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ArchiSculpture

October 28, 2005 – February 19, 2006

Since its birth in the late 19th century, modern sculpture has absorbed key influences from architecture, while contemporary architecture has developed in such sculptural terms that some of the trends look like built versions of modern sculpture. ArchiSculpture examines many aspects of the close, reciprocal relationship between architecture and sculpture. The exhibition is based on a selection of some 180 works of art, models and photographs by the most influential artists and architects contributing to this dialogue between two disciplines.

Not quite sure what an archisculpture is? Just take a look around you! You are now standing in one of the world’s greatest archisculptures. For anyone coming to Bilbao, the extraordinary Guggenheim Museum Bilbao building will probably resemble a huge sculpture by Hans Arp or Vladimir Tatlin that landed like some UFO right in the center of the city. However, American architect Frank Gehry’s super-sculpture is not just a monument or a sign, it is penetrable, meaning you can go inside and walk around it. It houses a three-story museum, so it’s also functional architecture. Progress in construction techniques largely brought about by the use of digital technology in project conception and the development of new materials means that architects can now give their buildings the most unusual shapes, ranging from the deconstructivist Guggenheim Museum Bilbao to Norman Foster’s cucumber-like Swiss-Re headquarters in London. More and more buildings look like largescale versions of sculptures by Jacques Lipchitz, Henry Moore, and even Eduardo Chillida, and the remarkable creativity displayed by architects today in shaping their objects gives rise to the suspicion that contemporary architecture in general is continuing the history of sculpture through its buildings. The current boom in sculptural architecture can easily make us forget that there have been plenty of archisculptures in the past; the present phenomenon is actually part of a long tradition in which architecture and sculpture have fed off each other to their mutual benefit. The elementary visual achievement of the Egyptian pyramids is stunning in its geometrical exuberance, and the Gothic style combined sculpture and architecture in a unique organic fusion.

Originally organized in the winter of 2004–05 by the Fondation Beyeler in Basel and, after Bilbao, scheduled in 2006 for display at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg in Germany, ArchiSculpture is the first exhibition to deal with its subject matter as fully and deeply as it requires, ranging from the 18th century to the present day, from Etienne-Louis Boullée's design for a cenotaph to Newton (1784) to Gehry's Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. The exhibition includes 180 sculptures, paintings, and models by some 60 artists and 50 architects from all over the world. Spanish architects represented include Juan Navarro Baldeweg, with his "Wang Wei" project in Benidorm, and the studio of Luis Moreno Mansilla and Emilio Tuñón, with a model of the auditorium in León. What is original and challenging about this exhibition is that it directly confronts original sculptures by outstanding sculptors with models of buildings constructed all over the world, presented here as small sculptures, thereby facilitating a straight comparison of visual ideas in both disciplines. A choice selection of works by the great sculptor Eduardo Chillida is exhibited next to models by international architects like Steven Holl and Herzog & de Meuron, showing how important the paradigmatic function of modern sculpture is to modern-day computer-generated spatial concepts.

The exhibition is organized in chapters:

Early History
Starting with the Gizeh pyramid, a Greek temple, and Antonio Gaudí’s neo-Gothic cathedral, visitors can experience how modern sculpture, which began to emerge around 1900, received key impulses from the history of architecture, an influence that until now had passed largely unnoticed; for instance, Aristide Maillol’s tectonic figures are influenced by Classicism, and Rodin and Russian Constructivism by Gothic.

Neoclassicism: from the 18th to the 20th Century
Neoclassicism and Etienne-Louis Boullée’s large sphere from 1784, a capital work of the Enlightenment, provide the main thesis of the exhibition, which moves directly to the Suprematist Architektons of Kazimir Malevich (ca. 1920). In homage to Boullée and classicism’s rigorous formal canon, in this gallery German artist Gerhard Merz has created specifically for Bilbao a monumental frieze of several hundred fluorescent tubes, which accompany the exhibition as a sort of "Light of the Enlightenment."

The Triumph over Scale
"Why, it is my workshop!" exclaimed Constantin Brancusi when he saw the Manhattan skyline for the first time from his incoming ship in 1926. The cubic huddle of skyscrapers reminded him of the geometrical features of the pedestals and bases the Romanian-born sculptor had made in his Paris studio. A large-scale photograph of the studio included in the exhibition points up this relationship and reveals surprising analogies to the playful composition of the Atrium and stairway of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao. In the 1950s, Brancusi proposed to erect a 122-meter high skyscraper as an enlarged version of his Endless Column in Chicago, thus defining architecture as an enlarged sculpture—something that has more or less become current practice today.

