Posts tagged with "Midcentury Modernism":

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Remembering the life and architecture of Kevin Roche

The death of architect Kevin Roche on March 1 at 96 marked the end of an era—the midcentury modern era that the work of his mentor, Eero Saarinen, came to symbolize. Roche and his late partner, John Dinkeloo, founded the successor firm that finished a number of the projects that remained incomplete when Saarinen died in 1961 at 51. Roche, Dinkeloo, and their partners then went on to build impressive high modern buildings of their own. Roche, who was born in Dublin, Ireland, studied architecture at the National University there, and received his first commission even before he graduated. It was from his father, Eamonn Roche, for a piggery in County Cork that housed 1,000 animals. After completing his degree in 1945, he became an apprentice to Ireland’s most important modern architect, Michael Scott, and worked on the Busáras bus station, Dublin’s first significant modern building. Then he moved to London to work for Maxwell Fry, where he read an article in The Architectural Review about Mies van der Rohe, who “was not as well known as Le Corbusier at the time,” and decided to come to America to study with him at the Illinois Institute of Technology. That venture, in 1948, was short-lived, as Roche was short on funds and found the experience disappointing. So he moved to New York to join the officially international team designing the United Nations headquarters under Wallace Harrison, before moving to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to join an unintentionally international team in the office of Eero Saarinen. It was the place to be at that moment in time, with people from all over the world in the office, including Chuck Bassett, Gunnar Birkerts, Edmund Bacon, Kent Cooper, Niels Diffrient, Ulrich Franzen, Olav Hammarström, Hugh Hardy, Nobuo Hozumi, Mark Jaroszewicz, Louis Kahn, Paul Kennon, Joe Lacy, Anthony Lumsden, Leonard Parker, Glen Paulsen, Cesar Pelli, David Powrie, Harold Roth, Robert Venturi, and Lebbeus Woods. “And everyone was designing,” as Venturi once told me. “It was not like today when half the people would be doing public relations or something.” Roche, who arrived in the office as it was beginning to grow from 10 to over 100, soon became Saarinen’s right-hand man. “He liked the way I organized a job,” Roche told me. The way things were done there was that every day a number of the young architects would be asked to work on a building or a part of a building, to sketch and develop ideas. Then Roche would collect the sketches and hang them up for Saarinen to examine. Eero would come in later and pick the most interesting ones and ask the person who had created it to develop it further. It was a devastating experience for some, like Venturi, whose sketches were never chosen, and a high for those, like Pelli, who were asked to develop designs further and put in charge of important projects. After Saarinen died, the firm moved to New Haven as previously planned. Some then drifted off. Pelli, for example, left after completing the TWA Terminal (formally the TWA Flight Center) and the Morse and Stiles Colleges at Yale. Roche remained in Connecticut and, along with technologically gifted John Dinkeloo and some other talented young architects, founded Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Partners. They completed Saarinen’s Corten-steel-faced John Deere & Company headquarters in Moline, Illinois (1964), the mirrored glass Bell Telephone Corporation Laboratories in Holmdel, New Jersey (1962), the iconic North Christian Church in Columbus, Indiana (1964), and the dignified Columbia Broadcasting System Headquarters in New York City (1965). Roche Dinkeloo then went on to design numerous distinctive buildings, such as the dark metal and glass Ford Foundation headquarters in Manhattan with its central, enclosed garden (1967); the Oakland Museum of California (1969), with a 5-acre terraced roof (designed by Dan Kiley) that functions as a public park; and the rather funereal but original Center for the Arts at Wesleyan University in Connecticut (1973). There were corporate headquarters—a sprawling white-walled palazzo for General Foods in Rye Brook, New York (1982); a futuristic, low-lying structure for Union Carbide in Danbury, Connecticut, that houses cars as comfortably as workers (also 1982); and a columnar skyscraper on Wall Street for J. P. Morgan (1990)—among the practice’s 50 or more projects. Over the years, Roche Dinkeloo designed and renovated galleries at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art, including the dramatic pavilion for the Temple of Dendur; the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue; and the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Battery Park City. Although his firm did buildings all over the world, Roche’s last major one was a conference center in Dublin, where he had been born in 1922. Roche’s close relationship with Saarinen defined much of his career, though. He met his wife, Jane Clair Tuohy, at Saarinen’s office. They were planning to marry a few weeks after Eero died but waited until 1963. His wife, five children, and 15 grandchildren survive him. Roche was a recipient of the Pritzker Prize in 1982 and the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Architects in 1993. He will be remembered as a major figure of his time.

Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein

About the Exhibition

Dimensionism: Modern Art in the Age of Einstein is a groundbreaking exhibition that explores how modern art was influenced by advances in science, from Einstein’s theory of relativity to newly powerful microscopic and telescopic lenses. A first-of-its-kind touring exhibition, Dimensionism is organized by the Mead Art Museum at Amherst College. It is on view at the Mead from March 28, 2019–July 28, 2019. The exhibition features approximately 70 artworks and is accompanied by an illustrated exhibition catalogue published by MIT Press. The exhibition is inspired by the 1936 “Dimensionist Manifesto,” which declared that artists should respond to the scientific advances happening around them. Under the leadership of Hungarian poet Charles Sirató, an international group of artists endorsed the Manifesto, which exhorted artists to use their art to explore the new physical realities and philosophical queries of their day. The Manifesto’s collection of signatures represents some of today’s best-known modern artists, including Hans Arp, Alexander Calder, Marcel Duchamp, Robert Delaunay, Sonia Delaunay, Wassily Kandinsky, László Moholy-Nagy, Francis Picabia, and Sophie Taeuber-Arp. The exhibition also includes others who engaged with these ideas in their art, such as Joseph Cornell, Naum Gabo, Helen Lundeberg, Herbert Matter, Isamu Noguchi, Wolfgang Paalen, and Dorothea Tanning. Their works reflect the drive of many modern artists throughout Europe and America to discover a new vision for human existence and expression in an era that redefined fundamental realities such as time and space. By tracing a transnational flow of information and ideas, Dimensionism contextualizes modern art within the scientific revolution, and in doing so introduces new narratives on influential mid-century artists and the modern art scene more generally.
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New York's TWA Hotel features Amish millwork and midcentury touches

Anticipation is high for the TWA Hotel. Opening on May 15, the new hotel has transformed Eero Saarinen’s 1962 TWA Flight Center into a new lodging option for travelers passing through New York City's John F. Kennedy Airport. While there are a few unconventional airport hotels already out there, such as Stockholm’s 747-housed Jumbo Stay hostel, few are as all-encompassing as the TWA Hotel. Fully connected to the transportation hub's facilities, the project will feature a slew of quirky details and period-sensitive design elements. The former terminal’s neo-futuristic architecture will be accentuated by key space-age and midcentury modern furnishings. Ahead of its opening this May, the multifaceted project has been in the news a lot. While it was revealed late last year that one of the historic airline’s decommissioned Lockheed Constellation jetliners would become a cocktail lounge, it was recently announced that early reservations for the hotel’s 512 rooms would open tomorrow, February 14. Another overlooked but equally-important news item is the project’s use of custom-built millwork. Despite lower bids from international vendors, MCR/MORSE Development—the hotel's major owner and operator—opted for locally sourced and milled walnut for the guest room martini-bars, tambour wallcoverings, and other finishings. The developer turned to Highland Wood Products and Hilltop Woodworking, two Ohio-based Amish companies, for their expertise. Using twenty 18-wheelers’ worth of locally sourced walnut, 200 craftspeople produced over 40,000 square-feet of tambour wood. The skilled workforce employed age-old, analog techniques like steaming, suspending, sanding, staining, and sealing to ensure the material’s longevity. Channeling the same attention they often give to highly-intricate furniture, the craftspeople fitted out compartmentalized martini bars. Combined with brushed brass trim, mirrored glass, and backlighting, these pieces achieve a glamorous yet restrained look in perfect keeping with the project's overall interior scheme.
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Two new books delve deep into midcentury Danish design

