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12.14.2005
THE CURATORIAL LANDSCAPE
In which we look at the most prominent and prolific architecture and design curators today.

The role of the architecture and design curator has expanded considerably since the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) forged the position, shortly after its founding in 1929. Though still only a handful of collecting institutions in the United States have dedicated architecture and design departments (MoMA, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, Heinz Architectural Center at the Carnegie Museum of Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum), architecture and design are cropping up in exhibitions more frequently and with greater depth in a range of venues, from furniture stores to art galleries, international art biennials and special interest institutions, like the Museum of the City of New York and the Studio Museum in Harlem.

There's a great demand at this moment for architecture and design curators, a job that's evolving in pace with the fields to which it's devoted. Several major curatorial posts in the U.S. are currently vacant: MoMA is seeking a chief curator to replace Terence Riley, who will leave in March, as well as a curator to fill the position left by Peter Reed, who was promoted within the museum last summer. The SFMoMA has been curator-less for nearly six months, since Joseph Rosa left to assume the architecture curator position at the Art Institute of Chicago. Rosa, for his part, has announced his intention to hire two associate curators to fulfill the Art Institute's ambition to expand to include design and for its exhibitions to be international in scope. The National Building Museum claims that it still intends to hire a chief curator, though it's been a more than a year since Howard Decker abruptly resigned from the post. The biggest news is that the Guggenheim is looking to hire a senior architecture curator, having recently hired a junior curator to assist contemporary art curator Germano Celant in producing a massive retrospective on Zaha Hadid, scheduled to open June.

We decided to look at the most prominent and prolific architecture and design curators in this country today, to gain a sense of how architecture and design are exhibited. (Aaron Betsky, based in the Netherlands, is an exception, but his career as a curator was established in the U.S.) The work of the curators presented here diverge from the propagandizing, taste-making role distinguished by Philip Johnson. Design curatorship has come a long way, but clearly, the field remains wide open.

 

 

Museums

DONALD ALBRECHT
Independent Curator
Education: BArch, Illinois
Institute of Technology (1974).

Donald Albrecht is unique as a prolific independent producer of exhibitions and publications. He has dozens of exhibitions to his credit, including the important traveling retrospective of Charles and Ray Eames (Vitra Museum, 1997), World War II and the American Dream (National Building Museum, 1994), New Hotels for Global Nomads (Cooper-Hewitt, 2003), and an exhibition on Enrique Norten (Museum of the City of New York, 2005).

The scope and mix of his exhibitions are made possible by his independence: Unencumbered by an institution's mission or collection, he can pursue ideas as they interest him, finding venues as appropriate. Or, often, he is recruited by institutions for specific projects. Presently, he's working on seven shows, including retrospectives on Eero Saarinen, Moshe Safdie, and Dorothy Draper.

Curious and energetic, Albrecht's shows are always strongly grounded in social history. Rather than privilege the formal aspects of objects, Albrecht emphasizes their cultural resonance. (Who else would do a show on the air conditioner?) Moreover, his exhibitions are always notable for their dynamic installations. For example, his forthcoming show, on sustainable residential design that will open at the National Building Museum in the spring, includes a full-scale mock-up of a living room and kitchen showcasing green products.

 

PAOLA ANTONELLI
Curator, Department of
Architecture and Design,
MoMA (since 1994)
Education: MA in Architecture,
Milan Polytechnic (1990).

Paola Antonelli made a great first impression as a curator at MoMA with her exuberant, eclectic exhibition Mutant Materials (1995). Though she had previous shows under her belt as an independent curatorrat the Triennale in Milan, the Tokyo Design Forummher American debut initiated her reputation for having a catholic perspective on what constitutes and drives design. Microscopic, monumental, metaphoric, real, or fantasyyfor her, design seems to have limitless boundaries.

