Arts & Culture » Art Critic's Choice

If a tree falls in the Inland Steel Building . . .

"Idea Tree" presents objects made from a single, downed elm



I recently talked to a friend who'd just seen Hinoki, the enormous installation in the Art Institute's Modern Wing, and boy was he pissed. The problem was the story behind the piece. Artist Charles Ray had seen a felled tree by the side of the road and was "instantly drawn to it." (He described it as "perfectly embedded in the meadow where it had fallen decades earlier.") So Ray took it apart with a chain saw, removed it from the meadow where it had been perfectly embedded, created silicone molds of it, and then hired a team of Japanese artisans to re-create the tree as a 2,100-pound sculpture suitable for museum exhibition.

When you put it that way it does sound a little silly.

I wonder if my friend would feel any differently about "Idea Tree," in which the inspiration is the same—a single downed tree—but the outcome is far more practical. The source here is an elm that was knocked over last summer, during a violent storm. Illinois Institute of Technology professor Paul Pettigrew got hold of it and set up a competition: with the help of craftspeople from Sawbridge Studios in Winnetka, students were to create furniture and accessories out of the remains. More than 40 of the resulting objects are on display at the Inland Steel building, including an iPod holder, tables, cutting boards, candles, and at least one very cool coatrack. The show is part of Pop-Up Art Loop.

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