An After Taste


Theatre Agora; Lelystad, Netherlands

Standing outside of UNStudio’s Theatre Agora, a modest feeling of disorientation sank in – the orange, monolithic mass transformed before my eyes. The building behaves as a sparkling jewel, transforming with the slightest fraction of light under the azure of Lelystad, Netherlands. 

The shape-shifting nature of Agora extends beyond arguments of form to explore UNStudio’s frame of contemporary narratives and affect.  UNStudio has previous experience playing with the effects of saturated color and experimenting with new materials.  Down the road from Theatre Agora, in Almere, is the Technicolor sensation of La Defense.  Completed eight years earlier, La Defense uses an iridescent envelope to activate and contain architectural effects produced by the building.  Approaching the office complex, it looks like any other office bulding.  But once I glided through the oblique entry, the hidden jewel reveals itself: lustrous rainbowlike materiality begins to absorb the space.  The interior-courtyard surfaces reflect onto each other and produce moments of infinite color; I am encapsulated into a saturated and prismatic space that constantly changes with movement.    

Saturated Chroma: Theatre Agora & La Defense
As an object, Theatre Agora behaves like a sculpture; it invites visitors to walk around and experience the exterior variation of warm monochromatic shades that reverberate against a blue canvas of sky.  The exterior surfaces create a moiré-patterned1 envelope by layering sheet metal of texture (corrugated, perforated, and solid) and color (yellow, orange, and red).  The colored, material transitions are subtle; the angle of each surface determines the edge, donning Agora’s soft silhouette.  The flashing detail is not articulated as an edge-line, like in Rojkind Arquitectos’s Nestle Chocolate Factory Museum.  

Edge Lines: Nestle Chocolate Museum & House II
At first, there seems to be obvious correlations between Theatre Agora and the Nestle Museum: both are warm-colored, undulated, object-like buildings.  I am interested in the brilliance of jewelry and the Nestle Museum lacks the depth ratio2 that Agora delivers.  The elevated museum and its red, corrugated metal surfaces read as flat and bound by white outlines, like a Lichtenstein; a three-dimensional expression of two-dimensional space.3  Agora’s depth emanates from the shine of glass that catches glimmers of light and the opacity of the moiré-patterned panels. The contrast of the massing makes the delicacy of the glass wall more poignant.  The glass wall appears to be pulled up from the ground plane leaving its chalk-outline traced on the site, confirming my previous suspicions of transformation. 

The unfolded diagram of the façade’s geometry is literally represented through the materiality of the ground plane.  This tracery is finely detailed via elongated drains, which operate as folding lines to the envelope.  Additionally, the directionality of the pavers is congruent with the surface textures exhibited in the facade.  The unfolded diagram resembles the graphic qualities of the Nestle Museum.  However, UNStudio’s sensibility to erase the graphic-folding guides lends to the sophistication of the envelope and open-ended dialog of shape shifting, an ephemeral encounter that begins on the exterior. 

On the envelope a crimped red ribbon wraps the building.  The ribbon suggests the entry and requires me to walk under the monolithic mass above, transforming the threshold into a subterranean experience.  I follow the ribbon, embarking into UNStudio’s wonderful world of chroma.

Continuing en route, the red ribbon from the exterior pulls me into the lobby.  The ribbon then transforms into the core circulation and gradates color, a smooth magenta.  The magenta ribbon splits to wrap and clad white stairs.  UN Studio’s staircase for Gratz Music Hall comes to mind while ascending into the vertical foyer.  At Gratz, the renderings of the staircase, saturated in red and clad in chrome, produces velocity between floorplates.  But here at Agora, time slows down while I ascend the alabaster stairs.  The walls of the stairs are perforated like the sheet metal mesh on the exterior, extending the landscape commentary of parts to whole.  A clear correlation between the tiny stair perforations and the soft-white walls produces a blurry, oversized dot graphic. Overhead, the skylight consists of the same mullion as the angled glass wall previously evacuated upon entering; it produces shadows creating a fenestration which repeats the rhetoric of the envelope and complements the corrugated, white ceiling.  The sun floods the core, the pink ribbon glows like neon, saturating every surface and transporting me to a candy-coated space. 

The deployment of magenta and white can be traced back to the Holiday House, an installation that initiated an inherent evolution of UNStudio’s portfolio.  This evolution began with a generic, white Monopoly-esque house, diagrammed as extruded planes which produced unpredictable perspectives from within,4 a strong resemblance to MOS’s Ordos housing project.  The elongated extensions from this explosive process created dynamic lighting effects across the magenta interior and intensified the chroma.  Holiday House is grounded, like Agora, but its beveled edges defined it as a different typological form.  Both projects share UNStudio’s effective tactics in producing affects and imagery; Holiday House uses the immateriality of seasonal light and shadow.  The abstract device of light is used to capture an essence, and experience, similar to Agora’s kaleidoscopic red walls. 

Immersed in ruby red on the second level of the auditorium, the horseshoe balcony allows my body to feel the continuity of Agora’s circulatory ribbon as my eyes become fixed upon the walls.  The back wall of the theater is smooth, but as the adjacent walls approach the stage, their surfaces dematerialized and compressed into complex geometries. The house lights further emphasize these undulated surfaces with chiaroscuro effects capturing the shadows.  Some of the panels are striated like the corrugated metal of the exterior envelope.  Leaving no detail unattended, the backs of the red velvet chairs are sculpted with this geometrical expressionism; they behave like stalagmites in this crystallized world and allure me to run my hand across their soft plush. 