Midcentury modern design has surged back into fashion in the past decade. In a time of economic uncertainty, many in the furniture and interiors industries are adopting the restrained aesthetic as a reassuring alternative to the opulent and overly expressive styles of the late 1990s and early 2000s. Though renowned designers from many countries played major roles in shaping this movement in the 1940s, '50s, and '60s, Danish icons like Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, Verner Panton, Børge Mogensen, and Hans J. Wegner are often credited as its catalysts. Today, Danish brands like Hay, Muuto, and PP Møbler have capitalized on the renewed interest in the country’s design prowess. Copenhagen-based Strandberg Publishing has just released two books that explore the topic. In Furniture Boom: Mid-Century Modern Danish Furniture 1945-1975, historian Lars Dybdahl surveys the full trajectory of the midcentury modern movement in Denmark, situating iconic furniture pieces in a larger cultural context. Across 13 chapters, the anthology highlights key trends as well as social, aesthetic, and technical topics. While chapter 2 investigates the disparity between high-end and accessible design, chapters 4, 5, and 6 consider different materials and production techniques that were championed and refined during the period: lamination, padding, wicker, etc. The last few chapters look at different scales of context and use: children's and office furniture alongside Space Age influences. While the book takes an academic tone, it's multifaceted approach paints a holistic picture. Throughout, archival product and interior images, advertisements, and drawings help illustrate the full story. In The Danish Chair: An International Affair, author Christian Holmsted Olesen analyzes the chair archetype. As one of the most complex and contested objects, the chair often signifies a make-or-break moment for designers and serves as a touchstone throughout evolving careers. In the book, Holmsted Olesen positions Danish design at the center of an international and historical dialogue. The author reveals how celebrated midcentury modern chair designs by Danish icons took inspiration from history and abroad. Certain chapters explore the influence of Chinese and English traditions, while others identify different typologies: folding, low, easy, bentwood, shell, cantilever, etc. The book also looks at how the country’s design scene gained international recognition in the early 1950s and how that drove its designers to perfect the chair. Holmsted Olesen is the head of exhibits and collections at Designmuseum Danmark and mounted a permanent exhibition of the same name in 2016.
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Paul Rudolph's Walker Guest House is on sale

Paul Rudolph’s famous Walker Guest House in southern Florida is now on the market. The glass-clad, International-style structure is situated on a 1.6-acre lot on Sanibel Island facing the Gulf of Mexico. Completed in 1952, the building was Rudolph’s first solo project after splitting from his early-career design partner Ralph Twitchell. Ruldoph designed the accessory dwelling unit at a time when Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House in Illinois, as well as Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut, were receiving widespread acclaim. Both near-transparent residential projects, the low-to-the-ground, boxy buildings were masterful representations of mid-century modernist architecture, but the homeowners complained about a lack of privacy due to the floor-to-ceiling windows. Rudolph’s steel-framed structure, a beachfront backhouse, took this highly-lauded, light-filled design a step further and fixed the privacy problem. He added adjustable wood panels to several exterior walls that could shield residents from the harsh sun or outside activity when desired. Though a seemingly simple addition, these shades allowed the building to transform seamlessly from an open, 24-foot square pavilion to a cozy seaside cottage. The engineering behind this shutter system is quite unique. The house stands on an array of steel stilts that anchor it to the ground and serve as additional frames for the building. These frames connect weighted red cannonballs to the wooden shutters that enclose the structure; the home is famously nicknamed the "Cannonball House." When raised, the ball shuts the shutter flaps and when lowered, it creates a canopy for outdoor shade. The Walker Guest House is valued at $6,795,000, which includes the main residence on site.  It was designed on an 8-foot-by-8-foot cubic module and includes a living and dining area, a kitchen, a bathroom, and a bedroom.
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A major mid-century modern bank in Oklahoma City gets leveled

