Thursday, January 19, 2006

What Can Architecture Tell Us About Art's Future?

Nicolai Ourossoff offers a thoughtful overview of the New Museum's journey toward its new home in the East end of SoHo in today's NYTimes. I know a number of folks who work at the New Museum, and although they've been somewhat anxious over the past year, you can feel their excitement building as they get ever closer to the move (currently they're operating out of a temporary location on 22nd Street in Chelsea). The new building (rendering at right) was designed by the Tokyo architectural firm Sanaa, and as the Nicolai notes:

[W]hile some of the design details are still being tweaked, it is now razor-clear that the building will do more to freshen the bond between Manhattan's art and architecture communities than any building since Marcel Breuer's Whitney Museum of American Art opened on Madison Avenue four decades ago.
In fact, Ourossoff's article focuses somewhat on how in order to thrive, art communities need architecture that helps drive it forward. I couldn't agree more and can't wait for the New Museum to inaugurate its new space. But what does it mean, really, for a building to drive contemporary culture forward? Nicolai does a nice job of describing how various innovations in the building reflect the mission of the museum, but I wonder if there's an concrete set of criteria by which to measure how architecture influences culture in this way. If one were to look at a series of building would some pattern emerge?

In thinking about how architecture drives the future this morning, I was delighted to see that C. C. Sullivan has offered a list of the top 12 buildings that emerged over the course of 2005 on (which has begun differentiating its banner ads as either "news" or "exhibitions" I was very pleased to notice):

If you haven't seen these works yet, now's the time to add them to your schedule. In their own ways, these works are defining what architecture will become tomorrow. Are you curious about our built future? Then have a look.
You can read C.C.'s comments at the link above, but here are the choices (and a few images):
1. Best Civic Building:
Scottish Parliament Building (Holyrood)
Edinburgh, Scotland
Enric Miralles (EMBT/RMJM)

2. Best Museums:
de Young Museum, San Francisco
and Walker Arts Center Expansion, Minneapolis
Architect: Herzog & de Meuron

3. Best Tower:
Agbar Tower
Architect: Jean Nouvel

4. Best Factory:
BMW Central Plant
Leipzig, Germany
Architect: Zaha Hadid

5. Best Government Offices:
Caltrans District 7 Headquarters
Los Anegeles
Architect: Thom Mayne / Morphosis

6. Best Expansion:
High Museum of Art
Architect: Renzo Piano

7. Best Multi-purpose Arts Building:
Shaw Center for the Arts
Baton Rouge, La.
Architect: Schwartz/Silver Architects

8. Best Memorial:
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe
Architect: Peter Eisenman

9. Best Housing:
Sanchinarro Mirador
Architect: MVRDV

10. Best House:
Art Collectors' Residence
Architect: Hariri Pontarini Architects

11. Best Hospital:
General Hospital of Ciudad Real
Ciudad Real, Spain
Architect: Ángel Fernández Alba

12. Best Convention Center:
Milan Trade Fair
Milan, Italy
Architect: Massimiliano Fuksas

OK, so it's a bit of a leap from looking at the architecture of the future (which will drive the culture of the future) to making predictions about the art of the future, I know...but, I don't see any immediate patterns (unless the struggle between organic and geometric [i.e, natural and man-made] will be a central theme...)...does anyone else want to take a stab?


Anonymous james leonard said...

A few random initial thoughts as I finish my coffee and procrastinate starting work for another 15:

* I'm suprised that 6 of the buildings mentioned in your post are (or will be) in the U.S. I was under the impression that we were falling grossly behind in terms of compelling architecture.

* Conspicuously absent from your post and this line of thought is the American McMansion landscape. Though future generations of artists will witness the occasional striking exception in larger cities, most will likely be born and raised amongst the sprawl.

* As far as your question: What can architecture tell us about art's future? From the sampling you've offered, I really really don't know. The populist McMansion vs. amazing building speaks as much to me about continued concentration of wealth in fewer hands and the further solidification of a class of capitalist nobles. That's certainly related to art by way of patronage. Like any other feudal system, that future will likely be determined by the gracious whims of the ruling class. (hmm... maybe I should hit the art blogs BEFORE I read the political blogs from now on...)

