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

Elmhurst artist Donna Piacenza had mixed feelings this July when she visited the opening of the Elmhurst Art Museum exhibit “Par Excellence Redux.”

“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 Redux” is inspired by an iconic School of the Art Institute of Chicago exhibit that was dreamed up in 1988 by the late sculptor Michael O’Brien. Back then, he generated loads of publicity after he gathered a variety of artists to create conceptual pieces as an interactive 18-hole miniature golf course.

Curator Christopher Jobson wanted to revive the idea for the Elmhurst Art Museum, so he got permission from some of the original creators to do “Par Excellence Redux” for 2020. The new exhibit pays homage to its predecessor with both an archival display and Chicago artist Annalee Koehn re-creating her 1988 “Determine Your Fate” fortunetelling art piece to go along with 17 new works by other artists.

But due to COVID-19, the Elmhurst Art Museum had to delay the exhibit. Then the museum opted to halve its 18-hole exhibit due to social distancing concerns. So, “The Front 9″ ran from July to September, while “The Back 9″ is displayed from Oct. 13 to Jan. 2.

“A lot of these pieces had been sitting finished or half-finished in these artists’ studios for one and a half years,” Jobson said. “The artists couldn’t wait for this to happen finally.”

Two weeks after “The Front 9″ opened, Piacenza was surprised to be contacted by Jobson. An artist for “The Back 9″ had backed out, so Jobson needed a replacement as soon as possible.

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

“Donna swept in at the last minute,” said Jobson, adding that she “is doing a magnificent job helping to make sure we have a full show.”

Piacenza found out that her creation would be the ninth hole. She devised “Hole 9 Yards” to feature nine yardstick-sized pieces as obstacles.

Design sustainability also was an important factor.

Piacenza didn’t want her project to harm the environment, so she devised a nearly all-cedar wood art piece. Once the exhibit is over, she plans to repurpose “Hole 9 Yards” to create community garden beds in Elmhurst.

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

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

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