Similar to Germanic rococo churches, Agora can be described as a geode: an austere and tenacious exterior containing a dazzling display of sensation inside through reflective and faceted devices to produce theatrical effects.  In this red kaleidoscope, the theatre production manifests beyond the stage.  Theatre lighting activates the walls as a participant in the show.  As UNStudio describes, “the product of architecture can at least partly be understood as an endless live performance. As the architectural project transforms, becomes abstracted, concentrated and expanded, becomes diverse and ever more scaleless, all of this happens in interaction with a massive, live audience…” 

An abstract representation of Rococo ornamentation
And so, Agora’s yellow brick road, or pink candy ribbon, has led me to the magic of Oz.  Like Oz, Agora’s enchantment lies behind the curtain through the affective theatrical devices of color and form. 5 UNStudio is consumed with the notion of imagery and effect.  Constantly aspiring to move beyond Kansas and into the Technicolor dream, UNStudio states: “we question if and how we can replace the manipulative, one-dimensional image with something far more advanced and intangible: the ‘after image’, the one you take home with you, an inexhaustible, ever-renewing composite of perceptions, memories and thoughts.” 6 

Theatre Agora produces architectural effects that speak to childhood sentimentality.  The after image is more than just visual sensation; it is a palpable treat. Imaginably, it is the taste of Candyland.  Twisting and turning my way through Theatre Agora, I encounter various moments of staged theatrics along my delectable journey: candy dots on stairs, marshmallows for walls, a taffy staircase, and a rock candy auditorium.  As I exited the building, I understood the orange of the exterior cladding as the complement to the blue sky, a two-tone gummy worm.  Perhaps this was not just an after image, but also, an after taste.

1“An interference pattern created, for example, when two grids are overlaid at an angle, or when they have slightly different mesh sizes.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Moir%C3%A9_pattern
2“The depth of a stone measured from the table to the culet. It is expressed as a percentage of the stone’s diameter at the girdle.” http://www.diamondarticles.com/diamond-proportions.php
3A clear differentiation of dimensionality in Lichtenstein’s work can be see in House II, Nok! Nok! and Slam!
4Per UNStudio’s website: http://www.unstudio.com/nl/unstudio/projects/holiday-home
5The film industry originally utilized color to articulate scenes of fantasy and dream states, whereas today monochromatic colors are used to describe memory and reverie. 
6UN Studio Monograph, p. 370


Urban Sway


A Truly Rich Man is One Whose Children Run Into His Arms When His Hands are Empty, 2008 (mixed media
collage on canvas H: 102 x W: 144 in.)

