MAS Context Spring Talks 2024

Bruce Goff at the Art Institute of Chicago

April 11, 2024

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Lecture by Alison Fisher and Craig Lee, co-curators of the upcoming exhibition on architect Bruce Goff at the Art Institute of Chicago. The lecture will take place at the Society of Architectural Historians (1365 North Astor Street, Chicago, IL 60610).

Contributors

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Bruce Goff and Herb Greene. Gene and Nancy Bavinger House, Norman, Oklahoma, Elevation, 1950–51. The Art Institute of Chicago.

During this event, co-curators Alison Fisher and Craig Lee will present a preview of new research guiding the development of a forthcoming retrospective on American architect Bruce Goff (1904–1982), opening at the Art Institute of Chicago in December 2025.

Best known for his visionary residential designs in the western and midwestern US, Goff created homes that departed from the conventions of midcentury modernism with bold geometries, layered interior landscapes, and a wide range of found and unconventional materials, from goose feathers and coal to sequins.

This talk explores Goff’s experimental approach by charting relationships among the architectural work, personal collections, paintings, and musical engagements of one of the twentieth century’s most creative practitioners.

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Glen and Anna Harder House, Mountain Lake, Minnesota, 1970. Photograph by Julius Shulman. © J. Paul Getty Trust. Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2004.R.10).

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Bruce Goff and Douglas Harris. Irma Bartman House Number 3, Fern Creek, Kentucky, Interior Perspective, 1956–1957. The Art Institute of Chicago.

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Bruce Goff, Untitled (Composition), 1953. The Art Institute of Chicago.

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Examples from Bruce Goff’s personal collections. Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.

About Bruce Goff

Over a six-decade-long practice, Goff designed more than five hundred projects and realized nearly one hundred fifty buildings across fifteen states. As a largely self-taught architect, Goff began his prodigious career as a twelve-year-old apprentice in Tulsa, Oklahoma. There, at the age of twenty-two, he was awarded his first large commission, the Boston Avenue Methodist Church (1926).

Relationships with early mentors in Chicago—Frank Lloyd Wright and Louis Sullivan—led to Goff’s nine-year sojourn in the city at the height of the Great Depression. In Chicago he immersed himself in the arts, teaching design classes, working with sculptor and designer Alfonso Iannelli, and finding opportunities to pursue painting and musical composition.

After serving in the US Navy in Alaska and California—where he began to experiment with prefabricated components, notably parts of the Quonset hut—Goff completed the first houses in his signature mature style in the suburbs of Chicago, including one in Aurora for artist Ruth Ford, and another in Norman, Oklahoma, in 1947. He undertook these projects at the beginning of his tenure at the University of Oklahoma as professor and chair of the School of Architecture.

These years were among his most prolific, during which he produced designs for diverse projects including apartments, churches, university buildings, and many private houses, including the grotto-esque Eugene and Nancy Bavinger House (1950). In 1955 he was pressured to resign from the University of Oklahoma due to anti-gay persecution; the close connections Goff developed with local clients, however, proved long-lasting, most notably with Joe Price, whose Oklahoma compound—known as Shin’enKan—would engage Goff for just over two decades (1953–74).

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Bruce Goff in his office at the University of Oklahoma, c. 1954. Ryerson and Burnham Art and Architecture Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago.

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