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Tag Archives: Ludwig Mies Van Der Rohe

Parrish Art Museum Explores Architecture’s Relationship With Photography

TWA Terminal at Idlewild (now JFK) Airport, Eero Saarinen, New York, NY, a 1962 chromogenic print by Ezra Stoller. Photography courtesy of Yossi Milo Gallery, New York, and the Estate of Ezra Stoller/Esto.

Garry Winogrand, the renowned photographer of American life, once observed: “Photography is not about the thing photographed. It is about how that thing looks photographed.” Winogrand was expressing a view that could be ascribed to many architectural photographers, who are, at least in some cases, less interested in recording how buildings look than in producing images of how they could, or should, look. In so doing, they sometimes join forces with architects, who wish to disseminate idealized images of their work, and with publications that waver between wanting to present reality and wanting to offer visual delight.

Hiroshi Sugimoto’s 2001 gelatin silver print Rockefeller Center. Photography courtesy of Hiroshi Sugimoto, Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and Marian Goodman Gallery, New York.

The gap between documentation and manipulation is a central theme of “Image Building: How Photography Transforms Architecture,” an exhibition at the Parrish Art Museum—itself, the occupant of a much-photographed Herzog & de Meuron structure—in Southampton, New York, through June 17. It includes images that make no claims at realism—some by current art world darlings such as Thomas Ruff, who has said that other photographers “believe to have captured reality and I believe to have created a picture.” Therese Lichtenstein, the show’s curator, notes in her catalog essay that Jacques Herzog and Pierre de Meuron once commissioned Ruff to photograph their buildings to see, she says, “what they would look like as art.”

Iwan Baan’s 2011 chromogenic print, Torre David #1. Photography courtesy of Iwan Baan and Moskowitz Bayse, L.A.

Prominent among the photographs that make no attempt at “accurate” representation are works by Hiroshi Sugimoto, who renders famous buildings in blurry black and white. In a 2001 image, for example, he strives to see how far he can distort 30 Rockefeller Plaza without sacrificing its recognizability, a process he describes as “erosion-testing architecture for durability.”

Thomas Ruff’s w.h.s. 10, a 2001 chromogenic print. Photography courtesy of Thomas Ruff, the Collection of George Yabu and Glenn Pushelberg, and David Zwirner Gallery, New York/London/Hong Kong.

For Sugimoto’s images to work, the subject buildings must already be iconic—a status they acquired largely through the efforts of his camera-wielding predecessors. The narrow-shouldered 30 Rock, for instance, was made instantly recognizable in the 1930’s by Samuel H. Gottscho. But even Gottscho, it turned out, was a manipulator who shot 30 Rock first with enough light to get the skyscraper’s outlines sharp, and again by night, to capture the glow from its windows, then combined the results in the darkroom.

The 1956 gelatin silver print Chuey House (Los Angeles, Calif.) by Julius Shulman. Photography courtesy of the Julius Shulman Photography Archive, the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 2004.R.10, and the J. Paul Getty Trust.

“Documentary” photographers who didn’t resort to such extreme efforts still took pains to shoot modernist buildings in ways that made them look glamorous. As Interior Design Hall of Fame member Julius Shulman once stated: “Every architect I’ve ever worked for has become world-famous, because of the publicity they get.” Shulman himself is famous for shooting the Case Study Houses, the mid-century Southern California experiments in residential design, sponsored, tellingly, by a magazine.

New York City views, RCA Building floodlighted, 1933, a gelatin silver print of Rockefeller Center by Samuel H. Gottscho. Photography courtesy of the Gottscho-Schleisner Collection, the Estate of Samuel H. Gottscho, and the Museum of the City of New York/Gift of Samuel H. Gottscho/Gottscho-Schleisner, 88.1.2.2267.

Shulman’s postwar contemporary Balthazar Korab photographed tightly cropped sections of buildings, creating abstractions from the architecture of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and other masters. Today, Korab’s closest counterpart may be Hélène Binet, whose work zeroes in on forms and textures, sometimes making it a challenge to determine what exactly is being depicted. (Luisa Lambri and Judith Turner, neither of whom is in the Parrish show, explore similar effects.)

