Louis Sullivan, Dankmar Adler. Stenciled Frieze Panel from the Trading Room of the Chicago Stock Exchange, Chicago, IL. c. 1893

Louis Sullivan, Dankmar Adler Stenciled Frieze Panel from the Trading Room of the Chicago Stock Exchange, Chicago, IL c. 1893

  • MoMA, Floor 5, 511 The David Geffen Wing

Completed in 1894, Sullivan and Adler’s thirteen-story Chicago Stock Exchange was one of the earliest modern skyscrapers, rising to a new height made possible by developments in steel framing. The second-floor trading room was its magnificent centerpiece. When the building was demolished in 1972, architectural elements were salvaged and gathered by collectors and museums. This particular painted fragment features fifty-two distinct hues in muted tones of rust and gold, green and yellow. Shapes that recall root systems, stems, and leaves are transformed into stylized patterns that allude to prairie landscapes and the fundamental role of midwestern agriculture in the US economy. The rhythm and precision of the abstract design are also reminiscent of Islamic decorative traditions.

In its lush, organic motifs and intricately stenciled patterns, the frieze reflects Sullivan’s goal of synthesizing elements of nature with abstraction. Organic patterns portrayed at different scales and in various mediums were integrated throughout the entire building, arranged to emphasize the structure’s verticality. Motifs recurred in molded plaster and terra-cotta and in the ironwork of staircases and elevator grilles. Sullivan believed that decorative elements and architectural form could, and should, come together to create a unique and harmonious whole. Through his elaboration of a concept he called “organic ornamentation,” he paved the way for a distinctly American visual culture rooted in the simplicity of nature yet brimming with endless variations of architectural expression.

Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)
Additional text

The Chicago Stock Exchange was among the earliest modern skyscrapers, rising to an unprecedented thirteen stories when it was completed in 1894. The trading room, where this element was installed, was its magnificent centerpiece. Salvaged when the building was demolished in 1972, this architectural fragment features fifty-two distinct hues in muted tones of rust and gold, green, and yellow. Shapes that recall root systems, stems, and leaves form stylized patterns that allude to prairie landscapes and the fundamental role of agriculture in the American economy. In its lush, organic motifs and intricately stenciled patterns, the frieze reflects Sullivan’s goal of synthesizing elements of nature with abstraction.

Gallery label from 2020
Medium
Oil on canvas
Dimensions
56 x 53 1/2" (142.2 x 135.9 cm)
Credit
Gift of Constance Caplan, Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder, and Robert B. Menschel
Object number
611.2009
Department
Architecture and Design

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