In ‘Par Excellence Redeux’, mini-golf becomes art again at the Elmhurst Art Museum


Elmhurst artist Donna Piacenza had mixed feelings in July when she visited the opening of the Elmhurst art museum exhibition “Par Excellence Redeux”.

“I was very excited about it and had a lot of fun with my kids,” Piacenza said. “But I immediately felt upset that I hadn’t submitted a design for it.”

“Par Excellence Redeux” is inspired by an emblematic exhibition of the School of the Art Institute of Chicago imagined in 1988 by the late sculptor Michael O’Brien. At the time, it generated a lot of publicity after bringing together a variety of artists to create concept pieces in the form of an interactive 18-hole miniature golf course.

Curator Christopher Jobson wanted to revive the idea of ​​the Elmhurst Art Museum, so he obtained permission from some of the original creators to make “Par Excellence Redeux” for 2020. The new exhibit pays homage to his predecessor with the both an archival exhibit and a Chicago artist. Annalee Koehn recreating her 1988 fortune telling artwork “Determine Your Fate” to accompany 17 new works by other artists.

But due to COVID-19, the Elmhurst Art Museum had to delay the exhibition. Then the museum opted to halve its 18-hole exhibit due to social distancing issues. So, “The Front 9” ran from July to September, while “The Back 9” is shown from October 13 to January 2.

“A lot of these pieces have been left or half finished in these artists’ studios for a year and a half,” Jobson said. “The artists couldn’t wait for this to finally happen.”

Two weeks after the opening of “The Front 9”, Piacenza was surprised to be contacted by Jobson. An artist from “The Back 9” had retired, so Jobson needed a replacement as soon as possible.

Jobson also already knew Piacenza from his product designs for home furnishings retailer CB2. And Piacenza’s status as a hometown artist was also a plus.

“Donna stepped in at the last minute,” Jobson said, adding that she “does a magnificent job helping to ensure we have a full show.”

Piacenza discovered that his creation would be the ninth hole. She designed “The Hole 9 Yards” to feature nine stallion-sized pieces as obstacles.

The durability of the design was also an important factor.

Piacenza didn’t want her project to harm the environment, so she designed a work of art almost entirely in cedar wood. Once the exhibit is over, she plans to grind “The Hole 9 Yards” into wood chips for the community gardens of Elmhurst.

“I feel good about the design concept but also about the future of the material,” said Piacenza. “Cedar is one of the best materials for flower beds because it repels insects and lasts a long time.”

As for Jobson, he found that an important design quality became supreme after hundreds of hands-on visitors came through “Par Excellence Redeux”.

“Durability is the most important word and quality in a miniature golf hole,” Jobson said with a laugh.

With the end of a pandemic on the horizon, bringing a mini-golf exhibit to the Elmhurst Art Museum has proven to be a lark for guests and contributing artists.

“It seemed like perfect timing,” Piacenza said. “It was the right kind of project to work on now – something to have fun with.”


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