Large fairs like Art Basel/Miami always include a few galleries selling works by master architects as well as younger artists whose concerns cross into architectural, urban, and spatial territories. The just-concluded 2015 Miami fair didn’t have a great deal of architectural work this year but enough to keep architects pushing through its seemingly endless hallways of gallery stalls.
In the first case Sao Paulo gallery Bergamin & Gomide has a beautiful collection of objects and drawings by Roberto Burle Marx, including his organic free flowing gold jewelry colorful renderings of the 1938 rooftop garden design for the ministry of education and public health. But if I were a (wealthy) collector I would have gone for his playful hand made wooden model for a mural in the 1954 Pignatari house.
The other master who has been a staple at recent art fairs is Jean Prouve, whose small prefabricated metal, glass, and wood pavilions have sold for high prices. In 2015, galleries seem to be reduced to stripping off panels and ventilating grills from his remaining buildings to sell and these were in both Art Basel and Design Miami fairs.
The most intriguing architectural work this year was from Italian Gruppo T artist Gianni Colombo. His 1968 Intermutabili wood maquette that is part of his Spazio Elastico cycle was a thrill to find in the fair. It was created to explain a full scale room installation for the 1967 Gratz Trigon 67 exhibition and then was re-installed at the 1988 Venice art biennale.
The London gallery selling the Grupp T artist Robilant & Voena claims the model described an environment that was “a walk-in cube divided into spatial volumes by tense elastic cords treated with fluorescent paint.” The cords were apparently lit with ultraviolet light and subjected to deforming rhythmic horizontal and vertical tension by four electric motors that changed the configuration of the spaces according to predetermined rhythmic variations in the motors themselves. It allowed visitors to move from one cube to another, and within each cube to observe the other “deforming” cubes.
A central theme in this series of works was Colombo’s intention for the viewer to become an active participant, indeed a “technician,” partaking in a game whose rules were defined by the artist. But Colombo also believed that “viewers must start to feel an intellectual understanding of the concept on which the design is based and of the artistic set of rules and methods governing the conception itself” and its “game-rules,” or the taut cords, were constantly present in the experience that the project-object offers at every level of its “consumption.” It is a brilliant example of what artists can bring to the investigation of space and time.
A younger generation of artists that grabbing the attention of architects included the multi media artist Sam Durant who gallerist, Sadie Coles, showed his 2015 Epistemologies that “questions the role culture plays in the development of formal communities” of an early pre-modern frontier settlement.
New York’s Essex Street gallery showed two artists who made powerful connections between form, urbanism and art: Cameron Rowland and Park McArthur. Rowland’s 2015 Lashing Bars, Lloyd’s Register Certificates that made seductively beautiful connections between metal lashing bars which physically (while its certification is established to insure the value of the goods) secures goods to the deck of the ship that often included slaves being shipped across the sea and were insured by Lloyd’s, and form that appears “sculptural.”
Essex Street also showed nine columns of stacked street signs that are taken from those often contradictory examples all over New York City streets and then empties them out of their written content. McArthur’s signs demonstrate the ways that authority and guidance are manifested physically and spatially. Even without language, there is a set of rules and prescriptive power in the signage, for instance in the use of the color red as a warning. McArthur’s work attempts to dislodge and reconfigure the signs’ command. The works are indicative of McArthur’s overall project of “doubting normative jurisdiction and combatting the imperceptible and presumably ostensive role of format.”
The Art Basel art fair is not the Venice Biennale and skews to the commercial side, but there are, in its endless hallways, brilliant example of what artists can bring to the investigation of space and time.