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Wednesday 04.29.09

« last talk & alberta openings | Main | Installation art or architecture? »

Architecture or installation art?

This has been nagging at me for at least 5 years now, but are the best architects today doing better installation art than our installation artists? For your consideration:

UN Studio

Rem Koolhaas made a killer condo salesroom in Soho. Yes, the space is the condo on its side.
David Chipperfield library staircase in Des Moines

Steven Holl's NYU psych building staircase

Yes this is pragmatic work and thus different than art, but in many ways it seems like the top new architects are often working at a higher level (spatially, philosophically, ambition etc.) than today's top new installation artists. Perhaps they have learned more lessons from Robert Irwin, Richard Serra and Donald Judd than the current crop?

Maybe it is the theater of ambition at play here that defines the outcome? Certainly, some famous artists like Pipilotti Rist could easily take on Rem Koolhaas for idiosyncratic installations but the generation after her just don't seem to have the same sustained idea to execution factor (at the major museum level... I do think there are new talents waiting to take the international stage that could rectify this).

For me even Olafur Elliason feels like a slight letdown... a tad too much of a showman, whereas Koolhaas shows just how supple a mind he has, even as a showman. Maybe it just feels like the architects are more provocatively intellectual, existentially aware and visually adept. That said artists still have the upper hand in surprising content but that is almost inherent to the difference between art and the more pragmatic and therefore more mitigated design decisions of architecture.

Just to sabotage my own false argument, here are three artists who can often out-install many of these architects... but are any of them great thinkers like Koolhaas?

*Or maybe the artists are holding their own?

Posted by Jeff Jahn on April 29, 2009 at 12:21 | Comments (8)


Installation art is a pretty broad category and I feel like you are only looking at work that carries on a minimalist trajectory as well as trying to compare young artist to architects who are all over 50. Are they really 'new'? Christoph Büchel, Jason Rhoades(now deceased), and Gelitin all have made ambitious work in there 30s. Shouldn't their work be in the conversation?

Posted by: brokencookie [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2009 02:59 PM

I think the minimalist conversation is definitely a part that is lagging but I wouldnt consider the Holl staircase minimal... its part light and space and part Jean Arp as a cancer running through the structure.... different ideas and more viral. Besides these are just a few examples... so though "space as content" is a consideration it isnt the only one. Also, architects often only hit the international stage in a major way around age 50. I'm going by carreer point not age... that is fairer. I'm going by when people really hit their strides. Also, architecture is even broader than installtion art. as a field.. it's just a somewhat impossible comparison to make for discussion purposes.

I agree, I really thought Rhoades had something amazing and he was very rigorous and full of surprises... but he's gone now (I was one of the people bringing him to Portland just before he died).

Everyody else... even artists I really like like Tara Donvovan seem a tad unambitious compared to the architects though.

Whereas, Rhoades could have debated Rem Koolhaas.... that would have been a conversation I would have loved to hear.

Really I think its a patronage thing... collectors today arent patrons like Judd and Irwin had... but the institutions that the architects work woth are closer at times to those strong arts patrons of the past?

I simply, throw this out as a provocation.... are the artists who have emaerged in the 90's and aughts as good as the architects who came into their own during that same time?

Seriously, Gelitin vs Koolhaas isn't much of a contest (if it were a contest). Koolhaas has changed architecture... but has Gelitin changed art? To me they feel a bit like Oldenberg's fan club.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 29, 2009 03:22 PM


Posted by: Kristan Kennedy [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 30, 2009 09:46 AM


Posted by: Kristan Kennedy [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 30, 2009 09:47 AM


Posted by: Kristan Kennedy [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 30, 2009 09:48 AM

Why are Fischli and Weiss, Broodthaers or Liam Gillick not in this conversation if it is a conversation.
In 1999 when Rosalind Krauss coined installation art, "The International Style of Installation Art" it really merged these two worlds together and dated installation art.
Today, Installation Art just makes the work sound really ancient, like some boring old spatter paintings. As for who is better, I guess that really depends on conceptual concerns rather than which one looks cooler.

Posted by: derek franklin [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 30, 2009 10:09 AM

Sure $$$ matters but I also think the architects are pushing their envelopes more... which really gets down to patronage and not just the rawer issue of money.

Derek, it isnt just the cool factor... Name one artist who has emerged in the last 2 decades who has written as well or has engaged as many disparate ideas as Koolhaas has? The problem isnt just the visual... it is a lack of intellectual ambition (on the same level as the architects). That said most architects... even very good ones are not as idiosynchratic as decent to very good installation artists.

To stick up for the artist side here I can say that Cornelia Parker is pretty capable of holding her own. She's a thinker and executes things that push some envelopes. I like Nick Cave a lot too... he creates things that inhabit space so he's maybe not a true installation artist... but frankly Im not interested in trying to determine what is a true installtion artist.

Also, let's remember that most of these architectural sites are just a portion of a functional building and the photos (all but the 1st taken by moi) represent very ambitious features of the projects... that are not sustained throughout the entire building. Architecture is coupled to use in ways that art usually isnt. I know Im not making a fair comparison between the two but as an exercise it is interesting.

Posted by: Double J [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 30, 2009 10:39 AM

Jeff, I think you bring up a valid point.

And really why would it be otherwise? Architects deal with space, and relate to the human scale, from day one. They serve the body, not just the eye. Something artists could learn from.

Not sure what the $$$ means. Could you clarify Kristan?

Thanks for letting me comment.

Posted by: Sean Casey [TypeKey Profile Page] at April 30, 2009 02:25 PM

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