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Issue 55

Against Architecture

Espai d'Art Contemporani de Castello, Spain

BY Juan Vincente Aliaga in Reviews | 12 NOV 00

Many exhibitions about architecture are incomprehensible to the general public. This was not the case with 'Against Architecture', a show which paid homage to Georges Bataille's mockery of the foundations of rationalist thinking. Recently, Spain has had to put up with a few serious architectural blunders: Richard Meier's Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona functions better as a space for fashion parades or television programmes than an art centre, while the main galleries of the Galician Centre of Contemporary Art (designed by Alvaro Siza) were constructed with double ceilings that look like suspended tables, a decision which has prompted numerous artists to complain about the difficulty they face when installing their pieces.

'Against Architecture' contained work that could be considered more sculptural than architectural. Gordon Matta-Clark's photographs Splitting (1974), for example, record the partitions or divisions of houses marked for demolition, while Guillermo Kuitca's painting of house plans, Untitled, (1991), proposes such provocative notions as the production of an urban web by means of syringes and erased surfaces. Many of the works on display generated ideas for thinking not only about the city's shortcomings, but also for conceiving utopian projects. The best example was from the British group, Archigram, who caused considerable commotion in architectural circles between 1961 and 1974 by imagining a colourful, glamour-filled world which would embrace a kind of Pop happiness. Their works (or projects) transmit an exultant vision of human existence, although their fascination with the aesthetics of technology and machines is rather simplistic. Archigram's importance can be seen in their coloured heliographs of underwater cities and futuristic towers from 1964. Collages by the Catalan group, Metápolis, were clearly inspired by the work of their British predecessors, as were pieces from the Italian group Archizoom Associati. However, by not relinquishing the use of section plans and cardboard panels covered in photographs - all of which demanded detailed readings - their work seemed rather hermetic.

'Against Architecture' posited a need to rethink the city (hence the inclusion of Rem Koolhaas) with the aim of making it more habitable: - from the radicality of Matta-Clark or Melvin Charney to Dan Graham's photographs of dining rooms or suburban houses surrounded by fences, and the austerity of the Spaniard Valcárcel Medina. However, the homage to Bataille did not quite make itself evident in an exhibition in which - despite the joyfulness of Bodys Isek Kingelez's maquettes, Fritz Lang's designs for Metropolis (1927) and Antonio Sant Élia's visionary designs - a certain stiffness predominated. Bataille was a 'hot' thinker, and although wit and imagination was present, it wasn't as evident as it might have been.