his distinctive versions of abstract expressionism and hard-edge abstraction.
Combining aspects of Cubism and Surrealism, Koppe explored line, color, composition and space, producing works that are both playful and intricate. A special section including photographs, studies, textiles, tableware and related objects is dedicated to the artist's celebrated murals and designs for Chicago's famous Well of the Sea restaurant in 1948. Koppe's rigorous experimentation with form, mastery of diverse media and interest in design reflect his experience as a student of transplanted European modernists like László Moholy-Nagy and Alexander Archipenko at Chicago's New Bauhaus in the late 1930s. Koppe went on to promote the modernist program as Head of Visual Design and Fine Arts at the Institute of Design (ID) at the Illinois Institute of Technology (IIT) and later as Professor of Art at UIC.
This exhibition is largely drawn from UIC's Campus Collection, to which Koppe's estate donated nearly one thousand of his works shortly after his death. Koppe's modernist practice and legacy are of particular interest to EAM as we continue to explore art, architecture and design of the mid-20th century. Inspired by the museum's McCormick House, designed in 1952 by Mies van der Rohe, our goal is to present and study artists of this era such as Koppe, ripe for rediscovery and new scholarship. Koppe's New Bauhaus training and tenure at IIT overlapped with Mies' tenure as Director of the School of Architecture; this connection provides a greater understanding of Mies' concurrent architectural practice and contextualizes the work of other mid-century designers often shown in the McCormick House.