Destruction or piecemeal sale seemed the ultimate fate of Chicago’s hologram museum, until the announcement on June 7 that its entire holdings were acquired by Chicago Holography Museum Rescue Mission through an anonymous benefactor.
“It took us a year of crazy negotiations, but we finally closed the deal,” Moshe Tamssot, who founded emerging technology group Monks of Invention and led the acquisition, explained to Hyperallergic. Back in December, a pop-up HoloRescue exhibition with a few artifacts from the shuttered museum got the notice of a benefactor who pledged to both keep the collection intact and on public display in Chicago.
Back in 1974, Loren and Robert Billings started the Museum of Holography, Loren having developed a passion through a holography class at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. How the small museum that for over three decades delighted visitors with its laser-lit, three-dimensional images got in such peril is a sad story of mismanagement and bad bank loans. Ling Ma eloquently profiled an elderly Loren Billings in a moving 2009 piece for the Chicago Reader, chronicling how, after her husband’s death in 1998, her health and happiness declined, and in 2002 she took out a $1 million loan that swindlers convinced her would go towards the development of a holographic movie system. She lost the money, and the museum.
The museum’s building in Chicago’s West Loop changed hands, and the holograms and hologram machines remained in the basement. An August visit by Tamssot revealed a cluttered mess of machines and holograms, left to dust.
“The museum is in shambles,” Tamssot explained. “The contents were crammed into a dank basement without any care. We’re now seeking volunteers to help in any way they can. We’ve never saved a museum before.”
Everything needs to be catalogued, and many historic art pieces preserved. There’s also the question of a future home and fundraising, especially as the building is undergoing renovation into a bed and breakfast.
“We’d love to fire up a HoloLab, using the technology we’ve recovered,” Tamssot stated. “There are more lasers in the building than on the Death Star. And a lot of proprietary technology developed by the original holographers. They are an old and dying lot now. We’d like to bring them back to help with the effort.”
Holography is still an obscure art and feels retrotech with its lasers and trippy-colored faces that emerge like future ghosts, and maybe this is partly why their museums can almost disappear without notice. The Center for Holographic Arts in New York has faced its own troubles, losing its Long Island City Clock Tower home, and back in 1992 the Museum of Holography in Soho closed due to shortages in funding. Tamssot is still hoping to make contact with Loren Billings, who is in her 90s, and above all wants the resurrection of the museum to be a tribute to her.
“For me, it’s primarily about giving the Loren Billings story a happier ending,” Tamssot said.” Here was a female artist and technologist who, in the ’70s, amassed the world’s largest collection of holograms, and whose lab developed leading edge holographic technologies. She was a force of nature.”
Information on how to get involved in the Chicago Museum of Holography Rescue Mission is online.