In a typical week, New York City’s museums and commercial art galleries host dozens of exhibitions and installations focused exclusively on architecture and urbanism or influenced by concepts coming out of historic or contemporary design culture. The recently closed exhibitions Italian Futurism: 1909-1944: Reconstructing the Universe at the Guggenheim and the parallel show Fortunato Depero at the newly opened Center for Italian Modern Art in Soho are examples of exhibits not specifically about architecture but very much about architecture culture (and the architects involved in the movement) and its enormous influence on society, politics, and the history of formal experiments. In addition, the current exhibit at The Bronx Museum (through January 11, 2015), Beyond the Supersquare, explores the indelible influence of Latin American and Caribbean modernist architecture on the region’s contemporary art, but goes beyond simply showing architecture. The Bronx exhibit includes work by young photographers, video artists, sculptors, installation, artists, and drawings by architects, all based on architectural ideas and concepts. But the exhibit also takes a stand on the meaning of modern architecture in the region and hits hard at the connections between architecture and economic, political, and social issues confronting contemporary Latin America and the Caribbean today. It investigates historic issues of modernism in the region but also looks through multiple artists’ lenses at the dynamic and explosive growth of urban centers in the region.
Hauser & Wirth Gallery
These are only a few examples of architecture and urbanism in the city’s exhibition spaces that make New York an unparalleled site for the display of architectural culture and an important pedagogical opportunity for the architects of Gotham. The depth and breadth of architecture culture on display in any given week in New York City was on my mind this weekend as I visited the Hauser & Wirth gallery on West 18th Street to see the extraordinary architectural sculpture Tower by young Polish artist Monika Sosnowska. Sosnowska should be better known by the architectural community as she is creating a fascinating practice investigating the early modern movement—its promises and failures—to activate social transformation and democratic reform. In most of her work she focuses on Modernism in Poland, but with Tower she takes on American and, more specifically, Miesian modernism: what it promised and how it became an emblem not of democratic reform and social equality, but of corporate branding and upper middle class lifestyle.
Sosnowska’s Tower is a torqued and twisted 110-foot-long (The Hauser & Wirth space is spectacularly large) steel 1:1 replica of the steel frame of Mies’ iconic 1951 Lake Shore Drive apartments in Chicago. The elegant materials wrapping this building—steel and diaphanous glass—created, she argues, a “synthesis of aesthetics and technology” and as one of the most expensive constructions of its age a “vivid symbol of the imaginative forces driving American capitalism.” The manner in which she breaks, contorts, and twists Mies’ black steel frame and displays it as a reclining figure, subverting the steel grid, is a powerful if slightly bombastic reminder of the promises and reality of modernism when it confronted the power of American capitalism.
However, this is not meant to be a review of an architecturally inspired installation, but to remind us about the rich resources that surround us in New York City. It’s a resource of potentially unparalleled architectural bounty if only we make the effort to visit these various museums, galleries, and, occasionally, outdoor public spaces. Now if we could only get back a dedicated architecture bookstore the design culture of the city would be nearly complete.