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. [...]Suggesting, again, that indeed artists ask the questions and architects provide the answers.
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.
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...