A long-loved landmark in Oklahoma City faced the wrecking ball yesterday after being placed on the state’s Most Endangered Historic Places list in May. The former Founders National Bank, a mid-century modern structure featuring two distinct, 50-foot exterior arches, was listed for sale at $3 million last fall but couldn’t find a tenant leading up to Monday’s last-minute demolition, according to Oklahoma’s News 4. Situated near the Northwest Expressway on North May Avenue, the iconic building has been an architectural icon of the city since 1964. It was designed by Bob Bowlby, a student of famous Oklahoma architect Bruce Goff, and was originally built for Founders National Bank, eventually becoming the home of Bank of America for over 20 years until last August. It was Bowlby’s first project after finishing his degree at the University of Oklahoma and the only one he’s completed in his hometown.  Preservationists and advocates for the building are already mourning its loss. The unique arches—the focal point of the design—were easily visible from the city’s arterial roadways and drew people to the modernist building for well over half a century. Bowlby’s spaceship-like structure, sometimes also likened to a large-scale football, allowed the interior to be designed without walls. Brick walls and floor-to-ceiling glass windows lined the oval perimeter and a white, concrete roof seemingly floated atop its round core. Suspension cables, much like the ones seen on suspension bridges, connected the arches to the roof. A multi-lane drive-through was also designed next to the building. While several groups had repeatedly pushed to save Founders National Bank since news began circulating about its potential fate in early 2016, crews began tearing down the football-shaped structure this week—the same day a building permit was filed for its demolition. NewsOK noted that since the bank wasn’t protected by historical jurisdiction, its current owner, the Austin-based Schlosser Development Corp., was able to move forward with plans without consent from the city or public. In January 2016, an online petition to preserve the building was started via the modern architecture blog, Okie Mod Squad, and received 1,072 supporters. In a post dedicated to the event, Bowlby himself commented on the controversy:
My design and the subsequent building of the Founders National Bank building of 1964 is, I think, a one of a kind and interesting example of the contemporary Oklahoma architectural scene in its mid-century period and as such should be kept if at all possible as part of the architectural heritage of Oklahoma City. Surely, an effort could be made made by the new owners to find some new and suitable usage of the building.  
So far, Schlosser Development Corp. hasn’t released plans to redevelop the two-acre site. The building was one of many mid-century modern icons built in the city’s Founders District, as well as several others throughout the state of Oklahoma, including Goff’s Bavinger House, which was destroyed in 2016.
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This Napa Valley winery is a midcentury modernist desert dream

The recently completed Ashes & Diamonds Winery by Bestor Architecture aims to bring a bit of Southern California’s desert-postcard fantasy to Napa Valley wine country. The 19,840-square-foot cut-and-paste homage to midcentury modernism is situated on a 30-acre site and features a collection of austere production facilities flanked by a swanky tasting room and public courtyard. The main production facility rises two stories and is marked by Albert Frey–inspired porthole windows on three sides. The tasting room is located next door in a low wood-frame-and-stucco building wrapped by large expanses of floor-to-ceiling glass. The compressed, insulated box is situated directly underneath a prefabricated 3,585-square-foot steel canopy structure reminiscent of the folded plane architecture of Donald Wesley. The lounge spaces open out onto a shared courtyard within the L-shape configuration of structures, revealing short, spiky cacti and a grassy knoll framed by a meandering concrete path. Ashes & Diamonds Winery 4130 Howard Lane Napa, California Architect: Bestor Architecture Tel: 707-666-4777
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Historic Kurt Meyer-designed bank to be demolished in favor of Gehry’s 8150 Sunset

