Posts tagged with "Henry Urbach":

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In memoriam: Henry Urbach

Henry Urbach was a born curator. He had an eye for good design; the intellectual heft to be able to judge what was not only beautiful but also meaningful or critical to both the discipline of architecture and wider society; and the gift of gab with which to articulate all of that. He was also able to put together some of the best exhibitions on architecture of the last few decades. He was a bit of a rebel and a doubter of received notions and authority, which stood him in good stead as he developed ideas through his chosen medium of collecting and showing work in and around architecture, but which often made it difficult for him to operate within larger institutional structures. His untimely death in Tel Aviv deprives us of one of the discipline’s most distinctive talents.

With two degrees from Princeton and one from Columbia, as well as a network that reached around the globe, Urbach was able to position himself during the end of the last century as New York’s primary broker of speculative architecture. He achieved that position through the work he did at his New York gallery, Henry Urbach Architecture. Picking up where the only other gallerist to have entered the field, Max Protetch, left off, Urbach assembled a stable of young designers and artists who extended the definitions of architecture. These included not only experimental architects and practices, such as LOT-EK, François Roche, An Te Liu, Lebbeus Woods, and Jürgen Mayer H., but also many artists playing with the forms and conventions of architecture, as well as photographers who both documented and penetrated our worlds.

What Urbach showed in his Chelsea gallery, tucked up into an upper level of a warehouse on 26th Street, helped to change our perception of space and place. Much of his work focused on questions of seeing and being seen, spectacle, and the intimate relation between the body and the buildings that housed or enclosed it. He worked on issues related to queer space, and his exhibitions often had a sense of the uncanny and the slightly illicit or forbidden. They burrowed into the hidden places of the city and opened up almost operatic panoramas of what the urban scene made possible.

When I was the curator of architecture, design, and digital projects at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) in the late 1990s, I was one of Urbach’s most eager clients. I found in his gallery a treasure trove of what I thought was some of the most important architecture and design work being done at the time, and quite a few of his pieces made it into my own exhibitions, as well as into the museum’s collection. When I moved on to direct the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, I invited him there to curate an exhibition on the relationship between architecture and the body. When Urbach was later appointed to my old position at SFMOMA after Joe Rosa vacated it and left for Chicago, I felt that it was a perfect choice.

Urbach organized excellent exhibitions and collected important work at SFMOMA, but, in the end, clashed with the museum’s rather conservative culture. He then moved on to direct Philip Johnson’s Glass House and do more good work there, but by then, the mark of what now appears to have been late-onset bipolar disorder turned his rebellious spirit and inquisitive mind toward swings between increasing paranoia and irrational exuberance. He moved to Israel and seemed to have found a new community and purpose as an effective and much-loved teacher, but the demons that had come to haunt him (as we like to think of such diseases) ultimately got the better of him.

It is a tribute to his family and friends that they have felt it important to let us all know, in their statement about his death, about his disease. There is a difference between having a different perspective, wanting to challenge accepted notions, and seeing the potential of what is not valued or condoned and having a medical condition that skews not only your views but also your relations with other human beings. At some point, Urbach’s ability to discern what few of us could or even wanted to see, often at the heart of our chosen avocation or in the environments we loved, and to pick, highlight, and explain such work, turned into something else, something that undercut his ability to use his great talents to move architecture toward productive confrontations.

I admit to being one of those who found it impossible, in later years, to engage in what I considered normal interactions with Urbach. Not recognizing his condition, I felt alienated and confused by his ideas and modes of interaction. I am sorry that I did not work through such difficulties, as now I will never be able to do so. What is more important is that we have lost an important life, a great spirit, and an agitator for experimental architecture. For all these reasons, we will miss Henry Urbach.

Aaron Betsky is the president of the School of Architecture at Taliesin and is the author of numerous books, including Making It Modern and Architecture Matters.

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Former SFMOMA curator and Glass House director Henry Urbach dies at 56

