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Review> Civic Folly
Global Cities, Model Worlds explores the social and financial destruction brought about by large-scale events.
Courtesy Gallery 400

Global Cities, Model Worlds
Gallery 400, University of Illinois at Chicago
College of Architecture and the Arts
400 South Peoria St., Chicago
Through March 3

Dispersed throughout Gallery 400, 23-inch triangles lie seam to seam in table-like clusters. They immediately remind one of lattice structures or a sort of Buckminster Fuller-esque architecture of the future. It’s no coincidence that these triangles are reminiscent of domes, stadiums, and pavilions, the kind of grand architecture that lies at the heart of the exhibition’s fodder: mega-events.

The term “mega-event” refers to Olympic Games, world’s fairs, and other large-scale civic and athletic happenings. In the exhibit Global Cities, Model Worlds, artists Ryan Griffis, Lize Mogel, and Sarah Ross create several text-based snapshots of mega-events, written on a wall-mounted timeline and triangle-shaped tables. These are not optimistic stories. They seem to serve as admonitions, delving into social and financial destruction wrought by large-scale events.

Shanghai’s Expo 2010—which uprooted denizens with little notice and sent protestors to labor camps—is just one relevant recent example. Other narratives, like the one describing Vancouver’s 2010 Olympic Village being built by corporations in bed with politicians, dissolve into political finger wagging.

The exhibition is at its best when it stops its shrill politicizing. The most interesting element is a collection of bird’s-eye-view photos of dozens of mega-event sites, including a bevy of round stadiums, photographically spliced together. They show off the global commonalities of civic architecture, its neoclassical-inspired symmetry and fastidious surrounding landscape. Powerful from above, the structures hide any organically formed community that might live in their midst.

At its worst, the exhibit refuses to give an unbiased look at the other side: the people who support, enjoy, and benefit from mega-events. Presented as character heads on small plastic sticks, they are all doubtlessly not as selfish and shortsighted as Ted Turner. (According to the exhibition text, Turner profited from the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, which displaced 30,000 low-income residents.) Do any large-scale structures go on to become successful redevelopments? Or have all recent mega-events—including mentioned expos such as the 1964 World’s Fair, 2000 Hannover Expo, 1984 New Orleans World’s Fair, and 1976 Montreal Olympics—created long-term budgetary woes? It would be nice to know.

The exhibit takes great pains to leave viewers thinking about how Olympics exacerbate societal and class tensions. But the incidental conclusion is that large events can no longer physically sustain themselves—a damning message for the future of mega-event architecture.

Madeline Nusser

Madeline Nusser is an editor at Time Out Chicago.