The Visibility of Divergence

The Visibility of Divergence. Networks and Agency in Architecture, Art and Design


Mark Ian Jones PhD | School of Design Studies | University of New South Wales | College of Fine Arts | Sydney, Australia | Guest Researcher | Department of Art History | Uppsala University | Uppsala, Sweden

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Writing Public Painting Out of Art History

Johanna Ruohonen, PhD Candidate, Department of Art History, University of Turku, Finland

Public painting has a complex position within the 20th century artistic discourse. It was considered an important, national, genre of art and established as a civilizing process for the people. At the same time, the functional role attributed to public painting made it unfit for the modernist discourse. On the other hand, modernists such as Le Corbusier and Fernand Léger were deeply interested in public painting from another point of view: in creating a new union of art and architecture.

In this paper, I investigate the networks of production of public painting, and the distribution of the ideals of public painting in mid-20th century Finland. I also address the nature of works that were created in Finland as a result of these conflicting definitions, and the process in which the genre was written out of Finnish 20th century art history.

In the small pool of people in the Finnish art world in the mid-20th century, the same individuals often took different positions, acting as artists, jury members and critics. The same figures, who formulated public painting as national art, considered much of national public painting unqualified for the category. Monumental paintings have often been left out of the biographical narratives of the artists. Works employing the conventions of monumentality did not necessarily fit the understanding of the oeuvre of the artist in question. While public painting was directed attention and funds, the outcomes were devaluated and later forgotten.

The language of art history is frequently explicitly evaluative, but it is also often evaluative when it does not seem to be. Furthermore, these evaluations have a tendency of cumulating. Harri Kalha (1997) has called the process the Darwinian choice of art history, where only the most “beautiful” objects are included in the canon. With the case of Finnish public painting, I address the formation of an art historical canon.


The Intangible Artist In Between

Dominika Glogowski, PhD Cand., University of Applied Arts Vienna, Austria

In 1967, Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi presented a model of the US Pavilion for the first World Fair that was to be held in Japan in 1970. Levitating balloons and pneumatic walls and roofs alluded to the research on construction and sustainability of translucent plastics, embracing simultaneously the ‘World Citizen’ in a growing-together world society. Collaborating with artist and sociologist John McHale, former founder of the British Independent Group and research associate to Richard Buckminster Fuller, their teamwork mirrors shared holistic worldviews, in which nature, science and technology fuse into a single universal bio-centric principle. Noguchi’s contribution to the Expo provides an insight into his artistic practice as a world of vision and discovery. His post-war landscapes, however, have mainly been read through the lens of nature as embodied Japanese identity. Seemingly, Noguchi’s bi-cultural heritage did not match an Art and Technology ‘belief,’ as intensely promoted by the United States Agency in the space and communication era.

My talk hence draws on an apparent national mapping of technological vocabulary as associated with designs like E.A.T.’s Pepsi Pavilion at Osaka’s World Fair. According to Barbara Rose, the latter represented, “a specifically American experiment in democratic interchange.” (Rose, 1972: 120) The Expo serves a subtle examination of a national expression of scientific and technological progressiveness and their global socio-cultural assignment. Contrary to Zen-like interpretations of Noguchi’s post-war landscapes as a ‘reprocessing’ of his native roots that fit the American art market of the 1950s and remained ever since, his landscapes of the 1960s and 1970s verge on industrial vernacular. Complicating one-sided narratives of Noguchi’s oeuvre, my talk reveals his visions for the World Fair in the broader context of contemporaneous Pop Architecture and a holistic embracement of science and technology into a humanized environment after World War II.

Beyond Noguchi’s cultural background and the post-war Japanese-American experience, my talk hence offers ground for a comprehensive reconsideration of the embedding, self-positioning and perception of artists and art in elusive realms like technology, transnational and cross-disciplinary collaboration and work.


Hannes Meyer and the Bauhaus

Gretchen Gasterland-Gustafsson, PhD, Visiting Scholar, Minneapolis College of Art and Design, USA

The Bauhaus is central to any history of 20th century architecture and design. Closed by the Nazis in 1933 after having been relocated twice due to political pressure, the narrative of the Bauhaus is associated with the heroic perseverance of Modernism in the face of overwhelming political opposition. However, these same accounts often serve to marginalize the work, efforts, and life of the second director of the Bauhaus, Hannes Meyer. While the influence of such architects as Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe is consistently overstated, Hannes Meyer’s influence is almost always ignored. The grounds for his exclusion are predicated on his political affiliations as well as the functionalist turn he brought to the school. When comparing the volume of scholarly work on each Bauhaus director (Gropius, Meyer, and Mies van der Rohe) it is immediately apparent that Meyer has been excluded, and yet he was the director responsible for having established architecture as a discipline at the school. While Gropius conceived of architecture as the umbrella discipline for the whole Bauhaus, he instead focused on his own private architectural practice.