1/19/2006 10:08:00 AM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Edward,

This type of architecture excits the eyes for sure. But what's always missing for me is a soulful connection to community.

I'd like to see the Rural Studio ( be contracted to design a major museum in the South. It would be interesting to see what the spirit of Samuel "Sambo" Mockbee would inspire.


1/19/2006 10:17:00 AM  
Blogger Christopher said...

" communities need architecture that helps drive it forward"

I would argue that architecture needs art to drive it forward. I think specifically of the expansion in Bilbao for Serra's work, as well as the need for flexibility in new museum buildings to accomodate contemporary work.

1/19/2006 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

I think it's a bit of both Christopher. There's a symbiotic relationship there, which (offensive as it might seem as first) is perhaps best expressed in the adage architects like: "artists ask the questions; architects provide the answers." Without the answers though, artists can't progress to more meaningful questions.

1/19/2006 10:36:00 AM  
Anonymous George said...

"artists ask the questions; architects provide the answers."
Might have a poiint there, I think the relationship between Gehry and Serra occurred long before any museum, it was an artists friendship.

"Without the answers" (implied from the architects) "though, artists can't progress to more meaningful questions."
I don't think so. Art is art is art. It follows its own path, driven by the most intense conviction of the time.

1/19/2006 10:52:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Art is art is art. It follows its own path, driven by the most intense conviction of the time.

I don't know, George. I think there are involuntary transdisciplinary dialogs that artist could only avoid by living in total isolation.

1/19/2006 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear Christopher,

"I would argue that architecture needs art to drive it forward."

Frank Gehry once told me during a design meeting for a museum project in Biloxi something to this effect: "Painters are failed sculptors; sculptors are failed architects; commercial architects are failed gods; museum architects are God."

Dear James,

"* Conspicuously absent from your post and this line of thought is the American McMansion landscape. Though future generations of artists will witness the occasional striking exception in larger cities, most will likely be born and raised amongst the sprawl."

Man, is this is ever true.

I live in Northern Virginia. A friend of mine is a Fairfax County police officer who has to respond to residential security alarms going off from time to time (most often false alarms). He's also an artist and art collector.

When he arrives at the residence, he checks the perimeter and looks in a few windows. He's constantly amused by the fact that many of these gigantic super-size me mansions are quite frequently empty except for maybe a couch and a television. He's even seen some that just have plastic lawn furniture...inside. These are newer $750k (on the cheap end) and up houses he's talking about. I'm not really sure what the point of owning a McMansion is if you can't furnish it; afterall, you're probably going to be too embarrassed to invite your friends over for fear they'll laugh their asses off mocking your indoor lawn furniture from Wal-Mart. To each his own I guess!

Another thing to note is that my friend has yet to respond to a security alarm and find a McMansion filled with art...not even posters from Target.


1/19/2006 10:54:00 AM  
Blogger Mark said...

Refreshing post Edward. I am also surprised to see the US included, as I am inundated by mcmansions (UPS houses, ugly pieces of S-it), box stores, and design by board, AAhhhhh! It's invigorating to see that there is hope.
If the artist/arcitect relationship is made then yes, it would be wonderful. Too often art is an add on, as in 1% for art programs.

1/19/2006 10:57:00 AM  
Anonymous George said...

Ed, "I think there are involuntary transdisciplinary dialogs"
Yes, I agree with this idea. What I meant doesn't preclude this idea. Art or architecture evolves in a complex interactive relationship with the culture that is not necessarily linear and is driven by the intensity of the artists (architects) involved

Maybe I'm wrong but I feel that Serra's sculpture had as much an influence on Gehry's work as the other way around.

McMansions?? A non-event.

1/19/2006 11:21:00 AM  
Anonymous JvO said...

Donald Judd wrote in 1967: "A form that's neither geometric nor organic would be a great discovery."

1/19/2006 11:31:00 AM  
Blogger James W. Bailey said...

Dear George,

"Maybe I'm wrong but I feel that Serra's sculpture had as much an influence on Gehry's work as the other way around."

