When the owners of an internationally renowned art gallery first walked into a raw, column-free warehouse with twenty-foot high, exposed, wood-truss ceilings and full-length roof monitor, they were convinced it had just the right spirit for the expansion of their contemporary art programs.
The new art space is located in an industrial corridor on Chicago’s west-side and is an extension of Richard Gray Gallery’s long-time downtown home on the 38th floor in 875 North Michigan Avenue (formerly the John Hancock Center). In contrast to their flagship gallery, the expansive warehouse provides uninterrupted volume, flexibility, and direct street access for loading and unloading works of art. As a bonus, there is a delightful surprise at the rear of the building, an exterior enclosed courtyard that offers an outdoor space for art and gathering. The owners knew these features would provide them with limitless options to show work of any scale without navigating a freight elevator.
Limited shell improvements included, most importantly, a new roofing system with rigid insulation topped by a highly reflective white roof. The existing roof monitor windows were repaired and sealed, roof trusses restored, reinforced, tensioned, and structural decking was replaced and structure sandblasted to expose the warm Douglas Fir.
The project restores symmetry to the brick façade with a new glass entrance portal that is flexible enough to accommodate strolling warehouse visitors as well as large delivery vehicles. A rolling shutter provides security and a thermally improved vestibule/envelope during off-hours. Motorized sun shades operate on both sides of the roof monitor windows for control of natural light and to mitigate both thermal gain and UV exposure.
Inside, the architecture is secondary to the art and an artist’s vision. A new modernist shell was respectfully inserted, and two large moveable walls transform the space into one, two, or three separate display areas. The existing concrete floor, cracked and sloping to drains, was primarily kept intact and cast over, with concrete demolition limited to areas required for accessibility and routing of new infrastructure services.
The warehouse has provided the Gray Gallery the opportunity to collaborate with and exhibit works by long-represented artists and the opportunity to forge relationships with new artists; from the inaugural exhibit Looking at the Present, of the American artist, Jim Dine’s most recent large-scale paintings to new work by artist Theaster Gates and the gallery’s first exhibit of the work by artist McArthur Binion.