Baan’s Torre David #2 chromogenic print. Photography courtesy of Iwan Baan and Moskowitz Bayse, L.A.

One divergent strain in American architectural photography has been the dystopian vision. A case in point: Lewis Baltz’s 1970’s images of the tract houses in the West, which make the buildings seem, in Lichtenstein’s words, “outmoded even before their completion.” While photographs like these populate art journals, they are less likely to turn up on the pages of architecture or design magazines, where they may be seen as downers.

Tract House #6, a 1971 gelatin silver print by Lewis Baltz. Photography courtesy of George Eastman Museum, Rochester, NY, the Estate of Lewis Baltz and Gallery Luisotti, Santa Monica.

Architectural photographers must decide whether to include people in their images. Contemporary German conceptualist Candida Höfer believes photographing buildings with no one in them reveals a lot about human nature, just as an absent guest is often the subject of conversation at a party. The young Dutch photographer Iwan Baan tends to include people in his shots, but not always the people the architect or the client would have chosen. He gained prominence last decade documenting the construction of the CCTV headquarters in Beijing by the Office for Metropolitan Architecture with his images that placed migrant workers and their makeshift living quarters in the foreground.

Thomas Struth’s chromogenic print Pergamon Museum I, Berlin, 2001. Photography courtesy of Thomas Struth Studio, and the Dallas Museum of Art, Contemporary Art Fund: Gift of Arlene and John Dayton, Mr. and Mrs. Vernon E. Faulconer, Mr. and Mrs. Bryant M. Hanley, Jr., Marguerite and Robert K. Hoffman, Cindy and Howard Rachofsky, Deedie and Rusty Rose, Gayle and Paul Stoffel, and Three Anonymous Donors, 2002.46.

For a century, photographers of architecture and interiors have been a mainstay of print media, including general interest publications. Gottscho’s work appeared regularly in Town & Country as well as the more specialized House & Garden, while Ezra Stoller published in Look, Harper’s Bazaar, and Playboy, along with the expected architecture journals. Design magazines play a hybrid role, not only entertaining but also educating readers, and thus tend to stay on the “representational” end of the spectrum (with “misrepresentation,” for art or profit, at the other end).

TWA Flight Center in JFK International Airport (Queens, New York), Balthazar Korab’s 1964 gelatin silver print. Photography courtesy of Korab Image and Christian Korab, Minnesota.

But, as a show like “Image Building” makes clear, there is no such thing as pure representation of buildings in photographs. The qualities of great interiors, especially, must be experienced first-hand. As Baltz said in a 1993 interview, “Architecture, real architecture, always defies reduction into two-dimensional representation. If not, it’s hardly architecture at all.”

See more from the April issue of Interior Design

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Measure for Measure

land-rover-vogue

Edward Steichen photographed Marion Morehouse (Mrs. E. E. Cummings) wearing a lamé dress by Lucien Lelong that epitomized the slender flapper column of the 1920s.

Edward Steichen

The anatomy of the human body and the laws of mathematics are ever entwined in the fragile harmonies of proportion. Our sense of proportion begins with the structure of the body, an idea that dates back to the writings of Vitruvius himself, the eminent architect of the Roman era in the 1st century BC. His conclusion has long survived the principles of logic and the measure of time, evidenced by Vitruvian Man, the drawing made by Leonardo da Vinci in the 15th century, a definitive symbol of proportion in which the extended arms and legs of the male figure find their furthest reach at the edges of the closed circumference of a circle and the mathematical perfection of the square. Symmetry. Geometry. Equilibrium. Of course, Vitruvian Man doubles as the Christ figure stretched upon a cross, a religious icon of everlasting art historical consequence. Christ—the anatomy of man in God’s image—and the cross—the structural geometric intersection—align in precise aesthetic and spiritual equipoise.

