Thursday, October 13, 2005

Guys in Suits Who Can't Paint

In doing research for the first exhibition in our new location (please don't ask when... soon ... soon ...but I can reveal it's an exhibiton of amazing new work by Alois Kronschläger and, yes, I am indeed "fucking psyched" about this show), we've been talking to a fair number of architects, both in academia and out in the "real" world, and through all these conversations has emerged one clearly well-known fact that I was mostly unware of: architects and artists are not necessarily in love with each other.

Many architects seem to feel they're intellectually superior to artists, epitomized by one who suggested that "artists ask the questions, and architects provide the answers." Whereas many artists talk about architects as if they were indolent domestics, epitomized by Katharina Fritsch who
famously asked in the essay accompanying her exhibiton at the German Pavilion of the 1995 Venice Biennale: "Where are the museums that match my work?"

OK, so I get the artist's POV here. If the available exhibition spaces require you to compromise your vision, it's got to be frustrating. But what explains the architect's POV? It can't be as simple as them believing the old adage that "architecture is the mother of all art," and that then justifies a domineering attitude toward artists, can it?

On the other hand, as suggested by the title of this post, "Guys in suits who can't paint," reportedly Frank Stella's definition of architects, at least some artists view architects as more grown-up than they are. But is that all it is? Adolescent resentment?

In the same article from which I pulled that Fritsch quote (from the Irish art magazine Circa, [actually the reprinted Introduction to an upcoming book on museums]), the writer, Gemma Tipton, notes:

It is unsurprising that there is often an uneasy element to the relationship between architect and artist, both engaged in the visual creation of an aesthetic, both subject to the compromises of site, materials, finance and patronage. [...]

Until now, these architectural and artistic debates have taken place in parallel, and yet they are contingent upon one another. Changes in architectural materials mirror changes in artistic media and scale. The creation and the realisation of the Guggenheim Bilbao would have been impossible without the development of computer-aided design programs (made originally for the construction of fighter planes); responding to the architecture, its vast spaces house commissions by Sol le Witt, Richard Serra, Jenny Holzer and Francesco Clemente. The Bilbao Guggenheim accommodates work on a scale that it would be impossible to show in all but a few museums worldwide. And it is this symbiosis which points to the potential held by the challenges both art and architecture offer each other: spaces and creations whose notional limitations are constantly called into question by the developments and interventions of one another. Called into question, proved false, razed and reset until the boundaries are broken again.

Architects have always played a key role in the development of this debate, both through writings and discussion of theory, and through their creation of spaces in which these discussions take place.
Suggesting, again, that indeed artists ask the questions and architects provide the answers.

So come on artists...what is it really? Is it that buildings in general (and museums in particular) represent just another part of the "establishment" you're responding to, and hence architects will never be able to stay one step ahead? Or is it that even should a building anticipate your needs, your process will always include a desire to find someway to break those boundaries, those pre-existing "answers to the questions"?

As I've noted before, I feel the grandest achievement of the new MoMA building is its underlying message: "anticipate the future." Does that, however, perpetually symbolize to some artists a tossing down of a gauntlet and provoke a "Don't fence me in!" attitude? And if that's what it boils down to, where does this cat-and-mouse game end? Or does it?

Feel free to jump in here at any point...


Anonymous josh said...

Let's be fair though-- museums are built to house art. If an architect were allowed to build a "dream" building with absolutely no limits put on the design, many artists probably wouldn't want to put their work in it. Would your work look good hung on a wildly curving electroluminescent color-changing glass wall?

Architects must be masters of diplomacy to get the final building to match even a fraction of their original vision. If artists had to work around a design-by-committee with final say over everything for every piece they created, they'd be mentally ill and squirming around on the floor in a matter of weeks.

My feeling is that a lot of artists are fascinated by architecture. I know I am. Of course artists will always try to break out of whatever they feel might be fencing them in-- there's always the cult of the new, and the cult of the 'novel.' But I think many artists would secretly like to try out architecture just to see what they come up with.

