Upending Mies


Mies' 50x50 House gets a makeover at MASS MoCA. (Photo: Dylan Lathrop)

Mies van der Rohe has suffered some indignities lately, with a building at Chicago’s Illinois Institute of Technology knocked down and plastic palms taking root at the Dirksen Federal Building. Now comes Madrid-born artist Iñigo Manglano-Ovalle’s latest work, Gravity Is a Force to be Reckoned With, which realizes one of the master’s unbuilt projects—albeit upside-down.

On display at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art through October 2010, the installation is an inverted, half-scale replica of Mies’ 50×50 House project (1951). The small, box-shaped house is completely enclosed in glass, and replete with black leather chairs, glass-topped tables, and a wood-partitioned kitchen counter containing a small range, a sink, a French press, and a teaspoon.


The half-scale house occupies Building 5 of the former print works. (Photo: Dylan Lathrop)

But in Manglano-Ovalle’s version, the walls and floor of the structure do not touch the ground; the house appears suspended. The interior lighting is a clinical white. Viewers look up to see Miesian chairs and tables hanging from the structure’s ceiling, the floor of the inverted room. On one table, the screen of a cell phone glows next to a pack of cigarettes and a notebook. Below, a coffee cup has fallen victim to gravity, its shards lying in a puddle of spilled liquid on the ceiling.


Note the gravity-defying Barcelona Chairs. (Photo: Dylan Lathrop)

Manglano-Ovalle trained at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—he remains based in the city—and his many projects include a trio of films that center around Mies’ architecture: Le Baiser/The Kiss (1999), Climate (2000), and In Ordinary Time (2001). These were followed up by the artist’s 2006 film Always After (The Glass House), which is showing alongside the Gravity installation. The film presents broken glass being swept up, footage taken after Mies’ grandson used a sledgehammer to smash a window of IIT’s famous Crown Hall as part of that building’s restoration in 2005.


Always After (The Glass House), 2006 (Courtesy the artist and Max Protetch Gallery, NY)

Related Stories