About this artwork
While studying photography at the Institute of Design in Chicago, Richard Nickel joined the Sullivan Project, a photographic survey, led by photographer Aaron Siskind, that documented the architecture of Louis Sullivan. The project was completed in 1954, but Nickel continued photographing Sullivan’s work on his own, finding his calling in the identification, documentation, and preservation of these endangered works of art. Sullivan was revered as the father of the skyscraper and renowned for his use of architectural ornament. His firm, Adler and Sullivan, was based in Chicago, and the city was home to many examples of his work. But by the 1950s urban renewal projects prompted the demolition of his most celebrated structures, including the Garrick Theater and the Stock Exchange Building.
For nearly two decades, Nickel campaigned to save Sullivan’s works, and when those efforts failed, he worked to rescue their ornament—the elaborate, nature-inspired decoration that adorned both the interiors and exteriors of Sullivan’s buildings. Nickel mourned the disappearance of a city he admired, warning that Chicago could move toward anonymity or, worse, become “a city of contrasts: The superficial glitter of the new mixed with the slum of the old.” Nickel’s photographs let the architecture take center stage, even if his documentation was later overshadowed by his efforts to rescue surviving structures and fragments. In 1972, one such attempt, in the Chicago Stock Exchange Building, cost him his life. The Sun-Times wrote: “Richard Nickel has become a true martyr to the cause of architectural preservation. He is irreplaceable, and Chicago architecture has lost its truest champion.”
- Currently Off View
- Photography and Media
- Richard Nickel
- Untitled (The Rookery, staircase)
- United States
- Made 1950–1972
- Gelatin silver print
- Unmarked recto; inscribed verso, on mount, upper left, in graphite: "21 [encircled]"; verso, on mount, lower left, in graphite: "E-24/24"
- 45.4 × 35.4 cm (image); 50.3 × 40 cm (paper); 71.3 × 55.9 cm (mount)
- Photography Department Exhibition funds