A California judge has ruled in favor of Gehry Partners’s proposed 8150 Sunset development in Los Angeles, agreeing with the architects and developers Townscape Partners that preserving the historic Lytton Savings bank would make the project “infeasible." The decision comes nearly a year after a separate judge ruled against the project, arguing that the Googie-style, Kurt Meyer-designed bank was worth preserving. Gehry’s controversial project has faced a litany of complaints from the community since it was first announced in 2015, both from NIMBY-driven and preservation-focused groups. Initially, the project was tarred for being too tall, too dense, and for blocking views of the city from the adjacent Hollywood Hills. Next, preservation groups such as the Los Angeles Conservancy and Friends of Lytton Savings came out against the project for its proposed demolition of the historic bank. Following this initial dust-up, the 1960s-era Googie-style structure was swiftly landmarked, cited for its clean modernist aesthetic and its folded plate concrete roof. After last year’s ruling—precipitated by a suit from the L.A. Conservancy—it was hoped the bank could be saved and incorporated into the 229-unit mixed-use development. That opportunity has now disappeared. The Gehry project, as currently designed, consists of a cluster of five wobbly towers of various heights organized around a series of public outdoor spaces and ground floor retail. The development’s tallest tower is expected to rise up to 15 stories high. Hopes that 8150 Sunset would move toward final approval were dashed with the most recent ruling, however, which all but cleared the project’s forward movement. The ruling issued last week, according to the Los Angeles Times, stipulates that although the Kurt Meyer structure was not reason enough to stop the project, the project’s approval was incorrectly administered nonetheless. At issue is a proposed street vacation that would eliminate a right-turn lane bounding the project in favor of adding pedestrian sidewalk space to the project. Because the development is a private project, the judge ruled, closing off the right turn late equates with vacating a street, a measure that requires strict and separate approval. The court is sending the project back to the city so the lane closure can be properly approved.
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The "birdhouse ranch" legacy of L.A. suburb builder William Mellenthin