1910–30; Cubism, De Stijl, Bauhaus; Expressionism; Language, Soul, Space: Rudolf Steiner and Ludwig Wittgenstein
Around 1900, renowned art historian August Schmarsow drew the following distinction: sculpture was the "shaper of bodies" and architecture was the "shaper of space." This division began to be abandoned around 1910. This particular visual art became increasingly constructive and tectonic, establishing a connection with the rectangular geometries of the international style in architecture (Georges Vantongerloo and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe). Meanwhile, architecture became increasingly sculptural. The influence of the expressive architecture of Erich Mendelsohn and Rudolf Steiner can be felt even today, in Greg Lynn and Lars Spuybroek’s blob architecture, which reflects the none too remote relationship between anthropomorphic architecture and figurative sculpture. The contrast between the organic and the geometrical, between body and space, is the leitmotiv of the exhibition.

1950–60: Architecture becomes Sculpture, Sculpture becomes Architecture
This opposition also held in the 1950s and ‘60s, a time, unlike the pre-war years, that was described as "The Era of Sculpture" (Carola Giedion-Welcker, 1955). This was when Le Corbusier created his chapel at Ronchamp, which clearly departed from the geometrical box of his Villa Savoye (1929–31). At around the same time, the organic spiral of Frank Lloyd Wright’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum was being built in New York. In the meantime, sculpture was in the throes of a new revolution. Eduardo Chillida managed to transform the "sculptural body" in "architectural space".

Sculpture as Path and Place: from Monument to Installation
Equally revolutionary were Alberto Giacometti’s experiments with the pedestal and his concept of the plaza, with which he launched a major expansion in the 1950s. Giacometti is considered the father of installation art, a form of expression that conquers space, penetrating the urban space and even, with Joseph Beuys, attempting to transform the social body into social sculpture.

Minimalist Architecture and Landscape Sculpture 1970–2000
These were the years when architecture made full use of the avant-garde experimentation in sculpture and began to borrow many of its ideas, even to the extent of absorbing sculpture altogether. The minimalist architecture of Herzog & de Meuron is a refined adaptation of the methodology of Minimalist artists such as Donald Judd and Dan Graham; the use of elementary forms by Peter Zumthor or Peter Eisenman is directly inspired by the radical Land Art of Walter De Maria.

The Sculpted City 1960–70: Urban Utopias as Mega-Sculptures
The utopias of the new urbanism in the 1970s, which eschewed functionalist objectivity, were oriented towards art (Constant, Arata Isozaki, Yona Friedman). From the mid-1950s an increasing number of urban development projects were conceived as sculptural megaforms. In this section, Miquel Navarro’s urban installation Wall City (Ciudad muralla, 1995–2000) has been situated by the museum’s glass walls so the visitor can establish a direct connection between the utopia shaped by the pieces in the installation and the real urban landscape of Bilbao outside.

Box and Blob and the Discovery of Virtual Space: the 21st Century
This last section is devoted to the big controversy raging today: the debate between box and blob, two contrary formal principles in architecture. Functionalist architecture has traditionally used the geometric box form to create space. However, ever since primitive man lived in caves, organic spatial configurations have been a familiar alternative, which the new possibilities of computer technology have made possible, as seen in the blobmeister architecture (blob: binary large objects) of Greg Lynn’s "Embryological Houses".

Some skeptical spirits, like prestigious art theorist Rosalind Krauss, think that architecture has absorbed sculpture, that the one has "devoured" the other. There is no better place in the world than Bilbao to see such "dangerous liaisons." With the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao, Frank Gehry created in 1997 a supersculpture that seems to have devoured the rest. Richard Serra’s Snake (1994–97) disappeared in the museum’s largest gallery, where it sits as if in the belly of the whale. However, with the seven new monumental works the museum recently commissioned from Serra now permanently installed in Gallery 104 Arcelor, the latter has written a whole new chapter of the novel entitled "Architect Versus Sculptor." The title of this huge installation, The Matter of Time, makes it clear that the last word has yet to be said. ArchiSculpture is an attempt to show that the relation between architecture and sculpture is not cannibalistic, but that, over the centuries, it has been and still is a very fruitful alliance. The playful confrontation of works by Hans Arp, Gordon Matta-Clark, Bruce Nauman, and others with Frank Gehry’s sculptural museum interior, and the presentation of working models for this remarkable building intensify the dialogue between the two disciplines and offer visitors a unique opportunity to experience the building as supersculpture, while reliving, in a new way, the history of sculpture.

Markus Brüderlin
Exhibition Curator
Director-elect, Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg, Germany.

Kazimir Malevich

Architekton Gota (Arkitekton Gota), 1923

Plaster

85.3 x 56 x 52.5 cm

Russian State Museum, St. Petersburg

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