I don't think though that most artists believe they are also brilliant architects. Architects however often do seem to think they are great artists. And great graphic designers. If you ever want to see some really crappy graphic design, simply look at any signage or large scale use of words and typography done by architects...

10/14/2005 11:57:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Architects however often do seem to think they are great artists. And great graphic designers. If you ever want to see some really crappy graphic design, simply look at any signage or large scale use of words and typography done by architects...

So perhaps the resentment goes back the other way a bit?

On that subject, though, the NYT review of the Oscar Bleumner show, suggests he couldn't make it as an architect, but found more success as a painter.

10/14/2005 12:17:00 PM  
Anonymous jj said...

Great Topic

There was a time that architects, artists and scientists were completely interchangeable and I believe that is why the Bauhaus was so important, it re-combined the three disciplines for a short time. Gehry is doing some of that by being a sort of architect/sculptor as well.

The tug of war between artists and architects is one that occupies a lot of my time... for example many artists (like nature) abhor a vacuum, whereas many architects would rather see the rooms clear of stuff.

Architects taken as a whole are a very controlling lot, whereas most artists like to subvert such control. Right now I'm deinstalling a 10,000 sq foot warehouse show I curated and most of the artists seemed ecstatic to not be putting work in a big white box for a change: there are some pictures if you scroll down at

Actually, I think Ill do a little essay on this for .

After taking in so many new museums and watching so many new gallery spaces come into being in the last 12 months I think it is time.

10/14/2005 01:37:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Love that space JJ. Reminds me a bit of Triple Candie in Harlem

...and Patrick Rock's piece looks amazing.

10/14/2005 01:44:00 PM  
Anonymous jj said...

...yeah Rock's piece was a huge hit, you can enter it and bounce around. For opening night he had a red carpet and red velvet rope stanchions with smoke machines and strobe lights.

I really like Triple Candie's space.

10/14/2005 03:09:00 PM  
Anonymous jc said...

I agree with Josh. I have a great admiration for architects. I've been totally oblivious to the war going on between them and us (artists). Where have I been?

I guess I don't see architects as better than or lesser than. I just see their art as having many more limitations than ours--kind of like graphic design or illustration--there are lots of rules and compromises involved. Artists sometimes feel pressured to meet others' demands, but we're free to say "no." Artists can do whatever the hell we want; it may not lead to success, but at least we're free.

10/14/2005 05:12:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

All of this, jc, (your comment that artists are at least free, and jj's comment that architect's are controlling) points back to the idea that architects are grown-ups (in suits) and artists are big kids (doing whatever the hell they want), though, no?

I'm not saying there's anything wrong with that....

10/14/2005 05:16:00 PM  
Anonymous jj said...

Well, some artists really enjoy a good architect. Last night I was having drinks with one while we paged through one of those thick Architecture Now books. It was a birthday present I gave to her and her awareness of architects is a part of her studio work. Portland is kinda design crazy these days and the coffee shops are littered with Dwell magazine.

10/14/2005 05:47:00 PM  
Anonymous ML said...

I would just point out that the big muckymucks - at the Getty, Exxon, Halliburton, White House - certainly seem to do pretty much what they want to do, just like artists. No one describes them as big kids.

(Did you hear the NPR report that said really successful CEOs share psychological profiles with sociopaths?)

10/14/2005 08:21:00 PM  
Blogger Bill Gusky said...

This art vs. architecture conflict surged into stalemate decades ago. Back here in the cheap seats, it's a distraction. People being the way they are, I consider less-than-optimal packaging par for the course.

Re: new MOMA, their worst crime was luring me in with a show called "Contemporary Voices," which featured art from the 70s to the 90s. Now I ask you, people -- what year is this???

10/15/2005 06:22:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

For my part, there is little conflict between artist and architect. That said, painting and drawing are not utilitarian - at least not in the same way they once were - and I sometimes envy the architect the utilty of her work. There might be some resulting jealousy, but it is friendly enough.

I have no beef with architects...except for the bad ones.

10/16/2005 06:59:00 PM  

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