Exhibitions and the Canon of Modern Architecture II

Exhibitions and the Canon of Modern Architecture

Part II: Modern Architecture After the Fact


Wallis Miller, University of Kentucky ([email protected]) and

Mari Lending, Oslo School of Architecture and Design ([email protected])



Challenging the Canon: Alvar Aalto and the Aesthetics of Display

Susanna Pettersson, Alvar Aalto Foundation / Alvar Aalto Museum, Finland

([email protected])

This presentation focuses on one of the iconic architects of the world, Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), whose life achievements have been presented in numerous exhibitions and collection displays both at the Alvar Aalto Museum, Finland, and at other venues all around the world. Apart from the exhibitions and collection displays, various monographs, thematic books, articles, and several research projects have added up to the formation of the master narrative.

In Aalto’s case contents to work with is exceptionally rich: architecture, design and even paintings provide great variety of material that provide access to in-depth understanding of the essence of Aalto’s architecture and design. However, the exhibitions and collection displays have never been analysed from the museological point of view. What pieces have been presented, in which context and why? How the aesthetics of display was formed and from where did it originate?

Using archival and documentation material of the major exhibitions as preliminary source, I aim to question the formation of the Aalto narrative, status of the signature works such as Paimio Sanatorium and Vyborg Library and emergence of key themes. The origins of the display aesthetics will be traced to the world fairs in Paris 1937 and New York 1939, as well as Aalto’s several plans for museum buildings.

I will claim that during the decades, the exhibitions together with the key publications created an Aalto canon that has been repeated over and over again. Finally, I aim to suggest how the canon can be challenged and the master narrative widened.


The Making of the “Gläserne Kette”

Jasper Cepl, Technische Universität Berlin, Germany ([email protected])

Today, the letters Bruno Taut and his circle exchanged after World War I are well known as the “Gläserne Kette” (the Crystal Chain). But the metaphor only came into use after an exhibition of that name had been shown in Schloss Morsbroich, Leverkusen, and the Akademie der Künste, Berlin, in 1963/64. Originally, it had played a minor role: The poet Alfred Brust, who joined Taut’s circle in 1920, introduced the idea when the correspondence was already well underway. Taut himself seams to have liked the term, as one of his letters indicates. Yet neither he nor any of the others members picked it up as a name for their endeavours. In 1963, letters by both Hermann Finsterlin and Wassili Luckhardt show that the name “Gläserne Kette” was unfamiliar to them.

In 1960, when Ulrich Conrads and Hans G. Sperlich first published some of the material in their highly influential book Phantastische Architektur (translated into English in 1963), they kept referring to a ‘Utopian correspondence’. They even published Taut’s aforementioned letter, but omitted the part about the “Gläserne Kette” — which only came to fame in 1963.

Both the exhibition and the catalogue were, more or less single-handedly, prepared by Oswald Mathias Ungers, a young architect from Cologne who was then under attack for his work, which many critics — such as Nikolaus Pevsner — derided as neo-Expressionist.

Ungers had been involved in an exhibition on Finsterlin, which Conrads had initiated in 1962. He then started building a private collection of material on Expressionist architecture, focussing on the “Gläserne Kette”. The catalogue he prepared for the exhibition for the first time assembled almost all the material (though in an amateurish way, compared to the scholarly edition provided by Iain Boyd Whyte in 1985).

The paper will reconstruct the preparation of the exhibition, drawing on yet largely unknown material from several archives, including the Archive of the Akademie der Künste in Berlin, the Ungers Archiv für Architekturwissenschaft in Cologne, the Stadtarchiv Leverkusen, and the Staatsgalerie Stuttgart.

It will give an account of the people involved, focussing on their interests and goals. It will also tend to the impact of the exhibition, and its role in unearthing Expressionist architecture.


Doppler Effects : Exhibitions and the Post-Critical Turn

Tina Di Carlo, Oslo School of Architecture and Design, Norway ([email protected])

Terence Riley once told me that the question Philip Johnson always asked when mounting an exhibition was: “Who are you going to the make the man?” The attitude is telling, in more ways than canonisation. Leaving aside the gender specifics for the moment Johnson’s credo points to the phenomenon of the architectural exhibition and its doppler effect of fame, notoriety, and historicity. Johnson’s vision was a self-fulfilling prophecy. It reinforced its own making.

The purpose of this paper, however, is to explore in greater depth what is arguably Johnson’s last perceived major exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art: Deconstructivist Architecture, co-organised with Mark Wigley with the assistance of Fredereike Taylor. While many of Johnson’s exhibitions, from the renowned International Style show to Deconstructivist Architecture, are commonly thought to hold a canonical role, the purpose of this paper is to take a longer, and more controversial, if not disruptive view.

The exhibition will be framed by two pivotal articles: Robert Somol and Sarah Whiting’s “Notes Around the Doppler Effect” (2001) and Michael Hays “Critical Architecture: Between Culture and Form” (1984). The transformative power of an exhibition as read against texts that follow and proceed it will be considered, as will texts and ideas that the exhibition itself constructed. At issue is the work within the exhibition and the exhibition as architecture, and in particular, the use of the media in what was arguably at the time considered a “twerpy” show. It will be argued that Deconstructivist Architecture works in and against the traditions of modernism to codify and change directions in architecture. Such changes are reflected within the contemporary, post-critical discourse and subsequently, within exhibition making. Dialectic terms such as disciplinarity and criticality, indexical and projective, praxis and form, autonomy and engagement as problematized in the articles, and reflected in the exhibition, will be challenged.

The exhibition will be situated with the socio-political-cultural context of the time when the architecture museum and exhibitions began to proliferate. The paper will not chart progressive histories, but consider the doppler effects within spatio-temporal margins of the exhibition on critical discourse. Subsequent changes in architecture exhibitions will be considered recurrent, as they reference modernist bauausstellung and architekturausstellung.


Making Modernism in Contemporary China: Exhibiting Architecture at Zhejiang University

Jeffrey Moser, Center for Art and Archaeology, Zhejiang University, China ([email protected])

Zhejiang University is developing an exhibition on the recent history of museum architecture to coincide with the 2015 opening of its Museum of Art and Archaeology. Designed by Gluckman-Mayner Architects (GMA), the building itself will constitute the centerpiece of the exhibit. Coordinated gallery displays will elucidate the principles that guided the design. Insofar as GMA’s prioritization of the museum’s art-framing function as the principal determinant of its form can be traced ultimately to the minimalist design principles of the International Style, one of the primary goals of the exhibition is to familiarize local audiences with the concerns and criteria of modern architecture. This requires making visual distinctions between the International Style and the contemporary international designs that constitute “modernity” in the eyes of popular Chinese audiences.

By presenting the plans for this exhibit in the context of “Exhibitions and the Canon of Modern Architecture,” this paper aims to elucidate fundamental problems intrinsic to the translation of modern Euro-American architectural canons into non-Western contexts through the case study of China. In the process, it invites comment on the particular ways in which Zhejiang University plans to address these problems. Insofar as the participants of the panel will be among the scholars most prepared to comment critically on the ramifications of modern architectural exhibitions, the conversations that this paper seeks to elicit represent an opportunity for the panel’s historical inquiry to have a practical impact on the ongoing canonization of modern architecture.