Curator, art dealer, and writer Henry Urbach has died at the age of 56. The former head of architecture and design at SFMOMA and director of Phillip Johnson's The Glass House passed away after struggling with Late-Onset Bipolar Disorder on Saturday at his home in Tel Aviv, Israel. A native of New Jersey, Urbach received his bachelor’s in the history and theory of architecture from Princeton University and completed two master’s degrees, one in architecture at Columbia University and the other at his alma mater in the former field of study. He opened his own experimental design gallery, Henry Urbach Architecture, in 1997, which quickly expanded his influence and connections within the realm of contemporary art and architecture. There he hosted over 55 exhibitions before closing up shop in New York.  Urbach joined SFMOMA in 2006 as the Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, a position he served in for five years. Among his most famous exhibitions was How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now, a collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro put on during the last few months of his tenure. He also accumulated hundreds of works for SFMOMA’s permanent collection including the inflatable building by Alex Schweder from the 2009 showcase, Sensate: Bodies and Design.   From San Francisco, Urbach relocated to the East Coast to oversee The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, in 2012. AN’s editor in chief Bill Menking spoke with him in 2017 about his career and his recent transition to Tel Aviv for a sabbatical period during which he taught at the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design and worked on various writing projects. During his near-three decades in the profession, Urbach penned articles for various journals and co-authored books on architectural history, theory, and criticism. He was a contributing editor for Interior Design magazine and wrote for outlets such as The Architect’s Newspaper, Metropolis, Artforum, and more. Urbach is survived by his parents, siblings, his husband and partner of 35 years, Stephen Hartman, and partner of two years, Ronen Amira.  Family and friends are asking for donations to be made in his honor to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
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Henry Urbach on curating architecture, The Glass House, and what's next for him

The Architect’s Newspaper Editor-in-Chief William Menking sat down with Henry Urbach to discuss Urbach’s long and varied career as a dealer of architecture drawings, curator at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, and director of the Philip Johnson Glass House.

The Architect’s Newspaper: You have had a varied career as a gallery owner, curator, writer, and museum director. How did you get started in these various activities?

Henry Urbach: It began while I was a graduate student at Princeton and I started to take note of experimental architecture as a form of cultural production that is compelling on its own terms. There were many interesting projects but few spaces dedicated to exhibiting them. That was the genesis of Henry Urbach Architecture, which opened to the public in 1997. I wanted to create a new platform for experimental architecture by making use of the gallery model. The gallery was a calling, and a bit of a stretch. I had no gallery experience and no money, but a lot of determination and, slowly but surely, people who got behind the idea, as artists and architects, as audience and patrons, and there was tremendous press support. I think I was very lucky.

You became a curator of architecture before it became a fashionable career. Why did it occur to you to become active in this field?

As the gallery’s profile grew I developed relationships with curators and institutions worldwide. SFMOMA approached me at the perfect moment, about ten years into the life of the gallery and at a time when real estate and other costs were skyrocketing in New York. The museum offered a wonderful platform to continue exhibiting work, developing new commissions, and, in general, exploring what it means to present architecture.

Curating has become professionalized in the past few years with university graduate programs devoted to it and many young people looking to it as a career. What do you think of these recent developments in the art and architecture world?

I think it’s wonderful that there’s this kind of interest, and now opportunities, for formal education. Curating in architecture used to be something of a gentleman’s sport or sideline; it deserves to be treated as a proper discipline with its own history, theory, and practices.

I remember the show of Lebbeus Woods and Kiki Smith. What other shows did you curate at the gallery that were memorable?

We did over 55 exhibitions, so it’s a hard question for me to answer! Some of the other memorable installations by architects include LOT-EK’s Mixer, Freecell Architecture’s MoistSCAPE, and R&Sie’s Mosquito Bottleneck.

Did you close the gallery when you moved to San Francisco? Why have architecture galleries devoted to drawings and professional work always had a hard time succeeding as businesses?

I closed the gallery shortly before moving to San Francisco. The market for architecture, especially more experimental and contemporary work, remains very limited.

How long were you in San Francisco, and what shows did you curate there that stand out?

My first exhibition was the global premiere of Olafur Eliasson’s BMW Art Car, made of steel and ice and exhibited in a walk-in freezer. We did Jürgen Mayer’s first museum exhibition, as well as Tobias Wong’s. The largest exhibition was a collaboration with Diller Scofidio + Renfro called How Wine Became Modern: Design + Wine 1976 to Now.

There were also shows dealing with the permanent collection through thematic probes, such as an exhibition on the architectural section, one on the process of building a museum collection, and one on the body and architecture called Sensate that included new commissions by Andrew Kudless and Alex Schweder.

In 2012 you became director of The Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut. It seems like most of your shows there brought artists to create a conversation with the house and even Philip Johnson’s legacy. How would you describe your mandate for programming at The Glass House?

You’re absolutely right. The idea was to take the historic site and transform it into a new platform for contemporary work by artists and architects that could develop compelling dialogues with the house and its author. The most elaborate of these was Fujiko Nakaya’s Veil, which produced a billowing cloud of mist that allowed The Glass House to occasionally disappear.

What will you do for your next act?

Currently I’m on sabbatical in Tel Aviv, where I’ve been exploring the lively art and design scene while working on several writing projects. Starting in August, I’ll begin teaching a seminar and studio at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem.

