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Kirkland & Ellis Corporate Art Collection

MK Meador

Light Installation by Spencer Fitch

When I arrived at the offices of Kirkland & Ellis, it wasn’t the art that first caught my eye, it was the bulked up security. Their website conveys the impressive scope of this international firm, “Kirkland’s oldest and largest office is in Chicago… Today, Kirkland’s Chicago office has expanded to approximately 650 lawyers who provide a full spectrum of litigation, corporate, real estate, intellectual property, restructuring, tax, benefits and estates services.” After my credentials were thoroughly checked, I made my way though the sleek security posts and an elevator took me to the seventh floor reception lobby. When the doors opened, I was greeted by a dazzling array of lights and as I would soon find out, was a light installation by the artist Spencer Fitch. In the center of the room was the sleek ovoid reception desk and the room was naturally lit from the southern wall of windows. My reasons for this visit to law firm of Kirkland & Ellis was twofold:  first on my list was to check out the installation of the latest work by Juan Chavez. The main reason, however, for this visit was to meet the curator of this intriguing collection, Chicago gallerist, Linda Warren and find out more about the art and artists collected in the firm’s two main floors at 300 North LaSalle.

The Install

Work was well underway by the time I arrived and the installations team had already navigated the elevators and brought Chavez’s 10 foot long piece  into the main hallway. I met Linda Warren at the very moment she was giving the installers the instruction on how to hang the Chavez sculpture. “You MK?” she quipped at the same instant she gestured and indicated the height at which she wanted the piece hung. As I will soon find out, Warren is a formidable multi-tasker and almost seems to be in two or three places at once. I stand to the side while the team discusses the nuts and bolts of the hanging.

There is flurry of chatter back and forth concerning the best solution for the delicate hanging of Chavez’s piece. The talk is tense as they work out the logistics of how the group can finagle a rod up past the ceiling tiles and up five feet to attach to the scaffolding above. Once hooked in, the pole has to then thread into the sculpture itself. No mean feat, and Warren paces the long hallway as this negotiation takes place. “I can’t watch this part” she remarks as the delicate wood frame is poised to lock into place.

Rest assured that everything went off without incident and now that the nail-biting part is over, Linda Warren turns and offers to give me the grand tour.

 

Kerrigan panels

Walkabout

Warren starts the tour at the works that are immediately adjacent to the Chavez piece. There are four panels by Emmett Kerrigan titled “Chicago Bascule, 2008″ and these face the windows overlooking LaSalle Street and can be seen by passers by, some six floors below. The wooden panels are inset with various shapes and contours and are shellacked and primed within an inch of their life.

As we make our way around the office, we arrive at the north face of the building and find a long line of conference rooms. Each heavy door has an a large digital keypad and all state they are indeed, “occupied”. Along the entire  hallway are fully catered buffet tables and drink carts. Up to this point, I had only seen paintings,  but now I see evidence of the diversity of Warren’s curatorial eye. A pedestal bookends the elaborate brunch spread and atop this is a large, colorful lily pad-shaped glass vase by the artist Stephen Powell. In a the corner of this corridor dangles a chandelier-like piece by Judith Mullen.

Warren calls on Erik, her art handler, to help her relocate the “Picasso Head”, a schematic-like iron bust by Joel Pelman. It is obvious from their exchange that Warren is keen on feedback. She is a gallery owner who really supports her artists and this is evident when she mentions the work by Chicago painter, Heather Marshall. “She literally spent a year and a half working on these pieces – these [paintings] are looking into windows all over the city of Chicago and it shows the detail of the city.” Each canvas is monochromatic, but taken in a series, the work creates a rainbow effect.

We make our way through the reception area towards the real showboat feature of the space: the riverfront patio. Warren points towards the Richard Hunt sculpture outside and explains that this patio is where the real schmoozing goes on. Events are held here regularly during the warmer months and despite the fact that its a misty grey day, it is easy to see that the view is worth it.

It dawns on me that all the corporate art I have seen up to this point had been of a certain caliber. A “safe” caliber perhaps and when talking corporate, it helps to play by the rules. Yet Warren and the artists she aseembled for the collection at Kirkland & Ellis come from the contemporary art world, a world where the rules were meant to be broken. This could have been a problematic transition but somehow, Warren, the ever-adroit curator, managed to get artists whose work she currently admired and had work with a message. The theme for the 6th floor, for instance, was the four elements.

It did not take long for me to realize that what she has done with the  Kirkland & Ellis art collection is a true rarity in the realm of corporate art collections. With so many living, contemporary artists in the collection I was extremely curious to investigate how Warren had managed to bring so many current artistic talents to a law firm’s art collection. She explained that it was not a simple process. It began with taking in many proposals from artists that she either knew about from her own gallery or artists whose worked she admired that were represented by other galleries. Warren ended up pulling together the work of 19 contemporary artists in the hallways, enclaves and even the bathrooms for this firm.