Mark Bradford should not be familiar to you; rather his work should not be familiar to you.  Bradford’s work is a reimaging of the blighted urban areas that he was raised in, and it is in this reimaging that he begins to draw out the dialogue between him, urban decay, and the typical museumgoer.  His recent show at the Wexner Center for the Arts1 displays a decade of work, acculturating the viewer with fragmented collages of his hometown, South Central Los Angeles.  The accessible nature of his work is a result of the rigorous manipulation, removal, layering, and pasting of found billboard advertisements.  The resultant paintings evoke a certain primordial sympathy; Bradford ironically extracting from the culture of African-American art.  Yet, aside from the farcic position of the African in American society, and Bradford’s own paternal issues, the exhibition marks a detailed lineage of his past ten years as a rising star in the field of contemporary painting.
Bradford, a sort of hip and crafty hoarder-tinkerer, has given weight to his work over the past ten years through the experimentation of collage with found objects—objects familiar to his past as a hairstylist and objects that visually stimulate him in as he walks through his neighborhood.  The interesting thing is that these visual stimulants, the advertisements on billboards, are marketed for the urban population.  Bradford takes these underlying social contracts of subversion and displaces them as anecdotes for political and social discourse.  It’s not that Bradford is trying to rise up as a figure with a political agenda; it’s just that he’s taking as his position one that is affected by the actions of political leaders.  The results are paintings loaded with layers of history, politics, and society. 
All artists have a certain polemic or philosophy that they are trying to present, and it was at the Wexner Center that the past ten years of Bradford’s social ponderings came to fruition in the mode of conversational curation. The Wexner Center is designed to force into conversation the work that is placed within the gallery spaces; it is not a white box with plane orthogonal walls meeting at right angles. That is why Bradford’s work is perfect for the space of Middle America, the anti-South Central. The socio-cultural polemic is ripe for open dialogue.  
Upon descent into the Wexner Center the visitor is shown a rather generic title that foreshadows the quality of the work itself.2 Heading into the main gallery spaces presents the visitor with an option of left or right.  To the left is the first gallery, which presents a series of pieces from his early work of 2003 to some of his most current work of this year.  You are supposed to go left, but there is the option of taking the Wexner Center as one would Wright’s Guggenheim, by going right: up the stepped ramp to the very back of the museum.  This isn’t the Guggenheim—you are not supposed to go to the top and descend down, but the video piece Niagara (2005) entices the visitor to continue on.  The reason is because the video has been perspectivally oriented to have the exact same vanishing point as the view up the ramp, to the back of the museum.  It is a layering system which matches the pristine quality of the wood and granite ramp to that of the concrete streets of urban Los Angeles.  The actor in the video is Melvin; a figure seductively existing in his own phenomenological realm.  The association again adds another layer, repurposing the very techniques Bradford uses in his paintings.  The decollage in the video is the removal of sound.  Sound would make the scene too accessible, thus destroying the dichotomy between the urban decay and Middle America.
But that’s the choice between left and right.  If you go right you jump too far into the future; his work becomes too conceptual.  At the top of the ramp is his most recent and on going piece, an installation entitled Detail (2009-ongoing).  This piece is and was built as a statement about the social and political atmosphere post-Katrina. The assembled pieces of plywood and the billboard advertisements mark a type of urban reverie on how the government has left certain unsatisfactory places behind.  The salvation that is inherent to a government for the people by the people is made clear in the allusion to Christian lore and other mythologies about the semiotic significance of an ark.  Where was the ark—the government—for the citizens of New Orleans, especially those of the 9th Ward?
It’s pieces like Detail and Niagara that clutter the overall project of the past ten years of Bradford’s work.  The curation of each gallery is not chronological.  2003’s are mixed with 2006’s and 2010’s.  It is done in this way to produce a comparison of Bradford’s technical evolution.  We see the fragmentation and transparency of his early work as a play on the standardization of geometric forms of found objects—billboard paper, permanent-wave end papers3, newsprint and carbon paper.  We see in this dialogue his reevaluation of process of production.
Each gallery continues a much similar referential dialogue.  However, the work is marked as rather fashionable, it’s kitsch for the art world.  Bradford’s good, but this work isn’t that smart.  The polemics, no matter how layered he makes them, are rather cliché and predictable.  A lot of artists try to make their work political, and they tend to address the same banal issues in the same banal way.  It’s not his position on society that makes his work interesting, it’s who he is that makes his work interesting, and it’s where he’s taking his overall project that will sustain him in the young life of a contemporary artist.  He won’t be gone tomorrow if he maintains what he is currently doing.  Niagara and Detail are what’s current, and they are works that will sustain him.  Though they’re under the guise of installation and film art, they still invoke the viewer into a much more intimate relationship with the art.  It’s not to say that I wasn’t taken aback by the beauty of his paintings, moreover, it was overall theme of the project that failed my intimacy.
There are two things you must remember.  The first is the choice given at the beginning of the gallery, the choice between left or right, between the Wexner Center and the Guggenheim, between the reverie of Bradford and Melvin.  The second is the choice about Bradford being the destroyer of the prophecy to which his father (and to his credit, society) assigned, the one which has signaled the phenomenological project that is Bradford’s future.  Bradford is an African American, and he is 6’8”!  Like it or not, our society has assigned certain roles for African American Males of that Height, and those roles are most closely associated with basketball players—this is the prophecy to which Bradford’s father assigned him.  Yet, Bradford is the farthest from the norms of a basketball player.  He’s gay, and he’s an artist.  He failed his father.
Therein lies the third piece to the puzzle that is the future for Bradford.  Again, remember the choice on the ramp.  If you went left it really wouldn’t matter, because you would have to come back to the beginning of the ramp anyway.  Walking up the ramp, having seen Niagara, its parallel perspective now destroyed, your view is corrupted by the sliver of space that is the stair which takes you off of the ramp and into a piece specifically designed for the Wexner Center.  The piece is a room completely covered in carbon paper newsprint.  It is gridded so one still conceives of the process of appliqué; individual sheets of carbon paper are applied to the walls as a billboard artist would.  Bradford is now reimaging his urbanity into three-dimensions; it is only a matter of time until some artist comes and rips his billboards down for recycle.  What makes this third piece a member of his current work is the music that Bradford chooses to have playing in the room.  The song is a fragmented version of Nancy Wilson’s “Tell Me the Truth” (1963).  You never really notice the strange echo that this song has in the entire museum until you hear it in this room.  And once you hear it, it never leaves you for the rest of the visit.  The once silent Melvin now appears to sway gently in rhythm as he commands his urbanity.  The dimness of the room contrasts deeply with the vague penetration of light filtering into the adjacent space of the ramp.  The room is part of his current project Pinocchio Is On Fire.4 
Remember that choice.  It never mattered.  Because you will ultimately come back to that room before you leave.  And you are struck with an intense sadness.  It’s almost empathetic.  What the exhibition did was alleviate Bradford’s past, a past of adolescent angst; a past in which he was who he was and that was someone his father could never accept.  The “ugly” nose that kept growing, Geppetto just had to chop off…yet it continued to grow.  The three pieces, Niagara, Detail and Pinocchio Is On Fire, were offerings given up by Bradford for his future salvation, and in giving up who he was—the Melvin that strutted and swayed down the road—Bradford was able to marry his work to the space of the Wexner Center.  And in doing so, he was able to make the building sing.

1 May 7- October 10, 2010
2 The title of the show is “Mark Bradford”.  It is presented as a work of art familiar to Bradford’s technique of layering and removal.
3 Permanent-wave end papers are thin, and mildly transparent, sheets of varying sizes used in cosmetology to produce the effect of waves in the hair of the client.
4 Part of his current project, Pinocchio Is On Fire, read “Against Action” by Christopher Bedford.


Space Is a Place


The unequivocal focus of space exploration is the discovery of the new.  WithOther Space Odysseys” Greg Lynn, Michael Maltzan, and Alessandro Poli have made a collection of their own ideas regarding exactly how alternative approaches to outer space can lead to new understandings of the places which we occupy or plan for.  With this exhibition and book, we find space interwoven with itself, space that represents distance, spaces obliterated into many new spaces, spaces brought closer together, and often just single exceptional spaces that stand by themselves and constitute a landscape.  In the respective approaches of Lynn, Maltzan, and Poli, space is not a mere inanimate thing to be occupied or altered, but rather a concentration of cultural energies that project possibility forward while allowing us to grasp again and perhaps anew the impact of past events.  “Other Space Odysseys” is the catalogue that accompanied the Canadian Centre for Architecture show by the same name.  I would like to suggest that the not having been at that exhibition is preferable for the mere fact that the published taxonomy of such a wide range of approaches to the idea of space (among such a small sample of architects) allows, and in fact requires, the possibility of seeing the work again. 

