Exhibit Columbus: A lot of work goes into temporary installations

Columbus’ storied architecture takes on a new look with The Exhibit Columbus exhibition, the culmination of 15 months of anticipation.

The three-month exhibition features 18 temporary architectural installations that took inspiration from nearby structures, buildings or other area designs.

Local high school students created the multi-colored strand work, “Between the Threads” at Seventh and Washington streets downtown. It was the first piece to be officially highlighted in the opening ceremony, although it has entertained visitors and passersby since early August.

Richard McCoy, one of the Exhibit Columbus founders and part of 12-person curatorial team, said he believes the body of new work will match in quality any other architectural exhibition in the nation.

The project, announced in May 2016, has attracted seasoned designers from all over the U.S. and seven nations, including professionals whose work stands nationwide and abroad.

“We’re hoping for a really great feeling all over town,” McCoy said.

For a few of the installations, however, designers and their builders were working feverishly to complete their projects before the exhibit opened.

That included Miller Prize-winning designer Chris Cornelius of Studio:indigenous, whose creative “Wiikiaami,” which means wigwam in the Miyaamia language, was still a skeleton of its finished form before the opening outside First Christian Church on Fifth Street.

But Cornelius, whose office is in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, has been in Columbus regularly in recent weeks to supervise progress.

“We realize that some of them will be more down-to-the-wire than others,” McCoy said, adding that designers took on these pieces without the thought of benefiting financially while also simultaneously running their for-profit operations and projects.

Exhibit Columbus is labeled as an exploration of architecture, art, and design, alternating between a symposium and an exhibition. It is a project of Landmark Columbus and a program of Heritage Fund — The Community Foundation of Bartholomew County.

The Indianapolis-based Efroymson Family Fund is the 2017 Exhibition Presenting Sponsor by virtue of $250,000 it provided in seed money and a challenge grant given in fall of 2014. But the event also has a broad range of financial support from other foundations, businesses, corporations and donors, according to organizers.

The project’s reach and links include background on some of the globally significant local architecture that long ago set the stage for Exhibit Columbus.

For example, Tricia Gilson, archivist and curator of the Columbus Indiana Architectural Archives, opens a mostly photograhic exhibit, “Avenue of the Architects,” that will provide historical context for the city’s significant structures along Fifth Street, often referred to by the exhibit’s name.

The display, a team project involving a range of contributors including Columbus furniture designer Jonathan Nesci, is inside the Bartholomew County Public Library and highlights the exhibition’s Miller Prize sights.

Among other elements, Gilson mentioned that she’s proud of the fact that the display is one part of a distinctly local flavor amid Exhibit Columbus’ outside creators that she acknowledged are impressive. Other local works include the local high schoolers’ “Between the Threads” piece and “Shadow of an Unknown Bird” by artists and designers with the Indiana University Center for Art + Design working alongside Cummins Inc. engineers.

“Our good, local creations certainly can stand up alongside these other creations, and show what we’re capable of doing as a community,” Gilson said.

The same goes for the work of various Midwestern university student designers. Janice Shimizu and Joshua Coggeshall, university installations coordinators, mentioned that students have shown remarkable teamwork, with schools helping each other.

Shimizu pointed out that a somewhat furious last-minute construction phase of the past few days “is really a good, practical learning experience for the students.”

She laughed when asked about deadline pressure.

“Yes, it can be stressful,” Shimizu said. “But you have to remember that this entire Exhibit Columbus is very ambitious. We all are trying to do an awful lot.”

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People for Urban Progress, known for repurposing discarded materials such as the RCA Dome roof, Bush Stadium seats, and Super Bowl XLVI banners, is partnering with Exhibit Columbus to make bags and wallets from the 2016 symposium banners.

Bags will be available for purchase at the Exhibit Columbus pop-up shop in Upland Columbus Pump House, 148 Lindsey Street, and the Columbus Area Visitors Center, 506 Fifth St. The Upland pop-up shop will be open during the first two weekends of the exhibition, from 5 to 9 p.m. Thursdays, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and noon to 6 p.m. Sundays.

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There are five Miller Prize Winners each awarded $75,000 for their design and build for Exhibit Columbus. The honor is named after industrialist J. Irwin Miller and his wife, Xenia Miller, a lifelong supporter of great art and architecture.

J. Irwin Miller launched Columbus’ architectural excellence when he hired top Finnish architect Eliel Saarinen to design First Christian Church, which was completed in 1942.

The Miller Prize winners are:

  • “Another Circle,” by ArandaLasch at Mill Race Park on Fifth Street.
  • “Anything Can Happen in the Woods,” by Plan B Architecture & Urbanism at Cummins Corporate Office Building, 500 Jackson St.
  • “Conversation Plinth,” by IKD at the Bartholomew County Public Library plaza, 536 Fifth St.
  • “The Exchange,” by Oyler Wu Collaborative at Irwin Conference Center, 500 Washington St.
  • “Wiikiaami,” by studio: indigenous at First Christian Church, 531 Fifth St.

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