The Calligraphic City

The Calligraphic City

Anthony Candido's Study for a Cable City (2009).

When I first encountered the work of the architect and painter Anthony Candido, it was moving—or rather, the dancers whose costumes he had splashed with black paint were moving across the floor in a work choreographed by Nancy Meehan. The irregular black strokes and drips seemed to both follow and impel the dancer’s movement, melding abstract thought and nature through gesture. Candido’s current exhibition, The Great White Whale Is Black at Cooper Union in New York, more than fulfills the promise of the costume designs, for it offers a rich body of work spanning five decades of an extraordinary career.

Section Through a Cable City Structure (2009).

Included in the show, on view at the school’s Arthur A. Houghton Jr. Gallery, are Candido’s visionary cable cities. Executed in a manner that implies a quick thought—yet reflecting years of study and experience—the style recalls that of the New York school in its rapid execution, simultaneously implying a kind of personal handwriting, aerial plan, and rendering in an abstract yet universal language. Consistent with these works are the large-scale brush stroke paintings: linear, calligraphic ramblings across tall vertical panels that progressively fill the surface with near-absolute darkness. Exhibited for the first time in the U.S. are the Asahikawa Heads—again, a series of tall, thin panels covered with lines that coagulate into enormous heads seemingly stuck to the surface.

Interestingly, the elusive sense of scale inherent in such abstractions is countered in the exquisite little sketches, which show a single seated or perambulating figure in the artist’s more overtly architectural drawings. The larger double images are motivated by what Candido describes as a “duality in man’s mind of nature and the abstract,” a duality that materializes as a divided canvas or page. Here figure and calligraphic mark are relegated to separate zones, and yet clearly inhabit the same surface, disintegrating any real barrier between nature and the abstract.

Study for a Cable City (2009).

Enhancing the show is a series of designs for urban farms by students in a course that Candido taught at Cooper Union, where he is on the faculty of the Irwin S. Chanin School of Architecture. In the concept for this student project, one detects Candido’s training in city planning under Ludwig Hilberseimer. Despite the enormous production of drawings and paintings, Candido has also had an important career as a designer. He made the first design for the longitudinal elevation of Konrad Wachsmann’s Air Force hangar, developed in the early 1950s, and was an architectural designer for I.M. Pei from 1954 to 1957. Noteworthy from that period was his design for a single-support, 180-foot diameter steel-and-glass structure at Roosevelt Field on Long Island. He also made a major contribution to the design of the U.S. Pavilion for Expo ’70 by Davis and Brody Architects.

This show represents a fearless departure from exhibitions of traditional, often impersonal architectural renderings, and a bold venture into a way of uniting personal notions of representation to suggest large, abstract concepts. Ultimately, it charts the way the mind creates form and the individual understands the world.