The book is divided roughly into thirds; each contributor discusses their respective projects from the exhibition and shares in a conversation/interview with editor Giovanna Borasi.  Borasi’s framing of the issues of outer space and the exploration of such is specific.  The issue is not to be merely about what was discovered away from home, but also about what was discovered back home as a result.  The example of the first full color photograph of the earth from space, 22727, is referenced throughout the book as a way of linking space exploration back to the world from which that exploration is seeking to (even temporarily) escape.  The framework that Borasi is interested in discussing and showcasing is not so much the science fiction fantasy of aliens and galaxy hunting as the near-future of speculation without promises.  Setting aside Michael Maltzan’s JPL project (where astronomers are given a disinterested planet unto themselves) the heart of this book lies in the work of Greg Lynn and Allesandro Poli.

The contributions of Greg Lynn sensibly appear first.  Lynn’s work was visually groundbreaking years ago, but has since become a valid (and not merely expressive) mode of exploration within the architecture community, as much for its approach to geometry as for the implications in tectonics and space making.  The forms for his N.O.A.H. (New Outer Atmospheric Habitat) and New City projects are readily understandable.  These proposals provide initial iconic images of how the exploration of space and popular perceptions of those explorations, comingled to produce places that must be rethought in terms of form, size, scale, and occupation.  They do so in their implication of navigating their vast envelope(s) not along the exterior or surface, but around the interior of the shell(s).  Planarity is gone, along with gravity, and the notion of ground which has perhaps hampered his terrestrial-born projects (such as Embryological House of 1997-2001) is here reconsidered and relinquished; the punctured geometries are fully occupiable.


The interview with Lynn yields a particularly interesting term that, along with 22727, provides a certain framework within which to read this book and the work therein.  The term “uncanny valley” only makes an appearance once, but the idea is littered throughout the book.  In discussing the allure of space exploration, Lynn remarks that the term refers to “the nearly lifelike quality that is familiar enough to not be artificial but is still not-quite-right.”  For roboticists, animators, and renderers this quality is to be avoided for the sake of normality.  But for Lynn, the term can also swing away from normality toward the exotic or strange, and this is part of the draw of the extraterrestrial: just enough familiarity, yet different enough to be novel.  Greg Lynn works in this way, our understanding of and allure with traditionally imagined Martians works this way, and the opening Lynn content of the book works this way.              

In the second part of the book showcases a pair of projects of Allesandro Poli, one of the members of the radical architecture group Superstudio from 1970-1972.  Polli’s contributions I find to be the most interesting, primarily because they seem to be both the most utilitarian and most paradoxical at the same time.  Each of the projects discussed here reuse elements and contexts that are critical to explorations of space, or more particularly for Poli, the moon.  The first project is a possible recoupling of the earth and the moon, called L’Architettura Interplanetaria, and is based on hypothesis that the moon was birthed from the earth as a gradually withdrawing mass billions of years ago.  Poli’s proposal (1972) followed the Apollo 11 launch and subsequent landing on the Sea of Tranquility.  Here, Poli suggests not only a retraction of the moon (to an orbit that would constitute the earth and moon being classified as a single body), but also an earth-moon highway that would facilitate settling the lunar surface, which would then be expanded and enlarged by none other than the capture of wandering interplanetary bodies.1 This project is clearly a reaction to the excitement and mass media coverage of the Apollo events themselves.  But it is also is representative of the larger radical, social, and anti-design aims of Superstudio, whose primary motive was to reject architecture as a bourgeois models for ownership or formalization of social divisions.  The Superstudio agenda was to design and plan in order to meet societal needs.  As such, L’Architettura Interplanetaria is not so much a design as it is a social plan to facilitate a newly emergent need.  Among the primary reactions to image 22727 was momentary pause and reflection, not merely of self, but also of a world that was for the first time seen as a whole and as a single community.  The image galvanized an already growing environmental movement and set in motion further fears of resource depletion and overpopulation.

The other Poli project explores not the geographies and possible physics of space that are commandeered in L’Architettura Interplanetaria, but rather the psychology of how we occupy space during such explorations, and its analogues here on earth.  In a fictional narrative between Buzz Aldrin and an Italian peasant named Zeno, Poli identifies two characters whose particular travels are as opposed as possible: Aldrin having been to the surface of the moon, and Zeno having lived his entire life in the same location, in near isolation.  The psychological state of the two, however, is shared.  In each case the man must operate within a protected world.  For Aldrin, the isolation is the result of an extremely specific mission, complete with instruments that are custom-made just for the mission of an astronaut.  In the case of Zeno, the isolation is merely the result of a life lived, and the instruments used are the result of recycling previous tools and materials for new jobs, though they are as specific and as custom-made as Aldrin’s.  Here, Poli returns again to the Superstudio mantra of necessity being the mother of architecture, using Zeno as a figure who represents the reuse of material and technology in order to survive by way of necessity.  The collection of objects and tools found in the life of Zeno follow as the next portion of the book.  The cataloging of the objects rescales the understanding of space, psychology, and lifestyle from the typical wide lens of Superstudio down to the level of the hand-held and provides a unique look at how the occupation of isolated space can require extreme specifics in either the outer space that is intimated by the exhibit or the local space that we can occupy at home.

The projects presented occupy a wide range of strategies, from the pseudo-science fiction of the near-future offered by Lynn’s N.O.A.H.’s to the commandeering of already present potential realities suggested by the earth-moon tethering project of Poli.  The projects sometimes ignore commonplace occupation and use strategies, but are just as intriguing when they capitalize or augment accepted notions of space and space usage.   The editorial framing of these projects as both conceptual and formal ideas is emphasized in print form.  The book stands as an inspiring collection of ideas that informs beyond the immediacy of an exhibition.

1: The formulas for doing this are provided by Poli.  See “Other Space Odysses,” p. 65.