Gropius recruited Meyer for the directorship after having been turned down by Mart Stam. This choice both baffled and concerned other Bauhaus Masters, some of whom quickly departed the school following Meyer’s appointment. The history of Hannes Meyer and the Bauhaus is one that continued to baffle scholars studying the institution and its legacy, most of whom either dismiss or apologize for the Meyer interlude as a lapse of reason on the way to Mies’ all too brief tenure. The narrative of the Bauhaus trajectory that culminates in the tragic leadership of Mies van der Rohe ignores some of his questionable political choices as outlined in Elain Hochman’s Architects of Fortune (1989).

My paper will present a counter narrative that takes the legacy of Hannes Meyer as second director of the Bauhaus seriously, exploring the reasons for his appointment, the political atmosphere within the school and outside its walls that conditioned the controversy that surrounded him while there, and led to his dismissal from both the school and its history. I will also speak to the legacy of Hannes Meyer’s Bauhaus on the Swedish architectural modernism, particularly that on display at the 1930 Stockholm Exhibition. In the Swedish Modernist architecture exemplified by such practitioners and theorists as Sven Markelius and Uno Åhren I argue that Hannes Meyer’s vision of the role of architecture may have had more influence than either Gropius’ or Mies’, especially given the timing of these architect’s study visits to Germany and the Bauhaus in particular as evidenced by accounts they published in Byggmästare.


The inauguration process of Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris 1974-1981 – The Pontus Hultén period

Merete Hovdenak, Master in Art History, Curator at Trondheim Art Museum, Norway, 2008-2012

My approach to Centre Pompidou is through a study of the inauguration process of the art museum (Musée National de l’Art Moderne/MNAM) inside the Centre Pompidou, both through an art historical and museological perspective. I study the relationships between the institution’s first director, Pontus Hultén, and other external art professionals, in particularly French collectors and artists within and outside the French art field in the same period of time. Hultén can be seen as an “outsider” and a “neutral” professional and specialist on the art field, then holding both American and French contacts. Hultén started to work in Paris in 1974, followed the construction process of the new cultural center and held his position as the director of MNAM until 1981.

An important part of the MNAM art collection is mostly shaped and established during the Hultén-period and may be characterized by the directors close and in some cases often personal relationship with, most of them, American based French born, or more precisely  French speaking contemporary artists. The first exhibition, holding the title Paris -New York 1908-1968 (1977) underlines Hultén’s ambition for a new and different European contemporary art institution, again placing Paris/France on the contemporary museum map.

It is not to ignore the fact that from a Parisian point of view, Swedish born Hultén came from the outside art world, from a geographically and cultural periphery inferior other art capitals or centers as London, Berlin or Amsterdam at the time. Despite this, it was his background with exhibitions on both European and North American contemporary art in Moderna Museet, Stockholm, in the 1960s that gave him this new attractive position for the Pompidou-project. His knowledge of American and European post-war art production and most important: his contacts and connections in New York with European and in particularly French post-war artists gave him a unique international position and profile. His close contact with artists, in particularly Jean Tinguely (1925-1991) who he met in New York and in Amsterdam and of whom he also showed works of in Moderna Museet Stockholm in 1961. Tinguely worked closely with Johnsen Sweeney, who worked together with director Alfred H. Barr in MoMA. Barr was a close friend of Dominique de Menil, a French born art collector who lived in Texas. Menil was particularly generous with “gifts” to the MNAM collection of American works by Jackson Pollock, Larry Rivers and Andy Warhol during the Hultén period. Sweeney is also an important man in this institutional network, and played an active and important role in displaying Duchamps work in New York in the 1930s and 1940s. Hultén’s relations to artists like Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, Claes Oldenburg, Sam Francis and Rebecca Horn will be further analyzed in my paper.

Paris – New York 1908-1968 is the title of the first exhibition of a series of four internationally recognizes exhibitions produced by Hultén and the museum’s staff the opening season of Centre Pompidou. Hultén who curated the show, regarded Duchamp the first real artist of the twentieth century although for example Joseph Beuys and figurative Pop artists of the twentieth century in many ways had contested Duchamp’s historical role.

The goal of the museum’s opening exhibition was to stage the multidisciplinary impact and role Paris played on the evolution or production of 20th Century Art. Hultén understood and saw that the many New York museums, and other alternative spaces on the art-field in New York, were not well known in Europe or France. At the same time, Hultén himself had a reputation in Europe, being the first to introduce contemporary art-productions, Pop-art in particularly, and putting them on display at Moderna Museet in Stockholm. I here would like to argue that European art collectors and artists, working and living particularly in New York, became an important and to some extent a decisive resource and key to Hulténs Centre Pompidou exhibition project and his success as the institution’s director. It is my statement that, despite Hulténs multidisciplinary art exhibitions in the art museum inside the new cultural center, MNAM’s museography and museological program and Hulténs methods in collecting art, may sought to present an alternative to the hegemony of Museum of Modern Art in New York, but ended up imitating it rather than creating a new European museum of modern and contemporary art. This has been discussed through recent publications (Dufrêne, Bernadette, Centre Pompidou Trente Ans d’Histoire, Édition de Centre Pompidou, Paris 2007 and Lorente, J. Pedro., The Museums of Contemporary Art – Notions and Development, Ashgate Surrey/Burlington 2011) and will be more profoundly analyzed through my ongoing research on the museum’s inauguration process, artists and professionals involved, including Hulténs connections outside the French art field.