Proportion determines the logic of design for any object, whether a dress, a lamp, or an automobile. Good proportion results from a marriage of line, length, width, weight, balance, and shape. Add volume. And material. And a reductionist’s precision. When all of these elements come together in a form that seems inevitable, then the object’s proportion is the final measure of its beauty. The long, slender stalk of the calla lily, say, supports the graceful rounded line of the flower, its delicate petals unfolding in an ineffable flourish. Organic. Geometric. Poetic. Here is a beautifully proportioned gift of nature.

land-rover-vogue

This lavish floor-length gown by Christian Dior is an ode to 1940s glamour in Erwin Blumenfeld’s reductionist composition, which might have drawn inspiration from Kandinsky.

Erwin Blumenfeld

 

Proportion can be gauged in the juxtaposition of one object to another—perhaps a couch is too large in the context of other pieces of furniture in a room; at the same time, without realizing it, we rely on proportion to evaluate everyday objects in a rational world: If a building is too tall for its footprint, how will it endure the laws of gravity? If the seat of a chair is too low to the ground, how comfortable do we expect it to be? If a coat is too large for the woman who wears it, how reliable is her judgment?

Two masters of proportion, reduction, and distillation in the 20th century were the towering architects Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Corbu, as he was known, advanced the Vitruvian idea of the human body as a foundation for architectural design in his universal system of proportion called the Modulor, which relied on the measurements of the human figure to improve the appearance and function of his buildings. Mies, on the other hand, relied on the mathematical elegance of the “golden ratio”—“the width is to the length as the length is to the sum of the width and length”—to create, among other buildings, the Farnsworth House, a masterpiece of proportion and logic.

land-rover-vogue

Horst P. Horst accentuated the more casual geometry of Christian Dior in his photograph of Suzy Parker wearing a pleated skirt which fans out in a sexy riff on the hourglass figure of yore.

Horst P. Horst

The correct proportion of the human body has been susceptible to attitudes and customs over the course of history. In the Baroque era, for example, fleshy, voluptuous women were in fashion and the clothing of the period accommodated a broader profile. The contours of women’s fashions changed considerably, when, in the 19th century, the hourglass figure became all the rage. And that would give way to a much sleeker and more geometric silhouette in the early 20th century. Edward Steichen, the renowned Vogue photographer, posed Marion Morehouse (Mrs. E. E. Cummings), his favorite model, in a lamé dress by Lucien Lelong that epitomized the slender flapper column of the 1920s. Not only are the contours of her body so gracefully draped and breezily suggested, Steichen also captured the impeccable proportion of the dress in her stance, poise, and attitude. The pearls, shoes, chair, and cigarette compose a portrait of high style and consummate chic.

In 1940s couture, the New Look rearranged the silhouette, adding geometry to the figure in counterpoint to the natural curves of the body. The brilliant reductionism in Erwin Blumenfeld’s photograph of a model in a lavish floor-length Dior gown is an ode to proportion: The triangular skirt, the model’s angled elbow, the semicircular fan in echo of her hair evoke a composition of proportional balance that might have drawn inspiration from Kandinsky.

land-rover-vogue

Francesco Scavullo photographed Nan Kempner, New York’s idea of the perfect hostess, showing off her evening armor in a simple black column topped with a metallic Yves Saint Laurent bolero coat.

Francesco Scavullo

Horst further accentuated the geometry of Dior in his photograph of Suzy Parker leaning against a studio backdrop, her pleated skirt fanning out in a sexy riff on the hourglass figure of yore.

Just as in fashion the sinewy hourglass figure was streamlined to the taut silhouette of the flapper column, in transportation the majesty of the horse gave way to the mechanized horseless buggy, and, eventually, to the grandeur of fine engineering. The Duesenberg Cord, for example, struck an impeccable proportion with its monumental profile and commanding stance that came to represent the highest ambitions of the industrial age.

Bill Cunningham, the late photographer and arbiter of style, once said that “fashion is the armor with which to survive the realities of everyday life.” Scavullo photographed Nan Kempner, New York’s idea of the perfect hostess, showing off her armor in a simple black column topped with a metallic Yves Saint Laurent bolero coat. Here is a portrait of exemplary proportion struck in the contrast of light and dark, organic and geometric, line, length, width, weight, balance, and shape—a calla lily by any other name.