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Henry Urbach leaves directorship of Philip Johnson’s Glass House

Henry Urbach, Director of the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, since 2012, has left the National Trust Historic site. Urbach came to the house from the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He departed that job in 2011, in part to pursue a research project on the Johnson house, which he classified as “as a laboratory for curatorial experimentation.” As Director, Urbach launched a series of art and architecture installations on the 49-acre property. Urbach, who once had a gallery in New York City that showed architecture as well as art installations and drawings, said he now intends to pursue “research and writing projects.”
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BREAKING: Henry Urbach Appointed Executive Director of Philip Johnson Glass House

  The Architect's Newspaper has learned that curator and gallerist Henry Urbach will become the new executive director of the Philip Johnson Glass House in New Canaan, Connecticut, a National Trust for Historic Preservation property. Urbach succeeds interim director Rena Zurofsky, who took the reins following the departure of executive director Christy MacLear in the fall of 2010. In April 2011, Urbach abruptly left his position as curator of architecture and design at SFMOMA after a five-year tenure, stating he had no definite plans for the future other than finishing a "book on installation architecture along with other pending projects.” He previously ran a namesake art and architecture gallery in New York. At the Glass House, Urbach will be responsible for overseeing the 47-acre site in New Canaan, where Johnson spent his weekends and the last years of his life. In addition to a constant swirl of events and cocktail parties, Johnson used the site for architectural experiments, and the property is dotted with small buildings in addition to the iconic glass-walled house, including an underground art gallery, whose contents Johnson acquired with longtime partner David Whitney. Following Johnson's death in 2005, the site became part of the National Trust, which opened the property to public tours in 2007. In addition to creating the public face of the site, MacLear developed an array of experimental programming during her directorship, such as Glass House Conversations, a series of dinner parties among an interdisciplinary group of cultural leaders that took place inside the Glass House, which in turn inspired the online conversation forum AN looks forward to seeing how Urbach plans to keep Johnson's spirit alive in New Canaan and beyond.    
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Event> Tobias Wong at SFMOMA

  • Tobias Wong
  • 151 3rd St.
  • San Francisco
  • Through June 19
Tobias Wong, the so-called "bad boy" of design, has his first solo show at SFMOMA. The honor comes posthumously, as Wong died in 2010 at the age of 35. Henry Urbach, SFMOMA’s Helen Hilton Raiser Curator of Architecture and Design, developed the exhibit, which features over 30 works by the late artist/designer. Wong’s designs, which he commonly referred to as “postinteresting” and “paraconceptual,” often played with the subversion of today’s consumer culture and the obsession with wealth and the toys that often accompany it, as well as post-9/11 American anxiety and its material manifestations. Wong also took pleasure in appropriating, some would say misappropriating, the works of others, which resulted in his being labeled a provocateur, ruffling the feathers of even large corporations like McDonald’s, who wasn’t thrilled with Wong’s gold plated version of its coffee stirrer (above).

Only in Venice, kids, only in Venice!

From our roving correspondent Alex Gorlin, who was party-hopping the other night:
Among the guests at Aaron Betsky's 50th birthday celebration on Thursday were Henry Urbach, curator of Architecture at SFMOMA, Laurie Beckelman, UCLA's Sylvia Lavin (who was complaining to Jeff Kipnis about the mosquitoes), Susan Grant Lewin the PR Queen—she barely made the "haj" to the party—the Modern's Barry Bergdoll with Bill Ryall, his partner, Reed Kroloff and Casey Jones. Last and certainly not least was Katherine Gustafson, the Zaha of landscape design, who appeared in a regally flowing white toga-like gown. The setting was her "Garden of Paradise" at the Arsenale,  a coyly-renamed installation in the Garden of Virgins, with vegetables and flowers culminating in a swirling ridge of grassy mounds above which floated giant white ballons and what looked like the remains of a parachute. All in all, an elegant evening, although with no lights on, it was pitch black and so far away that one can only imagine half the guests, a little tipsy perhaps, falling into canals on the trek home.
Robert and Holly Ivy hosted their annual Architectural Record party at the same time as Aaron's fete, causing high anxiety and handwringing among the smart set who wanted to attend both. Many cleverly thought they could go to the Garden of the Virgins and then sprint over to the Accademia Bridge where Bob's soiree was held, not knowing of the tremendous distance between the two. Bergdoll, Kroloff  and Jones, and David Rockwell showed up late in the evening exhausted by the trek. Hans Hollein was already there, looking somewhat fearsome, as were Joseph and Mrs. Rykwert, Charles Jencks, and AN's own Bill Menking and Diana Darling."
—Alex Gorlin