B-Sides of the Wex


The challenge to curate a large exhibition with a cohesive flow poses to be a challenge, but Chris Bedford and team pulled together six, young artists, and began the musical movement that pulled me from gallery to gallery, titled Six Solos.  All of the pieces have a common self-awareness in terms of historic context and contemporary art.  Upon entering each gallery space, moments of awe, surprise, even shock, arise like movements in a musical composition.  One such movement evoked playful, energetic, and imaginative melodies: Geckler’s big-top colors, Putrih & MOS’s escapist ship, Godoy’s alabaster playground, and Morrison’s chromed-out trash. A secondary movement, a particular attitude about the Wexner Center, underscored the exhibition.  Eisenman’s architecture is credited as “conceptual,” visitors do not need to actually be in the space to understand the diagram.  Redl, Morrison, and Geckler would disagree; their installations require perspectival points-of-view within the frame of the Wexner Center to produce specific architectural effects.  The only odd-man-out in Six Solos was Moran, also the only painter exhibited.  Moran’s exhibition was truly a solo; it sang a different melody than the others, but her pieces instilled the overall theme of sensation, a theme that changed the viewing lens with which to experience the other solos within the symphony of Eisenman’s Wexner Center.

Fluorescent Adolescent

Approaching the Wexner from High Street, my voyeuristic view down into the atrium lobby is denied by polychromatic striations adhered to the glass from inside.   Descending upon the ticket lobby, a column wrapped in neon tape glows while a backdrop of pink, yellow, and blue tape falls softly on the wall behind the reception desk.  Turning around to descend the stairs further into the Wexner, Megan Geckler’s color explosion overtakes the space: the neon colors of flagging tape create woven patterns of pink, yellow, green, and blue. 

Spread the ashes of the colors, comprised of one-inch tape, engages a massive volume of space by wrapping, covering, and encapsulating the architecture.  The precision required for a project at large of scale weaving color and material is impressive and demands further attention to technique and hand detail.  Following the implied lines is as frustrating as deciphering a Spirograph drawing but the effect is still sensational. 

Standing underneath the core of the installation, layers of pink, yellow, and blue geometrically align like a two-dimensional image, evoking the Op Art aesthetic of Richard Anuszkiewicz.  Upon studying the layers of color, subtle ribbons of green run begin to emerge.  My eyes follow these green ribbons across the space; they all converge on a crossbeam.  As the crossbeam approaches Eisenman’s tricky faux-column that hangs in the way of strategic taping, Geckler simply surrounds the column in a myriad of green tape.  The green tape reaches out beyond the column, clinging to the windows and walls.  Arriving on the tectonic surfaces, the flagging tape waterfalls down to the baseboard where it is pulled taught to a perfect 90-degree angle with the floorplate.  It is on these flat, stripped surfaces that Geckler’s precise mathematical process is observed.

Anuszkiewicz: Intrinsic Harmony, 1965; Lambie: Touch Zobop, 2003 at Tate Britain
The green wall plays a role-reversal with the adjacent pink, yellow, and blue wall where my eye started to follow the green ribbons. Here, green becomes dominant color with sporadic stripes of blue, yellow, and pink.  The order is backwards, a sweater turned inside out.  Games of juxtaposition are constant in the space: the tectonic surfaces, where the form of the tape is most static in nature, contains the most color variation within an area; the free-floating, geometrical weaving of single colors is the most complicated in form.  The catalysts between these two oppositions are the columns. 

The columns resembled a Jim Lambie installation with their precise stripes of color, but Geckler’s columns are performative.  The columns create a dialog about the installation as a whole and how to read the colors of tape as they move through the large weave.  Geckler has created an environment of palindromes.  Each column is assigned its own color gradation unique to its position in the Wexner.  The large column in the middle of the stairs reads like a totem pole: pink to green to blue to green to pink.  The two columns upstairs in the ticket lobby are a continuation of the same columns below in the café.  Because the columns are side-by-side, the rhythms of the colors are different.  One column reads: yellow to green to pink, floorplate, pink to green to yellow; the other columns reads: green to blue to green, floorplate, green to blue to green.  This is the most exciting part of the installation for me simply because Geckler exhibits an awareness of the floorplate.  While she cannot remove the architecture, she constructs a conceptual, volumetric implied line.  This requires the viewer to be in proper position to view this architectural effect: partially up the stairs and slightly leaned over the banister, channeling a specific perspective of dissected parts, a la Matta-Clark.  And yet, this moment is only captured as one ascends the stairs to exit the Wexner, in which case the columns foreshadow Rudi’s chasing colors in FETCH just outside the doors, a continual and theoretical loop of color and entering-exiting the exhibition. 

Time to Pretend

During the opening-weekend panel discussion, Tobias Putrih indulged the audience with the lineage of his work and the new collaborative exhibition with MOS for Six Solos.  He presented eight previous projects, all commissioned from the independent film industry for temporary screening pavilions.  Putrih’s obsession of the movie screen begins with the audience perception: a typical flat, two-dimensional plane within a black box.  His endeavor was to break the black box formula and implement a new model, one of “architectural escapism.”  He cites the Bronx’s Paradise Theater as a key inspiration for this escapism device to transport viewers to another place and time.  Thus the installation’s title, Majestic, is a reverie on these historic theaters that did more than screen a film, they created an environment. 

Architectural Escapism at Paradise Theater
Putrih’s temporary film pavilions use untraditional surface finishes, like wood panels and metal scaffolding, for dynamic spaces to present the film programs; they substitute painted stars on the ceiling for cellophane membranes.  “It’s not architecture, but more like set design,” Putrih claimed.  One such project, cinema attitudes,1 appears to be a precursor to Putrih’s collaboration with MOS.  The intimate interior of cinema attitudes is warm, comprised of strategically cut plywood that is assembled to create an organic-formed, fractured envelope.  When inside the smooth envelope, the fractures become lines of light and exhibit Putrih’s ability to transform banal materials into graphic environments.  But the exterior of cinema attitudes is where the work is done; the steel scaffolding, zip ties, rope, and OSB plates are all exposed.  These construction materials create a complex superstructure, holding each of the plywood surfaces to keep the linear crack of light that produces the delicate interior effects. 