If her shows share one characteristic, it's tremendous gusto. She's distinguished herself as a curator with a keen eye, pithy tongue, and profound heart. Her conviction that design gives shape to people's lives suits the context of MoMA, which has a historic mission to educate and lift tastes. Her open attitude has resulted in appreciably quirky, and sometimes risky, selectionssfor example, her jam-packed current exhibition, SAFE, includes a UN refugee tarp, camouflage cream, and a baby buggy.

Antonelli began her career as an architect and architecture journalist, with editorial stints at Domus (1987791) and Abitare (1992294). Her thematically strong shows have always included architectural as well as artistic components, perhaps because of her Italian roots. In Italy, art, architecture, and design are easily regarded as overlapping territories.

 

AARON BETSKY
Director, Netherlands Architecture Institute
(since 2000)
Education: BA in History,
Yale University (1979);
MArch, Yale University (1983).

Aaron Betsky has forged connections with just about every architect worth knowing on the planet. He made himself a player on the architecture circuit early in his career, most notoriously feeding the Deconstructivist Architecture show to Philip Johnson in 1988. He was even up for the MoMA curatorship before it went, somewhat surprisingly, to Terence Riley in 1991.

Betsky rooted himself in the Los Angeles architecture scene, working in the offices of Frank Gehry and Hodgetts + Fung as well as coordinating lectures and exhibitions at SCI-Arc. All the while, he wrote exhaustively for just about every magazine arounddMetropolis, Blueprint, ID, Metropolitan Home. In fact, Betsky was thought of primarily as a magazine writer before he landed the position of architecture and design curator at SFMoMA in 1995.

Betsky's shows, articles, and books have run the gamut in topic and tenor (athletic shoes, queer space, Dutch design). His detractors say that his always-topical exhibitions put glitz over depth. But under Betsky, the SFMoMA's profile grew, as did the authority of his department. It was Betsky, too, who added digital projectss to the department's official heading. Betsky's high energy level has charisma has already lifted the profile of the NAi.

 

K. MICHAEL HAYS
Adjunct Curator of Architecture,
Whitney Museum of American Art
(since 2000)
Education: BArch, Georgia
Institute of Technology
(1976); MArch in Advanced
Studies in History and
Theory of Architecture, MIT
(1979); PhD in Architecture,
Art, and Environmental
Studies, MIT (1990).

K. Michael Hays was brought on as adjunct architecture curator by former Whitney director Maxwell Anderson, a strong proponent of architecture. The Whitney decided from the outset not to compete with MoMA, choosing to focus on architecture that is closely related to art. Though the architecture programming has been low key, Hays, who teaches architectural history and theory at Harvard, frequently consults with director Adam Weinberg and his fellow curators on how architecture enters the other arts. For example, Hays' voice is seen in the last Biennial, which featured several works with a strong architectural dimension.

Under Hays' direction the museum has organized two intelligent exhibitionssone on John Hejduk (2002) and the other on Diller + Scofidio (2003), co-curated by Aaron Betsky. Hays also launched the lecture series Architecture Dialogues, featuring artists as well as architects. He is now working on a show on Buckminster Fuller and his interactions with artists such as Jasper Johns and Robert Smithson. The Whitney does not have an architecture collection but hopes to start one.

 

BROOKE HODGE
Curator, Department of
Architecture and Design,
Museum of Contemporary
Art, Los Angeles (since 2001)
Education: BA in Art History,
Queens University, Kingston,
Ontario (1983); Masters in
Architectural History,
University of Virginia (1989).

Brooke Hodge's curatorial efforts are well-balanced between architecture and design, historical and contemporary subjects. While director of exhibitions and lectures at Harvard's GSD (199112001), her shows were primarily monographic, devoted to historical figures like Gio Ponti, as well as contemporary architects such as Kazuyo Sejima and Zaha Hadid.

