The Graham Foundation has been around for over fifty years, though you might not know about it unless you’re either in the architectural field or have spent time around the Gold Coast admiring the diverse building design of the neighborhood. The Madlener House (4 West Burton Place), which serves as the foundation’s home base, was built in 1901 by architect Richard E. Schmidt and designer Hugh M. G. Garden for the Madlener family. The house has metamorphosed across its tenure in the Gold Coast; what began as a classic example of German neoclassicism has transformed into an unnamable oddity, combining the contemporary with the traditional.
The same theories apply to the Graham Foundation itself, which explains how the organization’s infrastructure has also been able to stand the test of time. They have taken the necessary risks to support innovative architectural projects while maintaining the foundation’s commitment to Ernest Graham’s original concepts. The Graham Foundation distributed about $80,000 to artists and architects in the Chicago area last year alone, supporting both established and emerging architects and designers, for profit and non for profit groups, experimental and traditional concepts. The Graham Foundation board considers every applicant on a completely objective basis, having learned in the past that progress often takes the form of a theory less proven. The Graham Foundation’s mission statement reads: “The Graham Foundation is a private philanthropic foundation which is broadly concerned with architecture and with other arts that are immediately contributive to architecture.”
And their purpose never falters. They remain open to change by sticking to their origin.
The Graham Foundation is now open to the public not only as a forum on architecture and design but also as a gallery. Receptions are held in the Madlener House every third Thursday of the month for world-renowned artists, designers, and architects. There are lectures and events that further demonstrate the Foundation’s eagerness to make their presence known to the general public who, as Sarah Rogers of the foundation told me, “knows good architecture, knows what they like. They don’t have to have an immediate connection with architects to appreciate the design”.
Currently at the Foundation is an intricate installation by Cuban artist Felipe Dulzaides, his first exhibition in the United States. The installation includes a wide-range of media, including sculpture, video, text, drawing and sound. It spans three floors of the house and runs through almost every room. There are no less than ten projectors running at any particular moment. The exhibition’s basis is this: Dulzaides physically and theoretically explores the unfinished Art Schools of Havana, originally commissioned by Fidel Castro and Che Guevara in 1961. Dulzaides uses installations to interpret each building of the school, reflecting on the architect that designed that particular area and the sociohistorical forces surrounding it. For example, Utopia Posible explores the notorious and iconic School of Dramatic Arts by Roberto Gottardi. Spanning the first floor of the House, the pieces brings together overlay drawings, models, projected images and photographs of the school in various stages of completion, use and non-use, to give life to a building thousands of miles away. Dulzaides creates environments that the immerse visitor in the story, generating feelings of hope and despair for these historic altruistic endeavors. A testament to the Graham Foundation’s thoroughness and willingness to round out their exhibitions and give the public the best experience possible, the artist Dulzaides and the architect of the school, respected Italian designer Roberto Gottardi were flown in from Cuba on opening night to give a lecture at the Foundation on the exhibition and the Art Schools of Havana.
Presently, the Graham Foundation is only able to install art from October through July. They spend the rest of the year making the necessary changes to the historic house that keep the art safe such as installing UV shields on the original windows or updating the air conditioning systems to limit humidity. The Madlener House is free and open to the public Wednesdays through Saturdays (11am-5pm), and holds late hours every third Thursday of the month (till 8pm), the next of which will be June 17th. The Foundation recently launched a new website. Visitors can now access information about the Foundation, the Madlener House, events, exhibitions and programming, and the step-by-step application process for grants. For more information, visit the website, here: http://www.grahamfoundation.org.