Madlener House
4 West Burton Place
Chicago, Illinois 60610
Telephone: 312.787.4071


Barbara Stauffacher Solomon
FEB 25, 2022 - FEB 25, 2023

Featuring site-specific supergraphics by San Francisco-based Barbara Stauffacher Solomon for the Graham Foundation’s Madlener House, Exits Exist takes its title from the first chapter of Solomon’s experimental autobiography Why? Why Not? where she begins the story of her life with her move to Switzerland to study design with Armin Hoffman at the Basel School of Design in the 1950s. There, as the only American in the rigorous program at the time, she began her nearly 70-year exploration of letterforms. Armed with the rules of Swiss graphic design, Solomon went on to break them as she combined her training as a dancer and painter, with her study of architecture to establish her own oeuvre. From her work on 8 ½ x 11 inch sheets of paper, to the pioneering supergraphics at The Sea Ranch in the 1960s, Solomon shifts in scale from the page to the wall—to make, as she says, the invisible visible.

Across the Madlener House galleries, the bold, hard-edged abstracted letters of black and vermillion supergraphics painted on the walls proclaim, “EXITS EXIST.” Solomon manipulates the bare white expanse of the walls for her composition to transform the 1902 interiors of the Prairie style mansion. On the first floor, Solomon’s typographic experiments also extend beyond the wall, in a series of three-dimensional sculptural objects. On the second floor, the words break apart and the letterforms inhabit the vertical and horizontal planes of the rooms and serve as a backdrop for another exhibition. Throughout, the supergraphics create an immersive environment.

Solomon’s penchant for wordplay and graphic invention is on full display, including in the artist’s books on view in the bookshop, such as Utopia Myopia, with the subtitle: 36 Plays on a Page, Typography & Pornography, Lines & Lies & Clues to Use, Nonsense Invents Events, A Kind of Novel Novel. The works on paper—as collected in the artists books—fill space with complex grids and collage in “an infinite collection of infinite collages.”

The monumental site-specific supergraphics commission is now on view through February 25, 2023. Exits Exist—realized as a part of Barbara Stauffacher Solomon’s Graham Foundation Fellowship—was originally shown February 22–July 9, 2022 at the Madlener House. The Fellowship program provides support for the development and production of original and challenging works and the opportunity to present these projects in an exhibition at the Graham’s galleries in Chicago. It honors the legacy of the Foundation’s first awards, made in 1957, and continues the tradition of support to individuals to explore innovative perspectives on spatial practices in design culture. The presentation also reengages with research that Solomon received support for in 1993, when she was first awarded a grant from the Graham Foundation for her work.

California native Barbara Stauffacher Solomon (b. 1928) began her career as a dancer, before studying painting and sculpture at the San Francisco Art Institute. She studied graphic design at the Basel School of Design in Switzerland and later established her own graphic design firm in San Francisco—creating the groundbreaking supergraphics and graphic identity for The Sea Ranch. Solomon returned to school in the 1980s to study architecture at the University of California, Berkeley. Her books include Green Architecture and the Agrarian Garden (Rizzoli, 1988); Good Mourning California (Rizzoli, 1992); Utopia Myopia (Fun Fog Press, 2012); Why? Why Not? (Fun Fog Press, 2013); Read Any Good Boots Lately (Owl Cave Books, 2018); Making the Invisible Visible (Owl Cave Books, 2019); Ditto (Colpa, 2021); and WE&ME (Colpa, 2022). She has exhibited her work widely and is in the permanent collections such as the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Walker Art Center. Solomon is a fellow of the American Academy in Rome.

Exits Exist grew out of Solomon’s Relax Into the Invisible, originated by LAXART in Los Angeles and curated by Catherine Taft and Hamza Walker in 2019. At the Graham Foundation, the exhibition is organized by Sarah Herda, director; and realized with Ava Barrett, program and communications manager; and Alexandra Lee Small, senior advisor; and features new supergraphics by Barbara Stauffacher Solomon, installed with Nellie King Solomon, and painted by Andrew McClellan and Kelsey Dalton of Heart & Bone Signs. Gratitude for the work and support of Chris Grunder; Amavong Panya of NFA Space; and the Graham Foundation staff: Carolyn Kelly, Ron Konow, Tomi Laja, and James Pike.