Floor to Ceiling/Surface to Edge/Vista

Back to Installations

The Museum of the Cranbrook Academy of Art, Bloomfield Hills, MI

Materials & Dimensions:
Brick, wood, red clay, hemp twine, black river stones, Nepalese paper, limestone gravel, straw, latex stain
Center gallery: 18 feet high x 29 feet wide x 37 feet long
North (left) gallery: 16 feet high x 31 ½ feet wide x 34 ¾ feet long
South (right) gallery: 14 feet high x 31 feet wide x 72 feet long

The site for this work was three galleries in the Cranbrook Art Museum during the 50th anniversary of Eliel Saarinen’s design of Cranbrook.

The installation was in homage to Saarinen’s design and to the complex of disciplines taught at Cranbrook. The objective was to recall attention to the scale and relationships of the gallery spaces. This was done through a landscape paradigm involving north/center/south (The galleries are entered via the center only.). Landscape was engaged with respect to Eliel Saarinen, Cranbrook’s architect: As a young man, he had aspired to be a landscape painter. As an architect, he was always very attentive to the presence of the sites for which he designed his buildings, particularly in terms of vista, color, and local materials. The scale presence of the galleries was enhanced three ways: by developing a floor-to-ceiling correspondence between the coffered area in each ceiling and an event on the floor, by a surface-to-edge transparent staining of the walls in a different color for each gallery, and by bordering the floors of the north and south galleries, one with gravel, the other with straw. The materials and methods used referred to the crafts of the disciplines taught at Cranbrook.

Thus, the north gallery was stained blue, the center terra cotta, and the south yellow green. Limestone gravel bordered the north gallery, straw the south. In the north gallery, white firebrick made a platform equivalent in size and position to the coffered ceiling area above. In the platform’s center, a high column of the same firebrick was built in reference to Saarinen’s peristyle court for this museum. In the center gallery, a wooden platform a foot thick was centered beneath the coffered area, also the same size. It was sheathed in red clay and the top reservoir was filed with 260 gallons of red clay slip. The slip at first mirrored the surrounding spaces and then dried and cracked over the life of the exhibition. The coffered ceiling in the south gallery was off center, but in line with the other gallery entrances. Its floor correspondence was an identical area of Nepalese paper adhered to the travertine floor, and 2,700 hemp cords attached to the coffered grid, each suspending a single black stone. This transferred the ceiling pattern to the floor. A wave-like ripple interrupted the field of suspended stones whenever the air from the ventilation system blew through the cords.