Entries Tagged 'ARCHITECTURE' ↓
June 18th, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, EXHIBITIONS, TECHNOLOGY, DESIGN
OK so it’s just the ghostly reflection of this wonderful silver inkstand. During the first decades of the 20th century, silver was relatively much more valuable. So it evoked a different quality than it does now. As you see in this piece, made by Josef Hoffmann, for Moriz Gallia, in Vienna in 1911. Gallia was one of the patrons of the Wiener Werkstatte. He must have stared in wonder at this object every time he picked up his pen. Just as we do now.
You can see this and many other silver treasures on display at the remarkable exhibition Vienna Art & Design which opens today at the National Gallery of Victoria. It’s one of those exhibitions where there’s too much for just one visit. Your background reading by Tim Bonyhady is here, and here (the book)…
June 11th, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, AVERT YOUR EYES!
Don’t you love it when town planners go all poetic? Get this. Your iconophile lives on the fringe of Dickson, one of the larger shopping centers in suburban Canberra. Dickson Shops has a funkily downbeat, unpresumptuous, country town feel to it, thanks to having been designed by a Mr Rafferty, and therefore following no apparent rules or principles. It nicely merges Chinatown with Boganville. But not for much longer. The ACT Government has just approved a new Master Plan, which follows Planning and Design Principles to create a “progressive and safe hub”, among other extraordinary oxymora. One of the key Design Principles is identified as “Views and Vistas”, wherein we the citizenry are informed that: Views and vistas along recognisable routes promote legibility, ease of movement and a sense of connection. Defining vistas into and out of the centre will reinforce the ‘sense of place’ and the role the centre plays as a meeting place for the community. Aligning buildings along routes facilitates safety and reinforces the vista. Applying the principle, we are told that: The proposed precinct code will require that development/redevelopment along the view lines shown in the diagram below are setback and oriented so that views are not obstructed.
Let’s explore these Views and Vistas. The lesser vista to the West brings you to this view of the rear of the Telstra building. Not to be missed.
And what was it like along the way? Pure Heritage.
But the pièce de résistance is the Vista to the South, where your gaze is directed to the back fence of Daramalan College, just across the stormwater drain.
How about that? Or did we miss something along the way?
The Tradies! Of course! At this point on one of the Plan diagrams there’s a notation, a reminder to “improve connection to the drain.” But could it get any better than this?
Apparently such vistas of “fine grained shopping precincts” are to be preserved. “Most blocks have been developed with smaller shops creating the fine grained built form and scale that is typical of the retail core.” Except that there’s a roadway being planned to divide the Tradies Club and Motel in two, and there is provision for six story buildings where we now enjoy the “fine grain” of the Caltex servo, Premier Instruments, Canberra Auto Parts, Bells Drycleaning, Foxy’s Fast Foto, Asian Groceries, Curves, El Dorado’s Steakhouse, Michelle’s Hair and Beauty, Dom’s Barber Shop, The Cheesecake Shop, and Keir’s Radiators, just to the right of this photograph. Now preserving the authenticity of this fine graininess will present quite a challenge for future town planners and heritage buffs.
June 10th, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, READING, LOOKING, LEAKING, MOPPING UP
Music vs Art: Here’s a petition which lobbies the local Minister nicely annotated by Breakfastpolitics…
June 3rd, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, EXHIBITIONS
Steven Shearer is Canada’s entrant at the Venice Biennale: and here’s the blurb… Rot-munching architects proceed with caution. Want more? Punish yourself: there’s still more. And yet more – altho the relation between outside and inside (Heavy Metal and Fin de Siecle) is thinning…
May 28th, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, PUBLIC ARTEFACTS
Everything in a museum has a story to tell. Forgive me this post, but readers of Iconophilia will remember my anguish at the way the National Gallery of Australia has used “blue metal” – called “Nimmitabel Blue“, which is crushed basalt from a quarry on the Monaro high plain – to simultaneously de-sanctify Australia’s Guernica, The Aboriginal Memorial at the same time as it is used to ice-proof its new box gutters? In this regard, the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart is nowhere as radically functionalist or pragmatic. I’m not exaggerating. Read the Ron’s own account.
There’s no semiotic confusion in this gutter for the roof of the MONA Library, at the rear of the Roy Grounds Round House. It’s a gutter. While there’s plenty of challenging framing devices inside the museum, the blue metal knows its place. Outside in the gutter.
And even gutters are elegant at MONA. Here’s where the water goes when it rains, creating a waterfall-effect. Nice detailing. Only one stone out of place (unlike the NGA).
May 14th, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, EXHIBITIONS
Seems that way to me. If the experience of the Museum of Old and New Art in Hobart irreversibly changes the way you think about the potential of the art-architecture experience, the old guard had better look out! If MONA has established a new paradigm for museum practice in Australia, then how will all the other orthodox public and private museums respond? Mount a rearguard critique? Ignore it? Keep doing what we do? I think not.
