For the Met Breuer’s first architecture exhibition, curator Beatrice Galilee has commissioned photographers Luisa Lambri and Bas Princen to revisit the iconic work of Marcel Breuer. The exhibition presents two distinct series of photographs paying homage to Breuer’s still-existing monumental modernist buildings from the 1950s and 1960s.
The selected buildings include Saint John’s Abbey Church in Collegeville, Minnesota and the UNESCO headquarters in Paris which are Breuer’s first two important institutional buildings. These buildings were significant because they allowed Breuer to expand beyond what was essentially a residential practice. The IBM Research center in La Gaude, France (which is Breuer’s personal favorite) is known for its modular prefabricated concrete facade panels and distinctive double Y-shaped plan. The final building selected for the exhibition is the former Whitney Museum of American Art (now the Met Breuer). The museum is a New York City landmark known for its strong urban form as an inverted ziggurat.
Lambri and Princen’s uniquely idiosyncratic approaches to the commission provide a welcoming juxtaposition of photographs. Lambri’s work documents the ephemeral experience of interior space through focused studies of light and materiality. The hexagonal screen at Saint John’s and the trapezoidal window at the Met Breuer are each documented as a series of photographs displaying the calm modulation of light over time. Princen’s dramatically large scale photographs document the post-occupancy use of buildings and their evolving relationship with nature. The sculptural, tree-like pillars at Saint John’s library are framed by a row of ordinary public library book shelves in the foreground. Upon revisiting the unoccupied IBM research center, Princen’s photos place the building within what appears to be an overgrown forest—a distinct contrast to the 1965 site which was sparsely covered by small trees.
Long after Marcel Breuer’s passing in 1981, the influence of his work continues to gradually develop much like the life of buildings after they leave the drafting table. Both Lambri’s and Princen’s photos present us the opportunity to contemplate Breuer’s work unencumbered by the great modernist architect’s own intentions.
Breuer Revisited: New Photographs runs through May 21, 2017, at The Met Breuer.