Exhibitions and the Canon of Modern Architecture I

Exhibitions and the Canon of Modern Architecture I

Part I: Exhibitions that Shaped Modern Architecture

Session chairs:

Wallis Miller, University of Kentucky (wmiller@uky.edu)

Mari Lending, Oslo School of Architecture and Design (mari.lending@aho.no)

Presentations:

Exhibitions and the Establishment of Modern Architecture in Central Europe: Czechoslovakia – Poland – Eastern Germany

Beate Störtkuhl, Bundesinstitut für Kultur und Geschichte der Deutschen im östlichen Europa, Germany (beate.stoertkuhl@bgke.uni-oldenburg.de)

The paper deals with three exhibitions of the late 1920s in Central Europe that had a crucial impact on the development of Modern Architecture in their countries respective in their region: the Výstava soudobé kultury (Exhibition of Contemporary Culture) in Brno (Czechoslovakia) in 1928; the Powszechna Wystawa Krajowa (The Land´s General Exhibition) in Poznań (Poland) in 1929; and the Werkbund-Ausstellung Wohnung und Werkraum (WuWA; Exhibition of the German Werkbund: Spaces for Living and Working) in the Silesian capital Breslau (in those days situated in Germany, since 1945 the Polish Wrocław), likewise in 1929.

Each of these exhibitions was influenced to some extent by the first manifesto of the new “international style” in architecture at Stuttgart-Weißenhof in 1927. But each of them was also related to the other two by a kind of nationalistic competition between the new formed states Poland and Czechoslovakia and the German border-province Silesia, geographically situated between them and suffering from the new political order after WW I. This cultural competition seems to be the main reason why Modern Architecture in the late 1920s was widely adopted across the entire region.

I will examine the pre-conditions of the three exhibitions and their consequences for the architectural scene, comparing them on the basis of the artistic as well as the socio-political discourses associated with each.  . One important issue I will consider is how, by whom and to what extent Modern Architecture was interpreted as a medium of national self-representation, despite the fact that most of their planners were involved and, indeed, maintained cordial relationships with an international network of architects.

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Modern Architecture in the Making: Josef Frank, Otto Neurath and the Vienna International Housing Exposition 1932

Andreas Nierhaus, Wien Museum, Austria (andreas.nierhaus@wienmuseum.at) and Sabrina Rahman, School of Advanced Study, University of London, UK (sabrina.rahman@sas.ac.uk)

During the summer of 1932, the International Housing Exposition of the Austrian Werkbund (Werkbundsiedlung) offered working-class families in Vienna the opportunity to purchase seventy single-family and row homes designed by a diverse group of thirty-one leading international architects. Constructed under the direction of the Viennese architect and designer Josef Frank, the Werkbundsiedlung remains one of the most important international exhibitions in the history of modern architecture. The fully-furnished model houses on display engaged with both tradition and innovation and, perhaps most significantly, strove towards greater agency on the part of the house dweller.

For the sociologist and economist Otto Neurath, who collaborated closely with Frank on the planning and promotion of this exhibition, this new and pluralistic approach to architecture would result in a maximum of happiness (Glücksmaximum) for the working class, as opposed to the rather elitist conception of modernity that had its basis in the notion of a single dominant style, as was the case in the Weissenhofsiedlung in Stuttgart (1927). The Werkbundsiedlung demanded that modern architecture be deeply integrated into society, far away from the abstract conceptions of modernity that had until 1932 only been developed and explored in the artistic circles of a small social and economic elite, and thereby challenged the predominant view of modernity as a unified aesthetic entity.

This paper traces the development of Josef Frank’s theoretical thought and Otto Neurath’s sociological work in tandem with the more tangible and concrete project of the Werkbundsiedlung. In doing so, we aim to reveal a critical narrative of modern architecture, its exhibition and its real-life function, as well as mark a caesura in the conventional trajectory of the architectural canon.

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A New Vision toward a New Architecture: MoMA, Moholy-Nagy and the Medium of Modern Architectural Transformation

Erin Leary, University of Rochester, USA (erin.leary@rochester.edu)

Within the canon of Modern architecture, New York’s Museum of Modern Art claimed a central role with Modern Architecture: An International Exhibition (1932). Through this exhibition and a series of others, MoMA facilitated not only the transition to the International Style but also the emigration of a number of German architects and designers to the United States. But, I argue that another exhibition serves as a pivotal juncture point in the study of Modern Architecture: Modern Architecture in England (1937). This small exhibition, little acknowledged within the canon, included the works of key Bauhaus and Constructivist refugees working in England in the 1930s. Most interestingly, the exhibition challenged the already-established paradigm of plans and photographs in architectural exhibitions with the inclusion of a short film by Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, New Architecture of the London Zoo .

In this paper, I address the introduction of film to the standard architectural exhibition format. Film was a unique medium for exhibition, previously only used by architects and their peers to consider spatial relationships, but only for themselves, as in Le Corbusier’s film work. Following Walter Benjamin’s writings on mechanical reproduction and the transformative power of this film, I seek to further manipulate Beatriz Colomina’s notion of modern architecture as mass media to consider the ways in which film produced modern architecture. Why was the film so significant to the promotion and transformation of modern architecture in the United States?

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Toward a Synthesis: Le Corbusier’s New World of Space

Ruth Genevieve S. Hendricks, Institute of Fine Arts, New York University, USA (genevievehendricks@gmail.com)

Le Corbusier, the prolific French architect, painter, urbanist, critic and designer, embodied a spirit of interdisciplinary exploration through his experimentation across media. An astute self-promoter, he recognized the power of exhibitions early in his career; innovative installations such as the Pavillon de l’Esprit Nouveau of 1925 and the Exhibition of Primitive Arts, staged in his own apartment in 1935, offered syncretising visions of alternate models of modernity, and extended the precepts set forth in his extensive writings and publications, witnessed most clearly in the multiple volumes of the Œuvres Complètes.

On March 4, 1948, the largest American exhibition of Le Corbusier’s work organized in his lifetime, New World of Space, opened at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston. What distinguishes this show, and the accompanying catalog penned by the artist, was its presentation of the fullest articulation to date of Le Corbusier’s conception of a “synthesis of the arts,” the main thrust of which he had been developing in written form since the mid-30s, and which emerged as a major feature of his post-War production. Both exhibition and text served as curated presentations of his critical and artistic outlook, emphasizing in particular his activities as a painter as well as an architect. This paper will examine the overlooked 1948 exhibition and its complementary catalog in order to analyze the ways in which Le Corbusier sought to define a specifically Modern paradigm of interrelating art and architecture in both installation and print.