ELMHURST, Ill. (WBBM NEWSRADIO) -- Have you ever imagined playing mini golf inside of a museum? Well, believe it, because it's now possible in the western suburbs and a HOLE lot of fun!
The Elmhurst Art Museum commissioned an 18-hole mini golf course of playable works of art by local and national artists, designers, and architects. It will be split into two exhibits: The Front 9, which runs from July 7 through Sept. 16 and The Back 9, which will run from Oct. 13 – Jan. 2, 2022.
The idea came about as a way to reimagine the 1988 exhibition Par Excellence at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
"I heard about a mini golf course designed by artists that happened in Chicago from a friend and colleague at the Art Institute of Chicago several years ago; and I kept that in mind. And asked him when I saw him a couple years later...told me more about it, they [he and his wife] shared photos. It was definitely something where he lit up with excitement when he talked about it. And just had so much enthusiasm," said Elmhurst Art Museum Executive Director John McKinnon.
"Turns out, the full story, which I ended up getting then was that there was a sculptor and artist, Michael O'Brien, that had pitched that idea to a couple different galleries, a couple different places. The School of the Art Institute of Chicago ended up hosting it, and they got a lot of friends, a lot of colleagues to create golf holes, themed in different ways, but put an open call out for the remainder.
"It just seemed like this really infectious sort of thing and it turned out to be quite popular for them. They had lines around the block. They had People magazine, New York Times, a bunch of different places kind of coming down and checking out what they were doing," McKinnon said.
Following its time at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the Par Excellence course traveled to Springfield to Illinois State Museum; and when it returned, McKinnon said, Michael O'Brien set it up as a business - art golf, and ran it for just under four years at 1800 North Clybourn, where Goose Island Brewhouse is today.
"It seemed like such an amazing story. I talked to Christopher Jobson, who is the curator of the show, and just said 'wouldn't it be really great to kind of see where this goes? Maybe it's an interesting thing for Elmhurst, so we took some of the original organizers out for dinner and they shared lots of stories, and they just got so enthusiastic, especially hearing from them recalling what had happened in 1988; we kind of just asked their permission. Would it be okay to recreate this, take the spirit of this? And they gave us full permission to move forward and use the name and recall it in some way," McKinnon said.
From there, the museum put out an open call for proposals for artists, designers, and architects to design holes of varying difficulty. Among those chosen to participate was the museum’s Teen Art Council, as well as, Julie Cowan, Benjamin Good, Neil Good & John Serafin; Current Projects; Andrea Jablonski & Stolatis Fab LLC; Annalee Koehn; Latent Design; Jesse Meredith; Gautam Rao; and Robin Schwartzman & Tom Loftus (aka A Couple of Putts).
And then, Par Excellence Redux was born.
McKinnon said each artist did not have set directions. The museum told the artists "we'll accept any theme, any idea, and some artists, designers, and architects took it many different directions."
From social justice to the occult, the course includes a surprisingly varied collection of themes and forms, including a fortune-telling hole and one that challenges players with an optical illusion.
Two holes McKinnon highlighted were Hole #1, “Cross-Section Castle” by design duo Robin Schwartzman and Tom Loftus, who according to McKinnon, designed 30 different golf courses; and Hole #2 “Participation Trophy” by Jesse Meredith, which has 18 holes.
"So some are playing with the rules, while coming up with some different themes. There's one that is about social justice and the gentrification of where Cabrini Green used to be. So some serious, some silly, some playful, even with perspective," McKinnon said.
In addition to the mini golf exhibit, the Elmhurst Art Museum features a display at the end highlighting what the original Par Excellence was like in Chicago. The Elmhurst Art Museum also reused some of the material from Par Excellence, including an entire hole from 1988, designed by Annalee Koehn.
"Her hole is a really great way to end this Front 9, because it tells a fortune. It is not a difficult hole to put, but it is sort of like Plinko, in that your ball can end up in multiple different places, and then wherever your ball lands is a slot, which tells your fortune," McKinnon said. "So you don't need a fortune cookie, you don't need a tarot card reading, you can just play mini golf. It's incredible."
Back 9 artists will be announced in July 2021, and will run from Oct. 13 to Jan. 2, 2022.
"Because of COVID, we originally had 18 holes ready and it would have been busy, but more jam packed in the galleries, so we are glad that we did nine and nine, to provide more space and provide a variety of different things, including stretching out the show," McKinnon said.
"The holes of the Back 9 were intentionally chosen to be later, because we had no idea what was coming out way with COVID, and so more holes in the Back 9 have kind of hands-on elements. There's one that's a giant pinball machine, but with a golf theme and golf balls and golf clubs and things of that nature. There are some others with a motor and moving parts," McKinnon added.
Additionally, when the Back 9 debuts, the museum will offer more group events, including family days and special late nights, and other special events. There will also be a fundraiser.
With both the Front 9 and Back 9, the museum allows guests to rent out the entire course for parties and other occasions. Added bonus: there is a such thing as the 19th hole at Pints, which is has a special offer to guests of Par Excellence Redux.
"Tee time" reservations for both the Front 9 and Back 9 are now open and can be made online at elmhurstartmuseum.org/golf. Golf prices are $10 for Adults (ages 16+), $8 for Seniors, $5 for Children (ages 5-15), and free for children under 5.
The Elmhurst Art Museum, located at 150 S. Cottage Hill Ave., is open Wednesday and Thursday from noon to 5 p.m., Friday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and every second Friday of the month from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
Front 9, on display throughout the Elmhurst Art Museum’s main galleries through Sept. 16, includes:
Hole #1, “Cross-Section Castle” by A Couple of Putts design duo Robin Schwartzman and Tom Loftus (Minneapolis, Minnesota), features an alternative take on a mini-golf castle by providing players a glimpse at the ball’s journey through ramps and around custom-made figures inside.
Hole #2, “Participation Trophy” by Jesse Meredith (Chicago, Illinois), features numerous golf holes on a rounded turf, providing multiple routes for a winning shot.
Hole #3, “Straight Shot,” created by design collective Current Projects (Milwaukee, Wisconsin) sends players through a small room constructed to skew perspective and create an optical illusion of greater depth.
Hole #4, “Razzle Dazzle” by Andrea Jablonski & Stolatis Inc. (Chicago, Illinois) utilizes ramps, a loop, and intersecting geometric shapes to provide fun and difficulty through contrasting camouflage patterns.
Hole #5, “Greens of Cabrini,” by Julie Cowan (Evanston, Illinois) allows the player to putt through time, starting with the aspiration opening of The Cabrini Green Homes, through the rise of the Old Town Square retail development.
Hole #6, “Just Desserts” by Latent Design (Chicago, Illinois) is a spiraling colorful cone that a golfer must use to bridge from the heights of the putting green and the lows of the hole.
Hole #7, “Chairy Who?” by Gautum Rao (Indianapolis, Indiana) features obstacles of iconic mid-Century furniture in homage to the Museum’s McCormick House.
Hole #8, by Elmhurst Art Museum's Teen Art Council, a putter-free hole, sends golf balls through maze-like tubes with their own set of rules.
Hole #9, “Determine Your Fate” by Annalee Koehn (Chicago, Illinois) is equal parts skills-challenge, game of chance and fortune cookie.