The 1977 State of the Art of Architecture symposium organised by Stanley Tigerman

View: the Chicago Architecture Biennial’s diverse assortment of participants and mediums offers hope for the future of the discipline, despite protestations from self-appointed “gatekeepers” of the profession like Patrik Schumacher, says Mimi Zeiger.

There is a letter in a drawer in Chicago’s Graham Basis library a sheet of Orange Coast School stationary dated eight April 1980. The letter is from artist Barbara Kasten to Florence Henri, a photographer (then in her late 80s and living in Paris) who had been modern with numerous avants of early 20th-century Europe: Jean Arp, Guy Ray, and László Moholy-Nagy, who she studied under at the Bauhaus. In it, Kasten asks to go to Henri and interview her as portion of NEA-funded undertaking to videotape six female photographers who had manufactured “major contributions in the discipline” – figures whose function was troublingly dropping out of the historical narrative.

The exhibition Barbara Kasten: Stages is exquisitely hung in the Graham’s Madlener Residence. Monitoring close to five decades of her job, the present is the initial major survey of the Chicago-primarily based artist. It was 1st mounted at the Institute of Modern Artwork at the University of Pennsylvania, but in her hometown it deepens its which means.

Kasten’s huge format Cibachorme photographs of quasi-architectural compositions resonate with the information of the domestic galleries and her textile pieces from 1972, 3 Thonet chairs topped with knitted seats suggestively anthropomorphic, are both political and beautiful. The geometric props she employed in her scenarios echo some of the emergent formalisms on view as element of the Chicago Architecture Biennial over at the Chicago Cultural Center.

Why were the typical suspects the ones established to set the agenda?

It was the single sheet of correspondence, nevertheless, that caught with me in the days following the biennial’s opening celebrations, particularly as a photograph of 6 males engaged in a panel discussion at Chicago’s Congress Plaza Hotel started to circulate across social media.

There in the gilded ballroom sat Patrik Schumacher, Peter Eisenman, Jeffrey Kipnis, Reinier de Graaf, Robert Somol, and Theodore Spyropoulos. A debate poised on the brink. The group had been tasked with the query: “What ought to be the agenda for 21st century architecture?”

Connected story: 1st Chicago Architecture Biennial is a “web site of experimentation” say curators

Biennial artistic directors Sarah Herda and Joseph Grima have curated a decidedly much more varied than average exhibition, drawing with each other an worldwide physique of operate and representing females and folks of colour in greater percentages than standard occasions of this nature. Speaking about the origin of the title The State of the Artwork of Architecture, Herda explained the homage to a Graham Foundation symposium organized by Stanley Tigerman in 1977 and then noted about the update “we extra far more females”.

In a letter to Chicago Architect, Tigerman laid out the numbers: “The 2015 Chicago Biennial is nothing if not global: five continents are represented with significantly less than one third from the United States. The regular age is mid-30s to mid-40s and one third of the invitees are females.”

Schumacher interpreted the architecture exhibition as a morbid celebration of aestheticised poverty and art

So why were the typical suspects the ones determined to set the agenda for architecture’s future? Privilege? Certain. Arrogance? Concern? Maybe.

Maybe it is since these days when discourse travels across the social net, the recognisable is reinforced far more than the unfamiliar. An Instagrammed moment of what panel organiser ArchAgenda Debates called “6 celebrated architecture considered-leaders” eclipses the complexities of a nascent narrative currently being written by Herda and Grima. The debate prompt promised provocations couched in positions formed in excess of the last two decades – a past to inform the future. Did it deliver? I will not know. I’d have to check the Twitter feed.

Akin to the parable of five blind guys and the elephant, this inaugural biennial (far more than Koolhaas’ Fundamentals or prior Venice incarnations) has a way of mirroring back previously held assumptions and beliefs about the state of architecture.

If Kasten’s exhibition is entitled Phases, possibly the biennial curators need to have gone for the plural as well. Instead of The State of the Art of Architecture, the 2015 détournement could be The States of the Arts of Architectures. Indeed, while touring the galleries and watching performances, I found compatriots established to express what Grima calls “architectural company” making use of every medium at their disposal: designs, movie, curtains, furniture, dance, illustration. Others discovered Postmodern derivations, Oedipal complexes, oil slicks, and mayoral frustrations.

Multiplicity is not a crisis or the end of architecture

Schumacher, wont to get his venting to a Facebook audience begging for a viral hit, toured the Cultural Center and identified lead to for complaint as he interpreted the architecture exhibition as a morbid celebration of social justice design, aestheticised poverty, and art.

“The State of the Artwork of Architecture delivered by the Chicago Architecture Biennale Exhibition have to leave lay-site visitors bewildered by 1 overwhelming subliminal message: modern architecture ceased to exist, the discipline’s guilt and poor conscience has sapped its vitality, driven it to self-annihilation and architects have now en masse dedicated themselves to carrying out good by way of basic social function,” he wrote. His eulogy reads strangely akin to grievances from Wolf Prix right after the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, who took to the airwaves to call that event “an high-priced danse macabre”.

In the timeline remarks to follow (as nicely as in an abbreviated tweet), Schumacher appointed himself arbiter, questioning whether or not an architecture biennial ought to give room to art this kind of as Amanda Williams’ project Shade(ed) Theory writing, “How is this a lot more pertinent to contemporary architecture than modern architecture itself?” he asked.

Williams, a Chicago-primarily based artist who qualified as an architect, can make work that is right aligned with queries of contemporary architecture. The abandoned houses she paints on Chicago’s South Side address urbanism, gentrification, media and race – all problems of contemporary culture in which architecture is implicated. In addition, her self-declared identity as “a female Gordon Matta-Clark parading about as a Black Josef Albers” reveals her debt to the aftereffects of Modernism. Far from aestheticising poverty, her operate, like the Flamin’ Scorching Cheetos residence on view, makes use of abstraction in buy to enter into what Theaster Gates might phone the “higher” discourse of art and architecture as opposed to the “lower” of local community-based organising.

To just place towards antique beliefs is to revert to a decades-old debate

Nevertheless to defend Williams’ area in the biennial is to fall prey to Schumacher’s grift: the gatekeeper’s narrative of entitlement. It crackles with justifications for cannons and agendas that are a lot more previous-fashioned than future-oriented. Multiplicity is not a crisis or the finish of architecture, it really is a current that delivers a wealth of attainable new problems for practice.

In an interview in the catalogue that accompanies the Barbara Kasten exhibition at the Graham Basis, Kasten was asked about her letter to Henri, which would later on end result in the 1990 movie High Heels and Ground Glass, and if she was an activist. She replied: “I was not promoting my very own narrative, which I feel was how I understood activism and feminism at the time… What I needed was to be just as excellent an artist as anybody, men integrated. I believed that a single of the techniques to do this was to make function that would compete [with] and even be far better than the men’s.”

Without a doubt, to basically place towards antique beliefs is to revert to a debate that goes back decades. Meanwhile, the discipline, as illustrated by the biennial, is last but not least displaying glimmers of moving past a homogeneous status quo.

Best picture of the 1977 State of the Artwork of Architecture symposium organised by Stanley Tigerman.

Mimi Zeiger is a Los Angeles-based mostly journalist and critic. She is the West Coast editor of the Architects Newspaper and has covered art, architecture, urbanism and layout for a quantity of publications including The New York Times, Domus, Dwell, and Architect.



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