The first collaboration between Putrih and MOS, Overhang,2 began the white styrofoam-block series.  Overhang, a sculptural object for visitors to walk around and under, resembled a Jenga game, an object in a field.  Intervention #103 was the second styrofoam-block sculpture; the collaborative project moved from a static object to a hollowed out volumetric-object.  This new generation of styrofoam-block sculpture was to be explored by walking into the mass and experiencing the space within an object.  The styrofoam-block evolution concluded with Erosion,4 a volumetric expression of the typological “white box” gallery space.  The resulting sculptural space was carved out of a cubic mass and played with positive and negative space, reminiscent of Rachel Whiteread’s Ghost.5 The generational dialog created within these white block collaborations is critical in understanding the Six Solos entry Majestic.  

Putrih/MOS collaborations: Overhang, Intervention #10, & Erosion; Whiteread: Ghost
The redundant nature of the structure is apparent when experiencing Majestic, after all it is an object within a box, holding yet another small box to screen films. I would argue that this nesting of space is parallel to the white block project: the thesis of the object (the figure), the antithesis of the habitable void, and the synthesis of the habitable inverse-object (the field).  Majestic is inventing a new genetic lineage, beginning in the second phase of “habitable object,” an object within a field-within-a-field, a spatial Matryoshka doll. 

This new generation of collaboration requires a new form: crystalline.  Avoiding the Aranda/Lasch solid crystalline forms, Putrih & MOS instead relegate their white blocks to an exoskeleton structural system, defining edges and conceptual facets of negative space.  The metal frame was fabricated with computational software, exhibiting strenuous mathematical calculations and covered with the soft, fuzzy haze of spray-on installation--the offspring of MOS’s furry Afterparty,6 or as the curators describe it “as “a collapsed spaceship covered with foam sediment (or maybe a sunken ship covered in shells and seaweed).”

MOS: Afterparty
Putrih mentions that his film pavilions are most effective when “the architecture of the black box disappears as the film engages as spectacle.”  However, Majestic does not dissolve as the film rolls: instead the magic of this structure occurs when it behaves as an object, or a prop.  The sunken ship metaphor is employed as a device for the general public to understand the structure as a contextual armature for the variety of films screened within.  Furthermore, the structure expels on Putrih’s exploration of architectural escapism. 

The first film to premiere in the small theater is an underwater documentary filmed in Vietnam, in which the fuzzy structure clearly plays its part of an underwater artifact.  The second film scheduled captures the faces of a female audience engaged and watching a movie, here the tectonic structure reinforces and emphasizes the context of the black box theater.  The next film is a scripted documentary that follows Catherine Deneuve through the destroyed Lebanese countryside; the steel structure begins to resemble a war-torn architectural ruin.  The final film juxtaposes two children into a post-apocalyptic world, an appropriate setting for the collapsed spaceship to encompass the viewers.

Beyond the programmatic film screenings, the project Majestic proposes remains promising, pending the continuation of Putrih & MOS’ collaboration.  But another set of nested objects only stimulates if the envelope evolves into habitable poche for new programmatic activities besides the black-box-theater-in-the-white-box-gallery, where the field begins to engage and has the potential to become occupied, like Erosion.  The potential a fantastical space of fuzzy webs encapsulates the space of the gallery and allows visitors to occupy interstitial moments, like Jimenez Lai’s Point Clouds

In a discussion with Putrih, he revealed that MOS wanted to cover the floor of the theater with a highly reflective surface.  Putrih protested this design decision for fear that the light from the projection would be impossible to control.  But a reflective surface has potential to produce interesting architectural affects; the complex geometries in the structure would become exponential.  Within the space of the actual structure and the reflection of the object, visitors would occupy in a conceptual interstitial space; a project of this nature would call into question the program, but it also proposes yet another dimension, where the visitors occupy the celluloid medium. 

City of Delusion

Access to Gustavo Godoy’s fragmented installation is through a hidden, claustrophobic staircase.  The treads of the stairs glow with bright, white light.  Popping out through the narrow passage into the gallery, Fast Formal Object: Flayed White is a large mass containing sharp white planes of plywood and metal.  The highly reflective floor and the glow of cool fluorescent light make the jagged assemblage appear to float. 

Flayed White is part of Godoy’s series of site-specific installations titled Fast-formal Object.  Each sculptural object is comprised of different materials, some containing foam, netting, dowels, etc. and others are painted an entirely different color like Big Blue, or left as raw material.  The collage effect of forms and materials lend to precedent, like Louise Nevelson, particularly when Godoy’s installations are painted one solid color and situated within a white-box gallery. 

On the wall hangs a plexiglass box; it contains information packets with a “Release, waiver and assumption of risk agreement.”  Damn the Establishment!  This is an opportunity to experience a piece of art not by looking, but by climbing over and crawling onto the object, initiating an intimate engagement with the art.  Unfortunately, protective gear is required, as well as a specified appointment time to play. 

The bright glow and hum of the lights frolic together like a warm sunny day immersed in the sounds of summer.  Circling around the playground, I discovered a ramp that continued the shiny white surface of the floor up to a tree house of sorts.  And like most tree houses, there was more than one way to enter; a set of stairs had been laid off to the side. 

