Aristotle once said, “The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance.” Indeed, it may be known that art is a visual subject. Many have grown up viewing, studying, and hearing fantastic tales about great artists like Michelangelo, Rembrandt, and Caravaggio along with the amazing works that they have created. We flock to museums and galleries for a chance to be in the presence of their exquisite work. Art is beautiful, but it stands for something much deeper than what meets the eye. It is meant to speak to us on a personal level and evoke emotions.
Architecture follows the same principle. In the book The Natural House, by Frank Lloyd Wright, Wright explains that an architect’s job is far from building structurally sound “boxes with holes punched into the sides of them." It is the duty of an architect to create a functional, optimal, and aesthetically pleasing space that is made to accommodate the people and programs that will be occupying it. It has been recognized that architecture in itself is art, and as such, it is a process that is meant to speak to us. Through the use of iconography, materiality, ornamentation, and floor plan, architects and designers are able to communicate the deeper meaning and story that a structure represents.
The Joslyn Art Museum, located in Omaha, Nebraska, unites the disciplines of art and architecture into one, allowing them to tell a story to all who visit. Opening their doors in 1931, the Joslyn quickly became an architectural, Art Deco gem. The Museum, located on 2200 Dodge Street, was originally built by the architects John and Alan McDonald and is composed of Georgia Pink marble overlaying brick masonry.
The concept of the building was influenced heavily by the Great Plains Native American themes – specifically, the thunderbird, or, the eagle. In their book, The History of the Joslyn, the founders of the building tell us that the “thunderbird was thought of as an important spirit that was a fierce predator which uplifted those around it." The importance of the bird can be seen in the classical ionic order columns on the exterior of the building. The thunderbird motif is hidden within the capitals of those columns and is an example of ornament as structure. The History of the Joslyn tells us that the significance of this was to “fuse Classical architectural tradition with some significant expression of the Native American Great Plains Culture.” On each side of the building’s exterior elevations, in the upper corners, relief panels are present. These panels honor and depict the Great Plains Native Americans and the farmers of the region.
The interior of the Museum is composed of various forms of marble. The Storz Fountain Court, located at the heart of the museum's floor plan, again portrays the thunderbird motif “on the fountain, in the corners of the ceiling, and in the frieze beneath the balcony." More symbolism is portrayed in the floor tiles, which represent literature, architecture, music, and painting. The Joslyn does not only represent the spirit of the Great Plains structurally, but also by the art it contains. The Museum has exhibited some of the nation's most well known regionalist artists such as Thomas Hart Benton, John Steuart Curry, Dale Nichols, and Grant Wood (who is best know for his painting, American Gothic, 1930). Many world-renowned artists have also passed through this Nebraska gem, from historical artists like Pablo Picasso and Monet, all the way to contemporary artist Andy Warhol. For these artistic masters, the Joslyn provides an appropriate home and allows a place for the artists stories to be told.
The Joslyn may be a fantastic place to view some of the world’s top artwork, and its architectural significance may also be of the highest caliber, but it is not the only gem that Nebraska boasts. On a much smaller scale, nestled within 1208 ‘O’ Street, lies Kiechel Fine Art, a local art gallery in the Lincoln, Nebraska area. Here, rather than simply viewing, one is able to purchase the work of these top world artists. Kiechel has made original pieces by Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, and Rembrandt Van Rijn available to the public. The gallery, which specializes in Regionalist artwork, has sold the likes of Thomas Hart Benton, Grant Wood, and John Steuart Curry. The structure, recently renovated, was originally home to a local musical instrument store. During the architectural process, it was important to respect the origin of the arts community and honor the original materials that were used within the building. Within the four-story building, original wood floors were conserved, tin ceiling tiles were maintained, and artwork has now filled the space where sheet music once lived. The gallery, like the Joslyn, not only represents the areas top artists but is viewed as a respectable home for the arts in general.
The unification of art and architecture has been demonstrated globally over the years. The Louvre in Paris, The British Museum, and the Rijksmuseum in the Netherlands have all proven that statement. The state of Nebraska has also made an effort to emulate this example. Through its nurturing of the arts, Nebraska has ensured that art and architecture can continue to enrich the lives of its citizens.
Do you feel your city enhances your life through art and architecture?
Credits: Images by Ashley Wojtalewicz. Data linked to sources.