The work of prolific mid-20th century developer and architect William Mellenthin is largely unknown outside of the greater Los Angeles area, where the builder erected more than 3,000 homes over an illustrious career spanning between three decades. Mellenthin, the subject of an informative new book by historian Chris Lukather titled A Birdhouse in Paradise: William Mellenthin and the San Fernando Valley Ranch Homes, pioneered the distinctive “birdhouse ranch” style of the single-family home, a housing variant marked by the decorate application of pitched-roofed dovecote components, back-to-back fireplaces, board-and-batten siding, and other traditional stylings. With his development company—Wm. M.Mellenthin Builder—Mellenthin revolutionized single-family housing design in the city’s San Fernando Valley by delivering affordable new semi-custom homes in eye-catching styles. By combining the indoor-outdoor domestic spaces, rambling floor plans, and sturdy construction methods, the Midwesterner became a force to be reckoned with during the nascent real estate bonanza that engulfed the region in the immediate postwar era. Until recently, however, Mellenthin’s work had been largely forgotten due to its humble qualities and the ubiquity of the dovecote style in the San Fernando Valley, following the wholesale adoption of his “birdhouse” treatments by other contemporaneous builders. Nonetheless, interest in Mellenthin’s work is increasing, especially as real estate prices continue to climb around the region. West editor Antonio Pacheco connected with Lukather to talk about Mellenthins’s distinctive stylings, his most notable works, and the somewhat malleable nature of the homes he built.   The Architect’s Newspaper: Who was William Mellenthin and why should architects care about his work? Chris Lukather: William Mellenthin was a prolific builder. He began building homes in Los Angeles in 1923, and built over 3,000 homes in Los Angeles and the San Fernando Valley. [He also] created designs for “Birdhouse” ranch homes that featured a cupola or dovecote built prominently into the roofs of the homes. The undeniable charm and curb appeal of these homes was very popular with home buyers, and, as a result, he created something of a trend. With returning World War II veterans, families wanted a home and lifestyle that epitomized leisure and fun. Mellenthin’s success brought many imitators. Today there are hundreds of “Birdhouse” homes throughout the Valley—many by builders who borrowed the cupola style. But there is only one original, and that is William Mellenthin. Mellenthin was one of several prominent architect-developers of the postwar era—Cliff May and Joseph Eichler are others—How does a Mellenthin home differ from other ranch houses of this period? Mellenthin homes were more “midcentury traditional” than midcentury modern. They featured diamond-paned windows, dual fireplaces, high beamed ceilings, hardwood floors, and wood paneling throughout the house. He usually built floor-to-ceiling windows in the rear of the house to allow more natural light into the home. One trademark of a Mellenthin home was how low it looked from the street. “The lower, the better,” was their motto. Most homeowners I meet today talk about the quality build of his homes. These homes were built to last. Most Mellenthin homes have withstood the major earthquakes, and fared better than other homes built during the same time. What are a few of his more notable works? His most notable work is in the Sherman Oaks area, [where he also designed] the layout of the streets. He created one development in the early 1950s, with only two entrances and nine cul-de-sacs, creating a private, exclusive area of beautiful tree-lined streets and homes. It’s like an oasis in the Valley. These homes, in a variety of styles and sizes, make up the prime Mellenthin development of the era. He [also] built many custom homes in the hills above Studio City, south of Ventura Boulevard. These homes had unique features, and custom-designed cupolas that his homes on the Valley floor usually did not have. You mention in your book that Mellenthin’s son Michael continued the family business and even worked on projects with the architect Cliff May after the elder Mellenthin’s death. What direction did Michael take Wm. Mellenthin Builder when he was in charge? Michael went to the University of Southern California and received a degree in Engineering. He began building homes in the mid-1950s, joining his father’s company and continued working through the 1970s. The family business officially closed in 1978. Although William is known for the quality build of his homes, Michael is known to have built homes better than his father. In the early 1960s, Michael built homes with a more midcentury modern style, and eventually phased out the “Birdhouse” design. Michael also built some commercial buildings in the Valley. Mellenthin worked to provide his clients semi-custom homes—Did he himself envision the buildings as remaining static over time or did he consider them malleable? Mellenthin’s homes were built to suit, so I don’t think he envisioned a lot of remodeling or updates to the homes later on. What would Mellenthin make of some of the changes that some owners have made to his structures? I’m sure he would not be happy with some of the second stories that have been added to his homes today. [However,] a lot of homeowners have knocked out the walls that separate the kitchen from the den or living room. I’m sure he would have welcomed these changes that help create a more open floor plan. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.  A Birdhouse in Paradise: William Mellenthin and the San Fernando Valley Ranch Homes Chris Lukather Writing Disorder $35.00
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Prolific midcentury architect William Krisel passes away

Prolific midcentury modern architect William Krisel passed away this week at the age of 92. The architect is well-known for the multitudinous midcentury modern homes he designed across Southern California and the surrounding regions. Overall, Krisel is credited with designing over 40,000 homes, in addition to many other types of structures. He is also credited with helping to extend the benefits of mass-produced tract housing throughout the region and with attempting to tackle the stylistic, formal, and urban complexities of these new suburban environments. Krisel, who often worked with the Alexander Construction Company, built homes and condominiums in Arizona, Florida, and Nevada, as well. One of Krisel’s signature projects was the  90-unit Twin Palms development in Palm Springs, California, a tract home development made up of 1,600-square-foot post-and-beam style homes. According to the Krisel Connection site, the homes were designed with varied facades and rooflines, feature clerestory windows along most exposures, and are marked by exposed wood beam construction. Each 10,000-square-foot lot in the development was originally planted with a pair of palm trees—hence the development’s name—that complimented the home’s dramatic landscape designs, also envisioned by Krisel. Architectural historian Alan Hess marked Krisel’s passing in a Facebook post by calling Krisel “one of California's most influential and dedicated Modern architects” who “succeeded in bringing Modern planning and systems to… the design and construction of affordable single family homes for the general public.” With so many built commissions and a wide collection of preservation groups currently working to maintain and promote the architect’s works, it’s clear that Krisel succeeded in pioneering successful early mass housing experiments—the “Holy Grail” of modernism that according to Hess, greats like “Buckminster Fuller, Walter Gropius, and Frank Lloyd Wright sought but never achieved.” Chris Menrad of the executive board of the Palm Springs Modern Committee told the Desert Sun that the architect’s dramatic stylistic vision propelled modern architecture forward. Menrad said, “The concept for offering the builder various roof lines—flat, gables, inverted butterfly or whatever—is something that he sort of brought to the table so that they could essentially have very similar floor plans but have homes that looked quite different.” “And that look, as well as that concept, did get adopted.” Krisel was the subject of a 2016 documentary on the architect’s work titled William Krisel, Architect. The film can be seen on Vimeo.
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In new exhibition, Erwin Wurm uses midcentury furniture to subvert your free will

