Architect Walter Netsch designed and built his famously fantastic and unusual Chicago home and filled it with unique objects and artwork that inspired him. Besides his own paintings, drawings and sculptures, he surrounded himself with work from his favorite contemporary artists including Richard Hunt, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Indiana and Kenneth Noland. Walter and his wife, Dawn Clark Netsch, often used the phrase ‘living with art’ and when you entered their extraordinary home you very much experienced their art collection and Walter’s art and design sensibilities.1
In 2013, The Walter and Dawn Clark Netsch estate gifted to UIC of about 130 pieces of Walter’s personal artworks, a collection mostly consisting of watercolors he made of geometric shapes based on Field Theory, also including natural landscapes and industrial scenes as well as some sculptures. We are honored to have the opportunity to exhibit, preserve and interpret the pieces from this art collection, and I am thrilled to be the custodian of the Walter Netsch Art Collection as part of the UIC Campus Art Collection.2
Walter Netsch, Princess My Memory, 1987, watercolor.
The Gallery 400 exhibition, The Netsch Campus: Materializing the Public at UIC, will be the first time these watercolors are displayed for the public since Walter Netsch’s solo exhibition at Chicago’s Zolla/Lieberman Gallery in the mid-1980s. I’m pleased that this upcoming exhibit can be a new opportunity to interpret and illuminate Walter Netsch's vision for the UIC campus, but I’m also excited that people will get to see how beautiful these paintings are!
The collection includes works Walter Netsch created throughout his career beginning in the 1940s and continuing all the way through the late 1980s. Much of Walter Netsch’s architecture and artwork are representations of Field Theory, the architectural concept that UIC’s campus is based on. On display at Gallery 400 this month will be two pieces from a series he did in the 1960s called Platonic Squares, and two pieces from the series Les Personnages from the mid-1980s.
Walter Netsch, Untitled (Platonic Squares), 1964, watercolor, courtesy Campus Art Collection, University of Illinois at Chicago.
Field Theory was Walter Netsch’s signature style, which consists of rotating geometric shapes to create new complex compositions. Many of his elegant compositions, in bright transparent colors, resemble strains of DNA, contorted to sometimes look like figures while others resemble aerial views of his buildings.
When Walter Netsch retired from Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, he rented a house in Ménerbes, France for a few months and began the watercolor series Les Personnages. On some of the pieces in this series he wrote ‘Ménerbes’ near the signature and they are largely untitled except for the series name, date and signature. Dawn Clark Netsch had a special affection for this series, saying, the village of Menerbes “accounts for the French character of the collection of paintings.”3 The series, Les Personnages, can be, and has been, described as personifications of Field Theory.
The Church at the Corner, 1942, watercolor.
The Walter Netsch Art Collection represents Walter Netsch's aesthetic and demonstrates his affection for elegant geometric shapes, objects and architectural concepts. This collection shows Netsch’s fearlessness in embracing complexity and is an ideal springboard to engage students across the campus, and the public, to think about creative new ways of seeing the world, and encouraging visual literacy as they explore UIC’s unique built environment.