Though the LAMoCA has mounted architecture and design exhibitions in the past, it did not formalize the curator position until Hodge's 2001 appointment. She quickly focused on topics dear to Angelenos' hearts: cars and Frank Gehry. Her first two shows looked at the work of automobile designer J Mays and of the region's most famous architect. The latter, which came a mere two years after the Guggenheim's all-rotunda blowout, seemed superfluous. But Hodge is learning how to balance catering to a mass audience and creating challenging shows. Her background in art and architecture, penchant for the interdisciplinary, and extensive bicoastal networks will hopefully enrich her contribution as a guest co-curator of the 2006 National Design Triennial at the Cooper-Hewitt.

 

MATILDA MCQUAID
Exhibitions Curator and Head
of the Textiles Department,
Cooper-Hewitt, National
Design Museum (since 2002)
Education: BA in Art History,
Bowdoin College (1979);
Masters in Architectural History,
University of Virginia (1990).

Matilda McQuaid went pretty much straight from her studies, in art history, to working in the Architecture and Design Department at MoMA. During her 15 years there, she curated several shows on architecture and design including, with Terence Riley, Towards the New Museum of Modern Art (1997), a presentation of ten architects' participation in a charette on the MoMA's expansion; Structure and Surface (1998), on contemporary Japanese textiles; and the magnificent installation of Shigeru Ban's
A Paper Arch, spanning the sculpture garden (2000).

In 2002, McQuaid joined the Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum, as head of exhibitions, and quickly inaugurated Solos, a lively series of full-scale building installations that brought shipping containers and polymer-skin pavilions to the museum's pristine lawn. Her exhibitions show off her ability to display arcane technology in alluring ways. Though the Cooper-Hewitt has suffered recently from organizational and leadership problems, McQuaid's consistently strong contributions, such as her recent, acclaimed Extreme Textiles show, have given the institution a much-needed air of confidence.

 

JOSEPH ROSA
John H. Bryan Curator
of Architecture and Design,
Art Institute of Chicago
(since September 2005)
Education: BArch, Pratt
Institute (1984); MS in
Architecture and Building
Design, Columbia University
(1990); PhD candidate,
Columbia (1990094).

Joseph Rosa gets around. Not only has he occupied the majority of the architecture curator jobs in this country, but his shows cover a vast, unclassifiable territory. His previous exhibition subjects include Piranesi and Lauretta Vinciarelli (both 1992) while he was director at the Columbia Architectecture Galleries; and photographer Camilo Jose Vergara's series The New American Ghetto (1996) while he was head curator at the National Building Museum. While curator at the Heinz Architectural Center, he produced Folds, Blobs, and Boxes (2001). Then, at SFMoMA, he mounted shows on industrial designer Yves Behar (2004) and graphic design firm 2x4 (2005). He began his new job, as curator at the Art Institute in Chicago, in September.

His grounding as a practitioner (he worked at Gwathmey Siegel and Eisenman / Robertson) comes through in his exhibitions, even when dealing with trendy subjects. For example, in Folds, Blobs, and Boxes, he showed that non-Cartesian architecture predates the advent of digital tools, emphasizing a continuum of ideas and processes in architectural practice.

 

Alternative Spaces

NED CRAMER
Curator, Chicago Art
Foundation (since 2002)
Education: BA in Architecture,
Rice University (1994).

Cramer was specifically hired to energize the exhibition program at the Chicago Architecture Foundation (CAF), whose bread-and-butter activity had always been city tours. During his tenure, the CAF has mounted fewer but more thorough and contemporary shows, such as A Century of Progress (2004), devoted to the experimental architecture of the 1933334 Chicago World's Fair. One of Cramer's most valuable initiatives has been to put Chicago's architecture and culture into a national and international context. While that has also meant a subtle shift away from the CAF's long-time focus on historic preservation, local observers say that his interest in exhibiting younger, more innovative Chicago architects has had an invigorating effect on the local architecture scene.

 

EVAN DOUGLIS
Principal, Evan Douglis
Studio (since 1991)
Education: BArch, The
Cooper Union (1983);
MArch, Harvard GSD (1990).

