Thursday, December 9, 2010

iar 222. point : explorations.

The search for "modern" continues.

This search defines the final unit of our study: Explorations. In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, artists and designers alike were searching for a new style to characterize a new century. Art movements such as post-impressionism, fauvism, cubism, expressionism, and futurism provided ample inspiration for architects and designers. A short-lived design movement known as Art Nouveau emphasized curving lines, asymmetry, dynamism, and a break from historical precedents. Victor Horta's Hotel Tassel is regarded as the quintessential Art Nouveau interior. Art Deco developed in the "era of the automobile," a world where the ideas of motion and speed were valued. It also developed in response to the "glitz and glam" of the Hollywood scene.

Art Deco and Art Nouveau were new and edgy, but to certain designers of the early 20th century, they did not constitute good design. The Bauhaus School was created in 1919 by Walter Gropius. The goal was simple: form determined by function alone, and the elimination of all ornamentation and historical references. From the Bauhaus School, International Modernism (as it was called) developed with the same goals of design. Designer practitioners included Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Le Corbusier. From the beginning, this form of modernism was criticized for lacking warmth and consideration for human needs. Many of these structures failed to take context into consideration, and their large expanses of glass trapped heat from the sun, raising interior temperatures to an uncomfortable degree. Moreover, the idea of "good design for all" was not quite the case. The reality was closer to "good design for all … who could afford it."

Modernism developed a softer, more expressive side in the works of design practitioners such as Eero Saarinen, Alvar Aalto, Hans Scharoun, John Utzon, Bertrand Goldberg, and others.

Reactions and challenges to modernism were bound to follow. The vein of Historic Preservation busied itself with restoration projects on structures such as the Louvre in Paris and Monticello in Charlottesville, VA.

"High Tech" architecture is perhaps best represented by the Lloyd building in London and the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. These structures are famous for having their "guts" displayed on the outside for all to see. Roth describes the Pompidou center as "an immense rectangular box of glass, with all of its hardware pulled to the exterior so that the interior could be a series of huge Miesian universal spaces." He continues, "The exterior, therefore, is a maze of color-coded air ducts, electrical conduits, and Plexiglas-enclosed escalators. It is an exoskeletal building, with the skeleton made up of exposed steel members … It is architecture-as-machine elevated to the most prestigious cultural level" (Roth, 574-577).

In contrast, Regionalism sought to reintroduce the importance of context into the design of structures, demonstrated by buildings such as Hassan Fathy's market building for a new agricultural settlement in Egypt (1967).

The reactions to modernism are many. Roth discusses a long list of late-twentieth-century architectural styles loosely described as "postmodern." To give an idea of its diversity, this list consists of Late Modernism, Sculpted (Shaped) Modernism, High Tech, Megastructures, Ironic Classicism, Populist Modernism, Latent Classicism, Fundamental or Essentialist Classicism, Canonic Classicism, Creative Postmodern Traditionalism, Neoexpressionism, Deconstructivism, Critical Regionalism, and Green or Sustainable Architecture.

It strikes me that in all our units of study, the theme of each phase of design history is essentially one of uncertainty, of searching for what is proper, true, and desirable. The Theories unit introduced the various ways in which the subject of design has been approached. In the Foundations unit, the ancient civilizations of Egypt, Greece, and Rome all differed from one another in their outlook on life, which was reflected in the materialization of different design principles. Alternatives presented a struggle between classical and non-classical. The theme of "searching" is especially pronounced in the later units, namely Reflections and Explorations. The 19th century's numerous historical revivals juxtaposed with a proliferation of new building technologies created a dilemma of design. By the beginning of the 19th century, with the development of Art Nouveau, what can be called "modernism" had begun. Of course, modernism is a highly relative idea, a fact which entails a continual searching. This concept can be seen in M. C. Escher's 1953 lithograph print entitled "Relativity":

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Thursday, December 2, 2010

iar 222. reading comprehension 7.

For this final reading comprehension, my group was instructed to visit the Weatherspoon Art Museum and select a painting from the "abstraction : form + progress" section of the GREENSBORO COLLECTS show. Also, we were to include in our discussion a bit about another piece of artwork from the same theme. The first painting I chose was Dismembered Disk (1949) by American artist George L. K. Morris. The medium is oil on canvas. Here is the diagram I came up with for this piece:

The painting consists of many intersecting lines creating dynamic shapes, highlighted by a rich color palette of yellow, red, green, and blue, as well as black and white. It has a fractured and chaotic quality about it which creates a sense of movement. It almost looks like it is supposed to resemble something - perhaps a person. In the upper portion of the painting, there is a small black circle that seems to me like it should be an eye.

The second painting I chose was Harlequin (1947) by American artist Adolph Gottlieb (1903-1974). The medium is oil on canvas mounted on a board. This painting is opposite from Dismembered Disk in that it appears rather static and grid-like. I chose to make a diagram for this piece as well, to demonstrate how it is different from the first piece of art.

Harlequin has a sense of orderliness in that everything seems to keep its place, without overlap. Within the grid-like structure are various abstract shapes. There appear to be a few abstracted human figures, as well as an eye, diamond shapes, triangles, circles, etc. The predominant color is a deep turquoise, supplemented by black, gold, and a hint of red.

Although these art pieces are quite different from one another, there are ways in which they are similar. Both are abstract, colorful, and were painted in the same medium around the same time by American artists. One would very likely refer to both of these paintings as works of "modern" art.

Indeed, these art pieces can be compared to the architectural modernism of the 20th century. Besides Harlequin's abstract allusion to a snippet of the medieval past, the two paintings are free of historical references. Harwood explains, "For the most part, Modernism strives to design for the present and eliminate most traditions, forms, and elements of the past" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 613).

The abstraction of shapes seen in these paintings is another aspect that connects them to the modern movement. Speaking of the design aesthetic of the Bauhaus school, Harwood says, "Parts are arranged in a series of geometric shapes and forms usually with linear elements" (Harwood, volume 2, p. 592). The International Style of modernism, spawned by the Bauhaus school, excelled in this clear abstraction of elements. Practitioners rejected ornamentation, insisting that function be the sole determinant of form. It is in this way that modern art differs sharply from the modernism of Walter Gropius, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Le Corbusier, and others. The goal of paintings like Dismembered Disk and Harlequin is to express an idea or a feeling (although that idea or feeling is often up to interpretation). A complaint against International Modernism is that it ignores a human need for beauty and expression beyond that produced by function alone. Speaking of architectural critic Lewis Mumford, Roth says, "In his 1949 essay 'Monumentality, Symbolism, and Style,' he argued that is [sic] was not enough for a contemporary building simply 'to be something and do something; it must also say something'" (Roth, 539).