It’s usually not a good idea to put your feet through a vintage wooden bench, but, in his latest show, artist Erwin Wurm is asking visitors to do just that.

In Wurm’s One Minute Sculptures series, which began in 1997, members of the public follow the artist’s written directions to realize a sculpture—moving around a low plinth to engage (or subvert) the everyday function of fruit, cleaning supplies, and here, midcentury modern furniture.

The latest iteration of these short sculptures references Ethics, Spinzoa's seminal philosophic work that questioned the existence of free will. The success of the art, Wurm says, is directly correlated with how well the person follows his instructions. 

Today, at Ethics demonstrated in geometrical ordervisitors to Lehmann Maupin will realize the sculptures of the Austrian artist via famous furniture he has enhanced with embroidered and carved directions. The Architect’s Newspaper (AN) sat down with Wurm to discuss Alvar Aalto, the strangeness of everyday objects, and the stubborn persistence of midcentury design:

AN: Why did you turn to Spinoza for this exhibition?

Erwin Wurm: Spinoza, especially in [Ethics], he said free will doesn't exist, it's God's will. Scientists now have determined that free will really doesn't exist. Now, 500 years later, I'm asking the same questions. This I find exciting and interesting. When people accept my invitation to follow my instructions, they give up their free will.

Do people ever try to exert their own free will and not follow the directions?

Sure, they can, they're allowed to. But then it's not a piece of mine. Actually, when you Google "one minute sculptures," you see many one minute sculptures, people use the idea. It's nice, it's interesting, but it's no longer a piece of mine.

Why did you decide to use midcentury modern furniture in these latest One Minute Sculptures?

Since 15 years ago, midcentury furniture came back in a big way. When you open a magazine about housing or interior design, these midcentury furnishings are there. They became such a big thing. I found it exciting, and it raised questions for me. People start to define themselves through furniture. When you see the buildings and apartments of famous and successful people, you don't see the people. You see the furniture.

Why did you select the pieces that you did?

I used Alvar Aalto because I always found him exciting. He’s from Finland, and he has this specific relationship to American design. We got the furniture at an auction in Chicago.

Some of the furniture in the series are very expensive, and because of that, there's a meaning people assign to the pieces beyond the design. How do you hope to question the relationship people have with high-value objects?

Every material around is the basis for a new art piece. Recently, in Austria, I had a big show that included three artworks from very famous artists, including Robert Rauschenberg. I added a Rauschenberg to a piece of mine, so I started a discussion that not only every object, or mood, or thought could be the start of a new piece, but also already-finished art can be the start of a new work.

You use humor in your work to draw people in, but that humor can mask as much as it reveals. What do you hope people get out of their engagement with your sculptures?

It's not so much the humor I'm interested in, it's the paradox. What I like in humor is part of the paradox.

For me, to be in this world, to connect with the world, to be able to look from another perspective of reality. We all live in the same world, but we all live in different realities—your reality is very different from mine, or from a person in the wilderness, still hunting with bow and arrows, but we all live in the same time. I find it exciting to change perspective, to look at the world from a different angle, that's what my work is about, I think.

What's the relationship between the melting buildings' organic excess (pictured, left) and the furniture's precise geometry?