You may be right, but I can tell you from first hand conversations that Gehry vehemently denies (when pressed) that Serra informs or influences his (Gehry's) work. I asked Gehry this very question after reading the following interview concerning Bilbao -

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: How much was Frank Lloyd Wright in your mind?

FRANK GEHRY: I knew he would hate what I did. In fact, I wanted to have--

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Why would he hate it?

FRANK GEHRY: Well, because all of us hate each other's work in a way, and I would have been a young upstart, even though I'm an old man now. But I wanted to have a picture of Frank Lloyd Wright in the foyer sort of looking disgusted. Frank Lloyd Wright was only in my mind that Frank Lloyd Wright hated contemporary artists, didn't like--he liked Japanese prints and stuff like that. And he built a museum in New York without taking into account what kind of art would be in it. He saw it used for smaller drawings and paintings.

Of course, things have changed since then, so the--my work was a kind of a critique of him; that we needed galleries that could be used for what's going on now and hopefully in the future. The atrium idea was asked for by Tom Krens, who is the museum director you've heard from. And he asked me to make it bigger and better, so I carried on with this Fritz Lang image and made a--sort of an idealistic city in the atrium that's vertical. It doesn't have spiral--it's not spiral ramps, and so it's a different idea sculpturally.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Some people have said it's sculptural in itself, the museum, and they refer to you as a sculptor as much as you are an architect. Is that true?


ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Do you think of yourself as a sculptor?

FRANK GEHRY: Well, I think that when you draw those lines, they're not really relevant.

ELIZABETH FARNSWORTH: Although there aren't that many architects who are referred to as sculptors.

FRANK GEHRY: But architecture is a three-dimensional objection, therefore, by definition it's a sculpture. It's different. I could not be making sculpture like my friend Richard Serra. He spends all of his life messing around with two-inch thick steel of a certain dimension and it's a highly refined language that he's developed. My highly refined language has to do with buildings that are functional and have budgets and have people using them and relate to different kind of constraints. In the end, after you solve all the functional problems, there's a moment of truth, I call it, where you're like the artist. You're making decisions of scale and form and composition and color and texture and so on. But I think it's different. I've been invited to make sculptures, and I've fantasized it. I find it very different, so, no, I'm an architect, pure and simple.


1/19/2006 11:42:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Maybe I'm wrong but I feel that Serra's sculpture had as much an influence on Gehry's work as the other way around.

There's undoubtedly a two-way exchange, but having spent the better part of the summer reading and debating the relationship between artists and architects, I'm at a loss as how to better describe it than "artists ask the questions (which is why we talk about artists' work in term of what it is they're exploring); architects provide the answers." I don't know that Serra is answering any questions Gehry is asking, but it sure as hell looks as if Gehry has learned from Serra.

The problem is that the adage describes the direct dialog, but nothing really describes the transdisciplinary dialog very's sort of hard to pin down.

1/19/2006 11:47:00 AM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

"A form that's neither geometric nor organic would be a great discovery."

I think at a certain submolecular level, you could also argue that a form that's not both geometric and organic would be a great discovery, but...

1/19/2006 11:54:00 AM  
Anonymous james leonard said...

I think at a certain submolecular level, you could also argue that a form that's not both geometric and organic would be a great discovery, but...

Hmm... care to elaborate? That one has me scratching my whiskers...

More specifically what you mean by geometric and organic. (And if this is at all related to forms in art and architecture.)

1/19/2006 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous George said...

"I think at a certain submolecular level"
Ed, that's pretty good.
At a quantun level, it will have no form until you look, then it will be what you are looking for.
That's how you make art.

1/19/2006 12:05:00 PM  
Anonymous jj said...

...just a general puree-ing of form and use assumptions. We live in uncertain times and to use Koolhaas' phrase "when buildings attack" the effect activates our primal centers of the brain and heightens our attention level.

Although it opened before 2005, the Koolhaas Seattle Central Library is most likely the best example of this trend and the best new public building of the early 21st century. That said, the consarned thing isn't open with long enough hours.