“…a minimalist playground, a monumental sculpture, and a meditative space all while working in dialog with the Wexner Center’s architecture…” (Bedford)

The kit-of-parts appears to be scattered about haphazardly, but upon close examination, the craft of the object is pristine, it is not hard to imagine these pieces as the scraps left over from the construction of the Wexner.  Ironically, the object never physically engages with the architecture.  There is a column that slightly impedes into the gallery space, but unlike Putrih & MOS, Godoy does not incorporate the column into his installation.  The only time he acknowledges the gallery’s plan is at the secondary entrance, where he creates a framed void for visitors to walk under and through.  

Zaha Hadid: a faceted Hong Kong plays with light and form
Standing in this void and looking back towards the narrow staircase, the sculptural object flattens into a two-dimensional space evoking deconstructivist art, specifically Zaha’s design for The Peak in Hong Kong.  The angular planes in Godoy’s installation are captured by facets of highlight and shadow—like the city in Zaha’s renderings.  In this context, Godoy’s object becomes a mini-metropolis that unfolds across the land, or around its own peak, the tree house. 

And the sun never sets on this city.  The lighting design incorporates a variety of features including floodlights, spotlights, single, and double bulb fluorescent lights in various lengths.  The glow from the lights pulls visitors into the gallery and around the object: children gawking into a candy store.  The meditative affect of the space is an effect of the bright lights in combination with the pristine white surfaces. 

Everything in Its Right Place

Despite the small scale of Katy Moran’s paintings, they require interaction and physical choreography as much as the large-scale installations featured in Six Solos.  Bradford characterizes Moran’s work as: “fluid energetic brushstrokes and evocative use of color…using found materials and collage (which) straddle the boundary between abstraction and representation.”  However formalist the rhetoric classifying Moran’s work, she prefers to define her work under the auspices of sensation. 

The sensation of these petite works, like French Impressionist painting, occurs at a distance.  The brush strokes are so expressive that the subject of the painting only comes into focus by stepping away from the canvas.  But Moran’s the material specificity from any specific movement or genre.  It is instead a synthesis of Jasper Johns materiality and the J.M.W. Turner’s romantic composition.  Moran’s rendition of romanticism deploys the color palate of warm umbers with the occasional pop of cool tones depicting a blurry picturesque landscape.  Through abstraction of formal composition, Moran evokes emotion through scumbling and drybrush techniques, revealing layers underneath, and adding a dimension of optical depth.  

Moran’s solo is not organized chronologically, but by material deployment.  Her most textural work is placed on a secondary wall, forming a perimeter, like an exterior skin protecting the fragmented pieces within.  These paintings resemble the formal composition of Romantic, picturesque painting.  Stepping back from the glossy extruded surfaces of paint, a horizon line emerged and a clear landscape of fore-, mid-, and background came into focus.

Moving into the next and final room are the multi-media paintings.  On the wall to the right hang the collage pieces with the exception of a diptych entitled Moonmen.  The collage pieces require the viewer to hover in close proximity to the painting to see the layers of media, sometimes revealed through windows of transparent paint or precisely cut contours, creating the same field of depth as the abstracted romanticism paintings through new material deployment.  Stepping back from these highly detailed collages, sensation comes into play.

Moran’s work produces ethereal effects that began to overtake viewers as sensation.  The paintings contain an all-too-familiar feeling, if only the image could come into order and focus; it is just within reach, but never obtainable.

Good Ol’ Fashioned Nightmare

Transitioning from Moran’s exhibition transports visitors into yet another rendition of formal artistic tropes, this time it is sculpture interpreted with new material ambitions.  At first glance, Joel Morrison’s solo strikes a whimsical tone. 

His first, ambiguous sculpture Untitled (Pink), is a fleshy mass resembling a large scale biological model used in science class.  Lending to this scholastic nostalgia is the soundtrack of children singing in the schoolhouse while Tippi Hedren lights up outside in Hitchcock’s The Birds. Morrison’s Birds/Lewitt splices Hitchcock’s scene with a Sol LeWitt Modular Cube sculpture in the background, another piece of playground equipment for the crows to congregate upon.7 Eisenman’s own white modular grid is just 100 feet away, resting outside the glass…just when you thought it was safe…

 Morrison: Birds/Lewitt plays inside the Wexner
Moving around the corner, a vicious sculpture is mounted onto an otherwise empty wall.  Romeo is a small piece but it packs quite a bite; a four-inch wide mandible packed with bullets for teeth, it has street-cred to put Flava Flav to shame.  The maw is the perfect scale; it could potentially be molded from a mammal, or it could just be another piece of repurposed garbage as in other Morrison pieces.  Whatever the origin of the object, the curator placed the piece on a blank wall at eye level, a cinematic technique reminiscent of the grotesque creature’s mouth in Aliens

Continuing onto Totems, Towers & Black Bongo, Morrison tinkers with kitschy objects and layers them onto a post like the traditional totem pole.  Odd juxtapositions of objects include Aunt Jemima and Mrs. Buttersworth bottles, water bottles, a teddy bear-shaped honey bottle, a pickle, and a skull with a latex glove as a crown.  Together these objects form a field of reflective metals of varying heights and tones of chrome, pewter, and black, appearing as light as a balloon animal.  Across from them is Untitled (Green), from the same series as the previously mentioned Untitled (Pink).  Another cartoon-like object, the blob feels alive with objects poking and prodding to get out.  Morrison’s Untitled sculptures are often paralleled to the work of Christo and Jeff Koons.  