In the few months since its opening, MONA has been seen by 163,000 people, and there have been more than 100 reviews internationally. (Some of the best are linked at the bottom of this post). Sure, the MONA effect is individualistic, some say quirky, but certainly a challenging conjunction of architecture and art. Some say, a tad dismissively, it’s a twenty-first century wunderkammer. And if you are really threatened, professionally, you can argue that it’s not really a museum, but rather an egoseum, a private collection made accessible to a curious public, with none of the constraints and obligations attendant on public collections. Its owner, David Walsh, makes the principle of unpredictability his only standard, where any given event or manifestation is just one of “the multiplicity of things that could have happened”.
And yet, if Walsh and his architect, Nonda Katsalidis, have succeeded in making you think about art and its architectural setting in different terms, has it not also altered the standard by which you engage with works of art when you’re in all those other places? In future posts I want to think about such questions. In the meantime, let me show you why it took us an hour to get to the first work of art…
Your iconophile was traveling with Marr Grounds and his daughter Marina Ely, together with Pam McGrath (these photographs), plus Rebel Films‘ David Batty and Jeni McMahon, who are working on a biographical film of Grounds. It was Marr’s father Roy Grounds who designed the two original 1950s modernist houses on Moorilla Estate for Claudio Alcorso (the Courtyard House) and his parents (the Round House).
When you arrive from Hobart on the MONA ferry (which is a kind of mobile coffee shop) you wonder at the red ochre Cor-ten steel windowless forms which enclose the cliff face at the end of the peninsula. As you arrive at the jetty, you are presented with a long narrow staircase which takes you up to the original level of the Alcorso villa. The staircase is your first experience of the excavation of the site, and the sandstone becomes the key motif of the underground spaces which you discover when you eventually enter the galleries below your feet. But first, as you pass the steel and zinc structures, between the sandstone and concrete walls, and the first plantings, you are being prepared for the material qualities that you will experience throughout the building. It feels very good.
When you reach the top of the stairs you realise you’re in for a lot of visual gymnastics. The spaces of the building often appear like a sparring match between an owner-builder and his architect(s). The ground plane of the original Grounds building is linked to the meandering concrete spaces of the gallery roof to the south via a synthetic tennis court. It was Walsh who was the advocate of this icon of suburban popular culture, which faces off the architect’s rejoinder, a stainless steel mirror which frames the Museum’s entrance. In one direction you are attracted to the view of the world outside, framed by the architect’s elegant transparent steel battlements and the modernist villas, while in the other direction the illusionistic mirror draws you in. Continue reading →
April 30th, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, ARTISTS, PUBLIC ARTEFACTS
The essence of abstract expressionism was defined by the dynamic gesture. But I’m sure nobody ever expected to experience it as a dynamic viewer. Speeding through a gallery is one thing, but seeing art from the corner of one’s eye, while zipping along at 60 kph, is an altogether different conception of dynamism. However this is how most people experience one of the best examples of public art in Canberra.
In the rush to decorate our public spaces, drive-by art is one of the cliches of town planners’ and politicians’ needs to render the modern freeway less dehumanising than it already is. Most often such drive-by art is infuriating. It’s like being shot at, with aesthetic intent. You have to duck, and sometimes this can be a hazard. Very occasionally, however, such art is properly hazardous because you should hit the brakes, throw the car into reverse, and back up for another look. The Margo Lewers mural Expansion on Northbourne Avenue is one such work.
This work, first installed in 1960, and now fresh from recent restoration, has been the subject of a recent exhibition at the ANU School of Art, curated by Tanya Crothers and Darani Lewers. The catalogue for this exhibition (Expansion) explores the processes of its creation, its restoration and its art historical context in essays by Peter Pinson, together with Tanya Crothers and conservator Gillian Mitchell.
In this archival photograph we catch the installation in progress. The mural was Lewers’ largest work, later judged by her then assistant (and later her gallerist) Frank Watters as “one of her finest”. Measuring 12.3 meters by 2.3 meters, its proportion matches that of the building it adorns. Just six stories high, The Rex Hotel was Canberra’s horizontal skyscraper. Together with its contemporary, Roy Grounds’ Shine Dome, Alexander Kann’s Rex was the epitome of architectural modernity in Canberra in the 1960s.
Peter Pinson writes: “Expansion… was a painter’s mosaic mural rather than a ceramist’s mosaic mural. Abstract expressionism sought to imply that the making of an artwork has entailed urgency and existential struggle. A technique that appeared too accomplished or too polished was associated with glibness and “style”. For abstract expresionists generally, the apparent vigour of the execution and the potency of the imagery were paramount, and so they were for Margo Lewers in Expansion“.
Recognising the character of her medium, where “sharp biting edges of the cut tiles lent her mosaic composition an abrasiveness” Peter Pinson also acknowledges that the overall design, with spatial clues and architectonic elements, is strongly aligned to its landscape format. This is in keeping with most of what passed as “abstract expressionism” in the 1950s and 60s in Australia. Abrasive, perhaps, but as you see from the detail above, it is the quite specific pictorial effects that derive from the painstaking placement of the thousands of geometric shards of ceramic tile – which both activates the surface and enhances the spatial illusionism of the artist’s dynamic gestures and palette decisions – that makes this work uniquely significant.