I absolutely love to go there and write on my laptop. It's very inspiring... Seattle has a lot of less than sucessful stunt architecture by name architects but the OMA library is a great public building with some good art in it.

1/19/2006 12:26:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

In LA we have a very good example for comparison. The Chandler Pavilion (A venue for black bow-tie music) was built at he height of Arrogant Modernism. Across the street is Disney Hall, Gehry's funky masterpiece. The Chandler sits high above the street, isolated by godawful parking entrances and bizzare ramparts. Disney sits smack on the sidewalk.

This is a genius bit of social engineering by Gehry, and I have no doubt it has driven many discussions at the management level of the Phil.

Arts orgs talk endlessly about broadening audiences and breaking down traditional barriers to participation. Gehry took it literally and it has been a great success. Audiences have multiplied and the organization has become much more accessible and populist while at the same time advancing their repertoir to include the difficult music of the 20th century and the more easily digestible music being written today.

Gehry's choice to plop it on the sidewalk is a constant reminder of the audience and a constant reminder to the audience that the Phil is their group as much as it is the elite's. The energy level remains high and positive. It's a glorious place to hear music, too, though coughs and footfalls are frequently just as loud.

Your example pics don't show how these buildings relate to the street. While I admire Thom Mayne's Caltrans Headquarters (just a few blocks from Disney, First street is shaping up into an architectural showplace) the building is absolutely intimidating from the sidewalk and on two sides turns a blank wall to the street. The residents of the burgeoning Historic Core are a bit miffed to be so snubbed by the adjacent Civic Center.

Going long here, that's my take.

1/19/2006 01:16:00 PM  
Anonymous George said...

Tacking back to the original question, " making predictions about the art of the future... ...does anyone else want to take a stab?"

Curiously, the New Museum building might be a hint. To me it looks like an amalgam of the modernist box and aspects of the "quirky" in the postmodern. I think that postmodernism (as an ism) is fairly cooked, we have irony'ed everything flat, which means irony becomes deprecated as a tool for making distinctions. I suspect we may see some sort of synthesis between the modern and postmodern, an attempt to integrate the better ideas of both.

1/19/2006 02:49:00 PM  
Blogger Edward_ said...

Good call George. I'd say you're right.

Tim, you're right as well. I was thinking more in terms of design (plus, I got the best images I could in the time I had to do so), but separating the building from its context, in the context of my question, is dumb. Mea culpa.

Nice illustration with the Gehry placement.

1/19/2006 03:08:00 PM  
Blogger Tim said...

It is one of my pet peeves that buildings are designed and built based on models and pictures that highlight the long view and ignore the impact from the sidewalk.

It's not your fault, it is what architects do.

I looked at the pics again after I posted and relized many of them do show the context and public in place. Maybe things are changing.

1/19/2006 03:19:00 PM  
Anonymous ml said...

Interesting that US architecture is becoming more playful and accessible (at least from the sidewalk) as the country becomes more imperial.

1/19/2006 03:28:00 PM  
Blogger Hungry Hyaena said...

Excepting the McMansion - which is, as several folks have already pointed out, the defining architecture of the day; distressingly, one that will only continue to proliferate - it seems to me the more important - that is, ultimately more influential - architecture is physically smaller these days.

For example, coffe table books on private architectural projects abound on Amazon and in bookstores - and turn a tidy profit for publishers - and, more importantly, young architects are realizing their income will increasingly be tied to private citizens, many of whom are not abundantly wealthy. Institutions, public and private, will continue to spend money on thoughtful/innovative architecture, but the architects they handpick for the gigs tend to be the more established folks.

I think the first two comments - from James L. and James B. - can be married to one another; the most interesting architecture may be that which appears at the edge of the sprawl and is tied to local community, even if its practical purpose is that of a house.

Also, however, apartment buildings (in cities) that manage to be both efficient and innovative will garner more and more attention, likely being turned into practical templates to be reproduced.

How does all this relate to art? The age of mechanical reproduction is just now being fully appreciated and art and architecture will become smaller, more accessible and more about practicality or communication than display of wealth.

1/19/2006 03:32:00 PM  

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