Tropolism Exhibitions: The Pictures Generation 1974-1984

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has been an embarrassment of riches this summer. Roxy Paine's rooftop installation is an artwork so right for its summer vista (in a way the Madison Square Park installation was not), and so right for right now, that it seemed as if I had left the repository of artifacts on the floors below and had entered a temporary installation on a gallery's rooftop in Chelsea. Except this rooftop was in Central Park, and the view there is pretty sweet.

Stumbling around the rooms of stuff downstairs, I happened upon The Pictures Generation 1974-1984, a wonderful collection of the image-oriented artists in that period who were focused on the mechanisms of images, and how they shape our perceptions. It's like a redo of the Image World exhibition the Whitney for those of you (like me) who missed that show in 1989. For those of you who (like me) haven't quite gotten around to purchasing your own copy of the Image World catalog, the catalog for The Pictures Generation will do as a handy substitute.

This show fits better into the Met's usual role of repository for Old Important Stuff: these are artifacts that are 30 to 40 years old, and have special nostalgic significance for students of art history and the newfangled Art Criticism going around departments of architecture in midwestern universities in the early 1990s. I will spare you the boring (but so not boring!) details of the show, because the power of the works shown--by no-names like John Baldessari, Robert Longo, Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince--are almost overwhelmed by the fact that these images of resistance are so very important, and the artists so well known. They are so recognizable that they almost become the toothless icons for image-worship they seek to expose. The inclusion of a few of Cindy Sherman's Untitled Film Stills (the ones donated to the Met by Madonna, of course) is the easiest target. Fortunately, the show is large enough to keep it from being a trip down nostalgia lane.

A couple of other elements keep the show fresh and alive. One is the inclusion of Dana Birnbaum's ever-awesome Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman. The work distills the original television show into an intense five minutes that is at once dizzying, loud, disco-awesome, and far more entertaining than any single episode of Wonder Woman could ever hope to be. It is also as fresh as the day it was made. The work, and its twin in the show Kiss the Girls: Make Them Cry, liven up the static images around them, and had some people grooving while they walked around. Both expose how entertaining the flatness of images can be, if properly sequenced and given a fierce soundtrack. I was struck with a powerful desire to see these treatments give to every form of entertainment I've ever enjoyed. It was this feeling that made me think of them as premonitions of Who We Are Now, fully subsumed in the Internet Era, where my daily entertainment time is checking out the cute pictures of other people's experiences in their latest Facebook photo album.

Another is that one of the recurring themes is, of course, the criticism of architectural imagery. Or, to be more precise, the exploration of how we understand the built environment through architectural images. James Casebere's photographs of little paper models or Barbara Bloom's Crittall Metal Windows series (mashups of Bauhaus-era buildings and steel window advertisements, hung throughout all the galleries and not shown together) are powerful reminders that the practice and consumption of architecture, like any other art, is dependent upon concealing the mechanisms by which images work. This show will disabuse you of that notion, yet again. And you'll have fun.

Radiant Copenhagen


Radiant Copenhagen documents the future of Copenhagen. Marking up a GoogleWiki maplike thing, artists Anders Bojen, Kristoffer Ørum, Kaspar Bonnén, and Rune Graulund have created a new future, one that is at once probable and entirely fantastic. Kind of like reality. It's brilliant because it's played out over our new way of discovering architecture: through markups, tagging, satellite imagery, and as a companion to the real city we are surfing the internets in.

Baldessari Does Mies


"Brick Bldg, Lg Windows w/ Xlent Views, Partially Furnished, Renowned Architect" is John Baldessari's new installation at the Haus Lange from 1928, in Krefeld, Germany. The project furnishes the house with Baldessari's surreal nose- and ear-shaped furniture. In addition, the windows are lined with pictures of California seascapes on the inside, entirely blocking the views to the exterior, and reflecting Mies's indoor-outdoor connection back inward. From the exterior, the windows are lined with pictures of bricks, further killing the Mies effect.

The effect is deadening, and powerful. It causes the visitor to notice the power of Mies's original arrangement, the levels of zig-zag transparency, the scale of the glass, the pervasiveness of the brick both inside and out. In a way, the project celebrates Mies, even as it temporarily disrupts the way the house works.


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U.S.A.'s Venice Biennale Pavilion Comes Home

[photos courtesy of Rain Yan Wang]

Earlier this month, the U.S. Pavilion from the 2008 Venice Biennale opened at the Sheila C. Johnson Design Center at the New School. Into the Open: Positioning Practice attempts to realign architectural thought towards socially relevant issues. All sixteen studies ask us to “reclaim a role in shaping community and the built environment, to expand understanding of American architectural practice and its relationship to civic participation”. Highlights include Teddy Cruz’s examination of the border crossing between San Diego and Tijuana as well as Laura Kurgan’s view of incarceration through Architecture and Justice.

Upon entering the gallery, we found the exhibition’s rhythmic series of text intensive pilasters to be a bit daunting and overbearing. The models and graphic components receded into the background as they were clearly overshadowed by the bold text. However, as the evening wore on, the exhibit’s true potential emerged. Within the niches of the display’s formal structure, patrons were invited to contribute their own personal touch. A tertiary artistic endeavor superimposed itself upon the gallery. The interactive quality served the dual purpose of contextualizing the exhibit while reminding us of the continually shifting dynamics of the social order.

Posted by Saharat Surattanont.

