"Unplugged Architecture," Jan. 8-Feb. 7, 2004, curated by Max Henry at Frederieke Taylor Gallery, 535 West 22nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10011
"Unplugged Architecture," a new show of works by a dozen artists and architects organized by the enterprising critic and curator Max Henry, is less interesting for its thesis -- something about hi-fi vs. lo-fi and a new "poetics" of postmodernism -- than as a showcase for some interesting artworks that have a variety of relationships to "architecture."
One of several practicing architects in the show is Raimund Abraham, the 70-something Austrian iconoclast whose ingenious slim-jim skyscraper for the Austrian Cultural Center opened on West 54th Street last year [see "Artnet News," Feb. 6, 2002]. In "Unplugged" are drawings, a model and eye-catching computer renderings of his new Ocean and Earth Cultural Center, a sports facility currently under construction in Beijing.
Abraham's massive, bunker-like building -- it's one gym that discourages voyeurism from the man-on-the-street -- does Brutalism one better by seeming to devolve into a cliff of primordial rock. As it turns out, the building is clad with an undulating curtain wall of metal grating.
This is serious stuff -- real architecture. Real in a different way is the color photograph by the Cuban artist and architect Carlos Garaicoa of a crumbling Havana building kept erect by a complicated bulwark of wooden beams and braces. Displayed as a color transparency in a light box complete with plug, the work -- from the artist's 2002 "Cuban Garden Series" -- is an iconic visual metaphor for Castro's dilapidated island utopia.
Utopia is brought to mind as well by Wall House Sketch (1977), a color drawing by the theoretical architect John Hejduk, who died in 2000 at age 71. An aerial view of the layout of a beach house, the drawing clearly takes its inspiration from Kandinsky's spiritual abstractions. Today, it feels a bit like a serene, mid-20th-century science fiction.
The show includes as well a colorful model of Hejduk's North East South West House (1974-78), an axially symmetrical dwelling with each quarter of the structure painted a different color. This design proposes that different times of life be assigned to different cardinal directions. Hejduk, the dean of architecture at Cooper Union since 1975, was given a posthumous retrospective at the Whitney Museum in 2002.
The severe geometries of International Style architecture are like catnip for postmodernist artists. In 1998, Mary Ellen Carroll made a series of restrained, formalist photographs from Mies van der Rohe's Farnsworth House. The C-print here shows a view of the surrounding woods split right down the middle with a window column, like a Barnett Newman architectural zip.
The Chicago artist Walter Andersons, whose work was recently seen in New York at Ten in One Gallery, makes exacting acrylic-on-canvas paintings that carefully reproduce in black and white Xeroxes of pages from art magazines -- a rendering of a Le Corbusier superstructure, a Louise Lawler photo of paintings in a museum gallery, a photo of a Donald Judd stack sculpture. What's more, the painted image is artfully placed in the center of the canvas with all the esthetic deliberation of high abstraction. This monkish practice is somehow more esthetically demented than even its original models.
Similarly, the sculptor Wade Guyton takes from textbooks pictures of chalet architecture, with its geometry of exposed beams, and runs them through a computer printer, overlaying them with a Mondrianesque grid of bold black lines. In a "First Take" article in Artforum a year ago, the critic (and now editor of the magazine) Tim Griffin related these works to slasher flicks Guyton watched as a kid in Knoxville.
The drawings indulge in a bit of graphic bondage as well, with their dramatic contrasts between the pictorial and the abstract, the modern and the historic. And they recall the work of Reiner Ruthenbeck, who first showed in New York at Rene Block Gallery in the 1970s, where he exhibited a series of black metal bands that stretched across windows and pictures alike. He thought it would be fun to block our view.
Others in the show are Winka Dubbeldam, Marjetica Potrc, Hans Accola, Asymptote, Glen Seator and Thomas Zummer.
The Garaicoa lightbox is $7,000, Carroll's photo is $4,500 in an edition of three, Abraham's computer prints are priced at $2,500 in editions of 10, Anderson's paintings are $2,400-$2,600, and Guyton's "printer drawings" are $950 framed. Hejduk's works are not for sale.
WALTER ROBINSON is editor of Artnet Magazine.
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