In the foreground sits a rectangular floor sculpture made of pigment that is lit in a gradient from yellow to purple. The rest of the gallery lies in the background.
Landscape of Perception, from Luftwerk's "Exact Dutch Yellow" exhibition at the Chicago Cultural Center, 2022. Credit: John Faier

Stepping into “Exact Dutch Yellow” is like finding a cool spot of shade on a scorching hot day. The light in the darkened fourth-floor galleries mainly comes from the work itself, LED- and neon-lit installations that seem to play tricks before our eyes. 

The exhibition plumbs the history of color classification, a subject that seems tailor-made for Luftwerk, the Chicago-based artistic duo of Petra Bachmaier and Sean Gallero. Luftwerk, which references the immateriality of light and air and the materiality of artwork, have staged similar architectural interventions across the world, from the Chicago Botanical Garden and the Farnsworth House, to sites in Barcelona and Zimbabwe. The show’s title refers to a shade renamed by Charles Darwin, perhaps one of history’s best-known classifiers, on his infamous trip through South America.

Installation view, Luftwerk’s “Exact Dutch Yellow” at the Chicago Cultural Center, 2022
Credit: John Faier

On view are LED-lit canvases which slowly shift in tone based on changing lights, like living color field paintings. Two wall-hung sculptures vacillate between light and dark, in an LED illusion reminiscent of Anish Kapoor’s work. Yet it is the final gallery that steals the show. The wall-sized The Sky at the Time Was Berlin Blue recreates a 1789 tool called a cyanometer, used for measuring the blueness of the sky. Opposite is a neon piece that spells out “Dusky,” a word repeatedly used to describe colors by an American taxonomist in the early twentieth century. Standing between the two is like watching night fall; they function as a sort of sunrise alarm antithesis, serving to calm instead of awaken. 

“Exact Dutch Yellow”
Through 1/29: open daily 10 AM-5 PM, Chicago Cultural Center, 78 E. Washington,, free