Following notable predecessors Terence Riley and Joseph Rosa, Evan Douglis served as director of Columbia's architecture galleries, from 1995 to 2003. With shows like The Work of Paul Virilio (1997) and ARCHItourism (2002), Douglis' interests are clearly diverse, though his shows tended to focus on innovative materials and technologies. Rather than simply show drawings and objects, Douglis allowed an exhibition's design to express the ideas on display. For example, to convey the mass-fabrication-oriented works of Jean Prouvv in his 2004 monograph show, Douglis created a CNC-milled kit of parts to form a sensuous displayscape.

Recently, Douglis has been focusing on his practice and on his duties as undergraduate architecture chair at Pratt.

 

SARAH HERDA
Executive Director, Storefront
for Art and Architecture
(since 1998)
Education: BA in English
Literature, Mills College
(1995); Masters in Urban
Design candidate, City
College of New York.

From a brief stint as a curator for 2AES, a small, nomadic organization in San Francisco, to her current job at the innovative, hole-in-the-wall gallery Storefront for Art and Architecture, Herda is well versed at pulling together shows in a pinch and on a dime. During her seven years at Storefront, she has overseen 40-plus shows, including Urban Renewal: City Without a Ghetto (2003) and, recently, Can Buildings Curate? More important than any individual exhibition she has brought to Storefront (many of its shows are organized by independent curators), Herda has helped to stabilize the institution, increase its public profile, and attract interest and support from varied quarters.

 

ZOO RYAN
Senior Curator, Van Alen
Institute (since 2000)
Education: BA in Art History,
University of Sussex (1998);
MA in Art History, Hunter
College (2005).

Trained in art history in her native England, Ryan arrived in New York in 1998 and quickly landed a job as curatorial assistant at MoMA. At the Van Alen, whose focus is the ever-so-fleeting phenomena of public space, Ryan curated, with then-director Ray Gastil, OPEN: new designs for public space (2003), a global survey of projects that illustrate the changing nature of public space. It was her first large-scale, traveling show. With her diverse interestssshe writes comfortably about industrial and graphic design for magazines like Surface and Blueprint>Ryan has helped Van Alen to broaden the scope of its programs, such as Variable City (2004), which reprogrammed public space through dance.

 

HENRY URBACH
Founder, Henry Urbach
Architecture (since 1998)
Education: AB, History and
Theory, Princeton University
(1984); MArch, Columbia
(1990); PhD candidate,
Princeton (1992295).

Founded in 1998, Henry Urbach Architecture (HUA) is one of the few galleries in Chelsea to show the work of contemporary architects. Leaning more toward emerging experimental designers than old-guard gallerist Max Protetch, Urbach has given architecture firms like freecell, LOT/EK, Roy, and many others a chance to show off their discipline-blurring efforts. He has also brought architecture-sympathetic artists into the fold, such as photographer Richard Barnes and media artist Marco Brambillo. However, HUA never became as commercially successful as Protetch's gallery, and its public exhibition program is currently dormant. Urbach is now focusing on independent curating projects.

 

PETER ZELLNER
Principal, Zellner / Planning
Research (since 2003)
Education: BArch, Royal
Melbourne Institute of
Technology (1993); MArch,
Harvard GSD (1999).

At Harvard, Zellner trained with Rem Koolhaas and did his thesis under the auspices of the Harvard Projects on the City. With former classmate Jeffrey Inaba, he runs VALDes, a collaborative devoted to researching suburbs. Since relocating to Los Angeles from New York two years ago, Zellner put together several group shows relating to both current and historical architectural movements in Los Angeles. As an unaffiliated curator, he has proven to be enterprising in creating thematically compelling exhibitions and finding venues for them, such as Sign and Surface at New York's Artists Space (2003) and most recently, Whatever Happened to L.A.?, at SCI-Arc.

Andrew Yang, Cathy Lang Ho, Jaffer Kolb, and Anne Guiney