NEW YORK

Provoking Magic: Lighting of Ingo Maurer Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum Sept. 14, 2007–Jan. 27, 2008

In four decades, Ingo Maurer, the German lighting designer, has produced enough artistry to earn the nickname “Goethe of the Light Bulb.” This month, the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum puts an overdue spotlight on the 75-year-old designer.

Long before pedestrian traffic lights beamed with LED bulbs, Maurer was embedding light-emitting diodes in his hat, his shirt, and a wedding gown. “Light can be sensual, it can be comforting, it can even be dangerous,” the designer has said. “It goes beyond science or nature or even art—it is as potent as life itself.”

For the exhibit, Maurer has created some site-specific installations. One promises to light up the grand old Carnegie Mansion staircase with New Age sound and light effects. Another combines lighting, color, and mood swings. He says he's working on OLEDs, or organic light-emitting diodes, which “don't give off bright enough light yet, but we are working on it.” It's just such experiments, usually in the form of avant-garde art, that push the boundaries of expectation for lighting in 21st century buildings. Up next, Maurer sees LED-enhanced walls and maybe a new era of dynamic LED wallpaper.

It's worth noting that Maurer is not a fan of compact fluorescents, because their light “gives off no feeling.” This exhibition illuminates the argument for lighting with romance in its soul. www.cooperhewitt.org

CINCINNATI

Saul Steinberg: Illuminations
Cincinnati Art
Museum Through Sept. 23

  • Credit: The Saul Steinberg Foundation/Artists Rights Society, New York

It has been 25 years since the illustrator Saul Steinberg's 75- foot-long mural of the Queen City has been on view. The artist's commentary, writ in black line on white canvas, caricatures vintage streetscapes and socialites, not to mention Cincinnati's breathtaking suspension bridge and iconic central fountain. Steinberg completed the mural, then 90 feet long, for a restaurant in Cincinnati's austerely modern Terrace Plaza Hotel, a building Fortune magazine would dub a postwar prototype of its genre and “a triumphant marriage of art and economics.” The hotel closed in 1965.

Now, after 10 months of cleaning, the mural is worth a detour to the Cincinnati Art Museum, especially since it has been smartly combined with a traveling retrospective of 100 examples of Steinberg's archive of wit and art. “It's a wonderfully spectacular and speculative view of Cincinnati,” says museum director Aaron Betsky. In Steinberg's hand, Betsky says, “the stones of the city come to life.”

Over a 60-year career, Steinberg rendered modernity and its trappings with whimsy and a draftsman's respect. His most visible works were covers and cartoons for The New Yorker magazine—more than 1,000 in all. Before his death in 1999, Steinberg indulged in fashion, greeting cards, and stage sets, too.

The émigré from Romania trained as an architect in Milan before fleeing fascism to land in New York City. There, Central Park matrons and Wall Street barons were waiting to inspire him, as did Gotham's passion for itself.

If Steinberg returned to Cincinnati today, he would find Kohn Pedersen Fox's Procter & Gamble headquarters, César Pelli's Aronoff Center, and campus buildings by Michael Graves and Frank Gehry. How would Steinberg treat Zaha Hadid's Contemporary Arts Center? Without any doubt, larger than life. www.cincinnatiartmuseum.org

See Steinberg's mural for the Terrace Plaza Hotel in the slideshow.

CHICAGO

Xefirotarch: Playful, Radical Designs
By Hernán Díaz Alonso
Art Institute of Chicago
Through Oct. 28

Argentina-born architect Hernán Díaz Alonso is a master of the baroque, inspired by Francis Bacon as well as science fiction films. His digital designs challenge easy definition: They could be animals, plants, or, just maybe, architecture. No wonder the Art Institute of Chicago calls them radical.

  • Credit: Xefirotarch

While curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Joseph Rosa organized this exhibition of avant-garde projects by Xefirotarch, the Los Angeles–based firm Díaz Alonso founded in 2001. The exhibit includes architectural models, digital animations, and a fiberglass sculpture called Sangre (Spanish for “blood”), coated in Ferrari-patented red paint. Rosa believes these pieces show welcome progress beyond what he calls the “blob-based structures” of digital architecture circa 1999.

“Díaz Alonso has expanded the theory and practice of this new architectural approach,” Rosa says. “His vision represents flexible arrangement in architectural form rather than stasis.” www.artic.edu