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See the Masterful Furniture Designs of Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe

Architects design furniture for lots of reasons—some practical, some artistic, some financial. A pair of shows at the Friedman Benda Gallery in Chelsea puts those motives in the spotlight. Mark McDonald, who has been buying and selling important 20th-century design for more than 40 years, has filled the gallery’s glass-fronted main space with a greatest hits collection by Frank Lloyd Wright, Marcel Breuer, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, and other masters. In the basement “project space,” independent curator Juan Garcia Mosqueda is showcasing new furniture by nine emerging architecture practices.

 

An installation view of “Inside the Walls: Architects Design” at Friedman Benda in New York.

Photo: Dan Kukla / Courtesy of Friedman Benda

The furniture in the upstairs show, called “Inside the Walls: Architects Design”, was in most cases created by architects for specific projects—houses, restaurants, and hotels—with functionality a key concern. By contrast, the pieces by the young architects were made, generally, the way art is made, as one-offs or in small editions, with collectors in mind. Not surprisingly, the pieces in the downstairs show, slyly called “No-Thing”, tend to be conceptual. Says Mosqueda, “The architects in my show welcome and champion uncertainty, a de facto reaction against the 20th-century masters upstairs.”

 

Ettore Sottsass [Italian, 1917-2007]; Cabinet no. 8, 1994.

Photo: Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Ettore Sottsass

The key figure in the transition from furniture as furniture to furniture as an exploration of ideas may be Ettore Sottsass, the Italian designer represented in the upstairs show by Cabinet No. 8 (1994), which curator Mark McDonald rightly says “is a lot more innovative than its name.” Indeed, its “shelves” slope just enough to be unusable as shelves. According to Metropolitan Museum of Art curator Christian Larsen, who mounted the Met’s Sottsass show last summer, “Sottsass might very well be the hinge from the idea of coordination between building and interior, toward the autonomous, stand-alone quality of today’s conceptually driven furniture.”

 

Andy and Dave; Where is this? (Bench), 2018.

Photo: Courtesy of Friedman Benda and Andy and Dave

Among those conceptually driven pieces, some are also highly functional. That group includes a circular settee by the Brooklyn firm SO-IL, made of chain links slung across a stainless-steel frame; it is surprisingly comfortable. (SO-IL has been exploring uses of chain at least since it designed a gallery in Seoul covered in that material.) And a dining table by the architects Hilary Sample and Michael Meredith, of the firm MOS, looks eminently usable despite its conceptual roots: Meredith and Sample conceived it as a blow-up of the kind of roughly detailed tables that appear, thumbnail-sized, in architectural models. (“We hope it’s conceptual and practical,” Meredith wrote in an email. “Whenever we make furniture the first thing we think about is, Would we live with it?”) Other pieces are closer to the “art” end of the spectrum. Among them are a bench by the Brooklyn creators Andy and Dave, with pleather cushions in shapes derived from the elements of a Louise Nevelson sculpture; it has the title Where is this? Daybeds by the Belgium-based architecten de vylder vinck taillieuresemble stacks of building materials, seemingly waiting to be assembled.

 

A quartet of outdoor lanterns designed by Frank Lloyd Wright for the Francis W. Little House in Wayzata, Minnesota.

Photo: Dan Kukla / Courtesy of Friedman Benda

But if the pieces in Mosqueda’s show were designed to be sold, the ones in the upstairs gallery were, in most cases, never meant to come to market. Among the oldest items in McDonald’s show is a quartet of outdoor lanterns designed by Wright for the Francis W. Little House in Wayzata, Minnesota. Completed around 1922, that house was demolished in 1972. (Its living room is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.) The show also includes a sconce from the Darwin Martin house in Buffalo (1905), which is in the midst of a decades-long renovation. According to Mary Roberts, executive director of the Martin House Restoration Corporation, the sconce was probably lost during the 17 years (1937 to 1954) the house was abandoned. She writes in an email: “Unfortunately we have already paid to replicate the fixture in question, but having the original is always preferred. We make no claim to ownership, but it’s something we would like back, if at all possible.”

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