They are both objects of our world, created by human beings. The furniture and the architecture, or the telephone, all these things. I always try to transfer or deform them, so the beginning is the same but the form is different. I changed the meaning of the object. One is an object with which you can relate specifically by following the instructions I give, and the other one is not an open piece, so you just can look.

In past iterations of the Organization of Love you used bottles to create a particular relationship between people. Why use an ottoman this time?

It's exciting to use larger objects. At the beginning, the objects were small. Our interfering in the world uses a specific language which is related to a specific time. This inhabits a certain understanding of reality, certain political and social constructions. The 1950s were different than the 90s, or now. In the 50s the midcentury furniture related to this postwar society. This created a totally different aesthetic than nowadays. I'm interested in all these things that interfere in between.

Many midcentury designers wanted their furniture to be beautiful, functional, and available to the masses. But now that ottoman retails for like, $4,000.

I know.

How does that change people's attitudes towards the objects?

The icon was one of the greatest inventions of the 20th century. An icon needs mass media to exist, and all this furniture are kind of icons now. And that interests me. That's one of the reasons I use these objects.

This big company in Austria, it built these wooden banded structures—chairs for the working class—that very quickly became chairs for the upper class. That was not only because of the aesthetics but also an [evolving] understanding of early industrial design. Prouvé was the same, early on, Royère, Jeanneret—these French designers, they're extremely expensive now.

Do you have midcentury furniture in your home?

Yes, I have Prouvé and all these things. But I caught myself, I stepped into the same trap that everyone did, because I got attracted all of a sudden by a certain understanding of quality which is only dealing in an interest of time, meaning that contemporary design is less valuable under certain circumstances than an older design. This relays a very specific understanding of how societies function, how the market functions, and how desire functions.

All of a sudden, we desire something that is rarer than what is produced now. Look at cars. We love [these] big new cars, but the old cars—with their much more extraordinary form—attract so many people. But those cars were not extraordinary in the past—they look extraordinary now in relation to mass design of the present. That discrepancy is exciting.

When you realized you were attracted to the value the furniture represents—when did you start to question that?

I started to question it when I came to my house and realized that it looked like one of those interiors magazines, because they all have Prouvé and Perriand, and whatever they're called, and Aalto, and all the American designers. It was no longer a specific taste, it turned into a common taste. So I wound up doing my own furniture by deconstructing old furniture from the 30s.

You're from an architecture publication, right?

Yes.

There are so many great designers now but they don't get the same attention. Maybe Magnusson and others, but they don't get the same prices. It's always interesting how things grow old, get out of the normal interest, disappear, and come back and become exciting. The same happens with art.

(This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.)

Ethics demonstrated in geometrical order runs through May 26. Check Lehmann Maupin's website for more information. 

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Jens Risom, the man who helped introduce Scandinavian design to America, dies

Danish-American furniture designer Jens Risom passed away this month on December 9 in New Canaan, Connecticut at the age of 100. Risom moved to American shores in 1939 at the age of 23 and is best known for his Risom Lounge Chair. A product of his early work with German-American designer Hans G. Knoll, the chair hit the shelves in 1943, making use of unwanted military parachute straps. Risom's work helped paved the way for the emergence of midcentury modern design, riding the wave with compatriot Arne Jacobsen whose chair designs also dominated the 1950s and '60s. “Knoll had a car, and I didn’t,” said Risom speaking to New York Magazine last year, “and we drove around the country to any architect who had shown any interest in our furniture in New York, and stopped wherever there were people who’d liked our things. I don’t think we had a catalogue or anything—this was very primitive. We had drawings of things we had done.” The Danish-born designer was favored by many within the design world. Under Lyndon B. Johnson, a chair from Risom occupied the oval office and in 1961, and Risom even appeared alongside Charles Eames and Eero Saarinen in an edition of Playboy magazine. Risom too wasn't seldom afraid to speak his mind. When meeting Frank Lloyd Wright, Wright asked Risom what he thought of his furniture work. Risom responded: "Not much."