Hemeroscopium House

The Hemeroscopium House, by Ensamble Studio in Madrid, is a refined combination of heavy infrastructural pieces. The pieces are stacked; the resulting spaces are a house. Most awesome is the pool deck, entirely under what is typically used for highway or parking superstructures: a giant precast beam. The surreal scale of the elements--nothing except the furniture appears people-scale--reminds us of OMA's work. Yet this is almost post-OMA, in that there is a clear pleasure to living underneath a highway overpass. The deck you walk on is polished and smooth, the pool and furniture are gorgeous, the landscaping mellow. There's no brutality to this brutalism, only refinement and play. In short a place to live.

Via Architect, which also has a big gallery of pictures.

Tropolism Films: Brooklyn DIY


Last week’s world premiere of Brooklyn DIY brought a motley crowd of artists, performers, and groupies to MoMa. Through interviews and photographs, the film documents the “creative renaissance” of Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Employing an ambiguous timeline, the narrative favors subjective experience over specificity. However, the disjointed “mapping of memory” is grounded by focusing on a handful of seminal moments that defined the neighborhood.

Right this way for the full film review...

Utopias Reloaded


Plataforma Arquitectura has a great survey on utopian architectural visions past and present. Mostly past, showing us old favorites like Archigram and Superstudio, but introducing us to some we hadn't seen before, like Yona Friedma (pictured, prefiguring today's shipping container fetish) and Archizoom's "Aerodynamic City" (prefiguring blobstuff and Zaha Hadid). The article ends with projects by OMA and Norman Foster in Dubai, aka today's utopia breeding ground.

Furniture Friday: Kerk Apartment

Kerk_apartment_by_Stijn_Bisscheroux.jpgBehold the built in greatness of the Kerk Apartment by Dutch firm Stijn Bisscheroux. We do love it when furniture gets all architectural on us.

Via Materialicious.

Keith Haring's The Ten Commandments

New York fans of Keith Haring tend to get bored easily: his stuff is everywhere, still. His work is an icon for New York Nineteen Eighties. It's subway, tshirt, storefront graffiti, and if you live in New York it is so part of the visual culture it's difficult to separate him from what came after him. Fortunately, The Ten Commandments at Dietch Projects Long Island City snaps you back into the majesty of Haring's work though sheer size. Each of the panels is 25 feet high, and haven't been seen in the United States since they were produced for his first solo show in Bordeaux in 1985. The iconic Haring is on display, of course, but the biblical imagery is filtered through his ambiguous lens. The show is up until February 15th and is a sin not to see it.

Photographs by roving New York photographer Wilson Aguilar.

Museum Of Nature


Urbanarbolismo's musings on Museos de la Naturaleza, how huge ecosystems can be contained and preserved, led me to Ilkka Halso's work. The Finnish artist has a whole website on Museum of Nature: images that visualize huge natural preserves, all encased for future generations. Even though we are partial to the psychedelic images Urbanarbolismo posted, our favorite is Roller Coaster (pictured). Which are of course one of my favorite memes.

Koolhaasian Typeface


Each day in January 2009 the website fwis is posting a new experimental typeface. What caught our attention is Koolhand, a typeface concept inspired by the work of a single architect, in this case Rem Koolhaas. You can download an eps file and check the whole thing out for yourself.

Typed in at Designboom.

The Gambling City


Artist Liu Jianhua's new exhibition in Italy features a model of Shanghai's skyline, in poker chips and dice. The piece is titled Unreal Scene. Coolhunting has all the details.

Tropolism's Coraline Box

While we were not one of the special 50 bloggers who got the super-awesome versions of The Coraline Box, we did get one of the little paper button boxes that have been floating around. And so we present our slideshow of our button box.

As a promotional item, it's brilliant. Every part of it is hand made and special, from the outer wrapping to the innermost needle, made out of a little sliver of silver-painted plastic. We never tire of a lot of handmade labor going into something, be it our latest presentation or even a whole film, because there is an unreplaceable power in something that took a long time to make.

Amish Builders: Criminals Or The Next Wave?


As the building and architectural profession starts to morph into its post-recession and post-overdesign phase, it's worth looking at some alternatives. One is Amish builders, who, with a few constraints, can custom build your house in all the highly crafted splendor that has inspired architects for a long time. Although apparently some folks put their talents toward building...this.

On the other hand, the restrictions include not building things to code, at least for their own structures. The unresolved question is huge: are Amish buildings exempt from building codes because their religious beliefs have them reject electricity, indoor plumbing, and graded lumber? In the past, obviously they have been. But a new set of building codes, including New York State's 2007 revision, have had many local officials fining Amish for their new buildings, with some court cases emerging in New York.

The Amish are fighting back. Filing suit in a federal court, an upstate Amish community claims full-on religious discrimination. Over their beliefs as it pertains to buildings. It's an intersection of beliefs, architecture, and building code that is unique. Stay tuned.

Architectural Clothes


It was only recently that we were able to delve into our bookmark of Coolhunting's article about designer Nahum Villasana. English teacher by morning, clothing designer and student by night/weekend, his work plays the spectrum of experimentation and very cool wearability. The line is called Architectural Clothes, and for once this name is apt. His work is highly structured, as they say in the fashion industry, yet it also plays with ideas about representation and it's relationship to site, in this case, the body wearing the clothes.

Tropolism Takes A Holiday


Tropolism will be quiet for a week while we observe a holiday. We leave with books, all our glorious books. And, pictured, a library to read them in: Steven Holl's crazy yet unnervingly beautiful design for the Franz Kafka Society Center in Prague.