The perspectival effects of Morrison’s Victor (rat trap) & van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Marriage
Moving from the plasticy Untitled (Green) to the shiny chrome Victor (rap trap), the familiar feeling déjà vu sets in.  Four years ago, the Wexner hosted Shiny, an exhibition that featured reflective objects, one of which was Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dog. Victor is located in the exact same where spot Balloon Dog was previously displayed, so the parallels between Morrison’s and Koons’ work do not just stop at materiality.  Whatever politics this relationship between Morrison and Koons may evoke, the location showcases these two pieces as two different arguments – Victor creates an architectural effect within the gallery, and Balloon Dog merely occupies the space.  Standing in front of Victor is like looking at Jan van Eyck’s The Arnolfini Marriage; the reflection of the round, convex mirror hanging on the wall behind the Arnolfinis.  This reflection not only captures the space between the viewer and the reflective surface, but the convex bounces back the perpetual space behind; the perfect way for curators to cue a turn-around point in Morrison’s exhibition.  Leaving Victor behind and moving towards the top of the ramp, the final piece of the solo rests. 

Lupe, is nickel-plated neoclassical bust: frivolous and witty, evidence of a Damien Hirst-type of sensibility.  The base of the bust, typically reserved for architectural decoration, is rockin’ with bands of studded and spiked necklaces.  Lupe’s garments maintain the classically draped style with a corsage pinned upon her collar; the corsage is not a typical carnation on prom night, but instead chunks of a honeybee hive placed as several overlapping pieces to create a geometric bouquet.  How sweet. 

Lupe is sporting a fancy coif for a classical lady.  Like Morrison’s other nickel-plated female bust, Wiffle Ball,8 they both bear an uncanny resemblance to the Chiquita Banana Lady.  Instead of commercial fruit, Lupe’s headdress is comprised of found objects: wiffle balls, fake diamonds, and metal spheres.  These objects are scaled up and down to create a sparkling and textured piece.  Although her hair may be flamboyantly loud, Lupe’s ears are plugged in Mid-West fashion with corn-on-the-cob holders, poking out like earplugs. 

Viewers are denied a view to Lupe’s face by her metal surgical mask.  The only visible features are her eyes, which strategically look down the ramp to visitors approaching (kudos to the curators for the subconscious way finding).  Following Lupe, the impromptu tour guide, visitors descend back down the ramp and out of the exhibition. 

Electric Avenue

Leaving the museum at dusk, the final solo of the day is about to begin: Erwin Redl’s LED light installation FETCH. The magic of the installation happens in the interstitial space: between two buildings, situated in Eisenman’s white grid, playing with the perspectival effects the grid creates when looking down the alley. 

Redl’s light show begins at a vanishing point framed at the northernend of the grid structure.  As the suspended LEDs pulsate in programmatic and chromatic order, the grid and coordinating mullions of the buildings are lit up, creating a powerful sense of space coming forward and then receding.  Redl’s installation is resonant with Wexner’s presentation of Miroku by Karas earlier this year.  Miroku’s set design played with the light through projection in the auditorium darkness to create movement in an otherwise static environment and stage set. 

Redl choreographs the lights by using various rhythms, colors and looped patterns.  FETCH, as the name would suggest, is literally played out, as a burst of color is thrown across the white grid, reaches the end of the grid, and returns back to its master.  By gradating the color as it is “thrown,” Redl accelerates the effect. 

Occasionally there are moments where the lights sporadically flash, like the staccato photoflashes of the paparazzi.  Then the ‘house lights’ come up and a bold note holding the fermata illuminates the entire space, catching the attention of those wandering by the museum, pausing in the framed space of the grid.  Clearly, the interaction of the audience is included in the scope of the project. 

Walking under the installation is like walking under a roller coaster as it soars above.  The fantastical flight overhead invigorates the narrow space as it bursts into a rainbow, an affect Geckler’s installation also achieves through woven clouds of color hovering over the lobby.  FETCH moves back and forth, from one end to the other, lending a cyclical appropriation as the final, or perhaps the beginning of experiencing Six Solos

Six Solos will continue to entertain its audience via scheduled panel discussions with an accompanying artist to flesh out their project and gauge their current trajectory within the discipline.  Each artist is clearly at a difference place within his or her own personal project, but the discourse created within these projects begins a necessary evolutionary process.  It is an intrinsic process much like the physical flow of experiencing the exhibition.  The symmetrical loop upon created by Six Solos became more apparent with progression through the Wexner.  A musical masterpiece has been curated: a trio constructs an architectural melody and a quintet embraces a lighthearted harmony, demonstrating multiple interpretations of the exhibition.

1Tobias Putrih: cinema attitudes, 2008; Attitudes gallery, Geneva, Switzerland.
2Tobias Putrih & MOS: Overhang, 2009; BALTIC Centre For Contemporary Art, Gateshead, United Kingdom.
3Tobias Putrih & MOS: Intervention #10, 2009; Boijmans Van Beuningen Museum, Rotterdam, Netherlands.
4Tobias Putrih & MOS: Erosion, 2009; MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA.
5Rachel Whiteread:  Ghost, 1990; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. (2004).  Whiteread pours concrete into the space of a room, casting a solid from the shell.  Ghost captures the air of a room; the result is a volumetric inverse-relief of the room’s features: wallpaper, moulding, and the fireplace.
6MOS: Afterparty; MoMA PS1 Young Architects Competition, 2009.
7Joel Morrison’s Birds/Lewitt was originally part of an installation, Kalifornia Über Alles, for the 2006 California Biennial at the Orange County Museum of Art.  The installation was comprised of two screens, one that is blank, and the other plays Birds/Lewitt.  “Kalifornia Über Alles turns Hitchcock’s Atomic Age Cold War scenario away from a pop-narrative of nature’s revenge, released in the year of the Kennedy assassination. It becomes instead a provocative story of culture’s retribution. The image echoes in the present, when ‘60s ideals lie in a shambles,” as quoted by Christopher Knight, a Times staff writer in 2006.
8Joel Morrison: Wiffle Ball, 2010; Gagosian Gallery, New York, NY.