Battling Order

Battling Order

Eric Owen Moss’s If Not Now, When?
All photos Tom Bonner

Eric Owen Moss: If Not Now, When?
SCI-Arc Gallery
960 East 3rd Street, Los Angeles
Through September 13

Eric Owen Moss’ installation If Not Now, When? takes the form of an aluminum box with orbiting rings, built as one of Moss’ investigations into modernism’s strict architectural grid. Simultaneously reactionary and forward-thinking, it is the culmination of his ongoing battle with the order of simple geometry.

Hovering near the ceiling and surrounded by empty seating in a gallery at the Southern California Institute of Architecture (SCI-Arc), the object addresses proportion and scale just as much as it confronts a grid. Resting closer to one side of the room, a long steel beam pierces the top of the object, making it appear to float about eight feet overhead without touching any walls. I dared myself to walk underneath it. There seemed to be an imaginary weight to the air around it, pushing me farther away to observe it.

The object is a box, but not a perfect square. Clad with aluminum panels, each face is inscribed with scrolling, map-like drawings of intersecting circles. These two-dimensional plans show how and where the aluminum fabricated rings intersect with the box-like object. Interestingly, this gesture gives the object a larger, intangible field of presence in the space, adding to the dimension of the object without clear boundaries.

The entry to the Moss exhibit.

The central girder acts as a boundary line for the width of the object, making it almost half the width of the room. The dimensions of the object, proportional to the space, bring to mind Mies van der Rohe’s use of the golden mean for the framed windows that wrap Crown Hall at IIT in Chicago. Here, instead of Crown Hall’s two-dimensional division of material, it appears as a three-dimensional relationship to the room’s size. This creates a sense of its charged omnipresence and the desire to look at it, then to look away, while acknowledging that it elegantly fills the space.

The room is lined with chairs, positioned in rows, facing the object, and then retreating around its invisible footprint. This accentuates the idea of a center very literally. But the unrecoverable intrusion of the chairs dilutes the true impact of how this object fills the space. The phrase “less is more” rings in my head. Yet what Moss does exceptionally well with his installation, and with his architecture in general, is push a new dialogue on spatial qualities.

He has continuously played with altering perspectives, as can be seen in “Slash/Backslash,” his building in Culver City, completed in 1999. Pushing our vocabulary of visual relationships, the curtain wall of that project at street level is a tilted plane with mock mullions angled at various degrees of horizontality. This dramatization alters the typical two-point perspective. It is a spatial affect that disorients normal perceptions, transforming expectations and possibly causing a twilight zone feeling.

Looking up at the "box."

In the installation’s description, Moss refers to his 1998 exhibit Dancing Bleachers at the Wexner Center for the Arts in Ohio as an early attempt to explore and disprove the logic of the grid. There, he attempted to establish a central point using a grid of curves. He extruded the exterior walkway, which is defined by the logic of the street grid, into his intentionally bowed columns.

At the SCI-Arc gallery, Moss’ object returns to the Wexner project and mimics the minimal geometry of that location. The surprise is the piercing curve, breaking that order, and its rather interesting ability to add to the gravitational pull already found in its scale to the room. The curvatures facilitate an exchange of axis, rethinking the concepts of a linear dimensionality.

While intended to re-examine the orthodoxy of the urban and architectural grid, this striking installation doesn’t inherently spur any dialogue. It instead draws the conversation to the work’s skilled exercise in spatial manipulation. It is an installation indicative of Moss’ pursuits within the past decade to form a structure that harvests a centripetal force in a city known for the lack of one. Here he may have found an answer: proportion, scale, and a logical element that breaks the rigidity of strict dimensional properties. It gives a glimpse of what might be accomplished in architecture, with or without the grid.