What keeps me looking at this work with (a certain nostalgic) admiration is the way it reconciles its painting style (expressive, gestural, tending towards abstraction, in keeping with her contemporaneous painting practice) with its materials – the fragments of ceramic tiles, the leftovers of a hundred bathrooms. The material is surprisingly effective, and even more so when you realise that the process of its production involved tiling over Lewers’ full scale painted cartoon. The surprise, fifty years later, is that the process retained the expressive intent of the original with such a high degree of stylistic fidelity.
April 16th, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, EXHIBITIONS, PUBLIC ARTEFACTS, READING, LOOKING, LEAKING, MOPPING UP
April 16th, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, AVERT YOUR EYES!, DÉCOR, PUBLIC ARTEFACTS
If the concept of the Readymade conditions our understanding of the aesthetic challenges posed by the mundane world of commodities within a seemingly infinite cosmos of artefacts, both artistic and otherwise, then surely there is no other art object that so fundamentally challenges our orientation towards every other work of art than the Fountain. No other object presents the viewer with such profound psycho-social and evaluative/critical ambiguities as those initiated by its original manifestation ninety four years ago. In every subsequent manifestation, both in the museumspeak of gallery directors, and in the vernacular, a Fountain is a “destination work”.
Chastened by recent debates on this site, your iconophile has thrown convention to the wind, and in the construction of his latest domestic installation he has adopted uncritically many of the design criteria espoused by his erstwhile friend Ron Radford (to whom we are indebted for the odd turn of phrase). When it comes to a work such as this, nothing is more important than the blend of architectural form and the harmonious experience of function. Everything must express its proper relation to each other, in its evocation of its historical and contemporary cultural antecedents and environments.
And so in the midst of this post-phenomenological moment, whilesoever the body-to-body paradigm remains the conventional mode of address for the artist-beholder, so it remains the primary consideration for our critical engagement with an art object such as this. These are matters on such a high aesthetic plane that the search for meaning in social or cultural practice allows no room here for distraction, no space for disciplines other than the purely aesthetic and art historical. Whenever a replica or an analogue of The Fountain is installed, every consideration of matters of natural and cultural significance should be weighed and measured. If precedents exist, they must be properly acknowledged.
Prominence is a critical aspect of the placement of such an object, and thus this Fountain has been given a prime position just inside the door, so that it may be displayed to its full advantage as a distinctive and beautiful installation away from other things. The idea is that visitors will encounter and experience the work with a complex sense of the interior/exterior spatial relationship, in circumstances enhanced by natural light and the circulation of air to maintain its unique environmental considerations with respect to the rest of the building. Sensitive to both light and humidity, it took a great deal of consideration to get all the elements correct. The overall aesthetic consideration was to reduce the introduction of alien materials in its display so that The Fountain remains the central point of attention. The final materials surrounding the Fountain are those already embodied in the object and its surroundings, all handled with dignified simplicity.
The process of installation and design engineering set out to create a harmonious context for this great work. The vitrified china (a kind of protoporcelain) body of the Fountain itself is reflected in the ceramic tiles on the walls, which being specially imported from the historic Stoke-on-Trent potteries, reflect the complexity and contradictions of our postcolonial heritage. The stones that make the floor (tumbled grey granite sourced from Byron Bay) are part of the earth and are an ideal material for the space as they serve several purposes. They prevent humidity moving vertically downward, and they hide the unsightly infrastructure below. The stones also fulfilled our requirement for a material and colour that blended with the external surroundings of the building, which are a part of the original palette of the house, and other works within the immediate environment. We have consciously used such materials in the new space to help link the old with the new.
A substantial amount of work has gone into ensuring natural daylight would be the predominant illumination for the Fountain. Blinds on the windows come down if the light levels are too high. Artificial light can be manually adjusted to ensure a correct balance throughout the day. We have gone to a great deal of trouble and expense to achieve this lighting for this great work.
Contrary to conventional curatorial practice, during the early planning stages of his project your iconophile was assisted by an historian and anthropologist, in consultation with plumbers, electricians, tilers and others to ensure that this important work was displayed respectfully and beautifully. Visitors to the installation have unanimously agreed the new Fountain has been displayed with more dignity and more beautifully than ever before.
P.S. (which is an appropriately euphonic acronym, in this instance). As if to prove a point, (de faire un point, ostensiblement, as the ghost of MD reminds us) on this past March 24th this other Fountain appeared in Grange Park, Toronto, just next to the Ontario College of Art and Design. For one night only, alas…
April 15th, 2011 — ARCHITECTURE, READING, LOOKING, LEAKING, MOPPING UP, TECHNOLOGY, DESIGN
That’s Jonathan Jones, at The Guardian, who wants to defend the London skyline against the “shard”, a Qatar-financed Renzo Piano. Without mentioning the architect by name. How very…