In the Distance *research-in-progress 2010
Edited by Ana María León and Alla Vronskaya *research-in-progress is an annual graduate student conference organized by students of the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art Discipline Group in the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The 2010 conference was titled “In the Distance” and took place on February 26 and 27, 2010. It was organized by Ana María León, Ash James Lettow, and Alla Vronskaya.
Content Preface Ana Miljacki
Introduction Ana María León, Alla Vronskaya
Peripheral Memory: New York’s Forgotten Landscape Deborah Buelow
Archaeological Ambassadors-at-Large and the Making of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago (1919) Azra Dawood
Intimations of Order: Banham, the University of Buffalo, and the Double Visions of Frontier Modernism James D. Graham
Transmissions from Suburb to Center Sara Stevens
Programmed Architecture on the Cold War’s Periphery: Vjenceslav Richter, Synturbanism, and the New Tendencies Ivan Rupnik
Not Far Now: Romanticization and the Search for a Polish Modern Architecture Matthew Benjamin Matteson
Disobedient Bodies: Isidre Nonell’s Paintings of Spanish Gypsies Delia Solomons
From Metropolitan Decadence to Provincial Success: Raymond Q. Monvoisin and the Chilean Post-Independent Elite of the 1840s Josefina de la Maza Chevesich
Outside Looking In: Francisco de Holanda and the Margins of Renaissance Art Joanna Hecker-Silva
Critical Distance Ana Miljacki
The conceptual collapse of space and time, of geography and history, in the idiom that haunts nearly all definitions of a historian’s work—critical distance—is enough of an alibi in itself to attempt to reverse its operative meaning from time to space again. Not in order to claim some form of objectivity provided by geographic distance as is often the case with its temporal equivalent, but instead to engage geographic and discursive distance as an epistemological issue. It is a common, colloquial truism that at the end of the 20th and the beginning of the 21st century geographical distances “shrunk” through digital and media connectedness, cheap flights, smoothness of financial flows, and other technological, economic and social phenomena that together constitute globalization. But it is precisely by granting geographical distance a privileged conceptual position, by using it operatively to question its function in the construction of discourse as well as in the construction of political, social and aesthetic realities, that the above truism begins to read as itself geo-politically encoded. The Spring 2010 MIT conference In The Distance that invited research in progress involving a critical framing of the concept of distance, relied on the type of analytical power for the concept of distance that Walter Benjamin once granted to media in their final stage of development. Just as a medium is about to be replaced by a new one, Walter Benjamin thought, that same medium would acquire its final critical capacity, as if in a final deathly spasm of its technological and aesthetic dimensions: its near-disappearance allowing its users and practitioners a new perspective, in a sense removed, at a distance, from the imminent novelty and blindness of the coming media. If we accepted the truism invoked above, that distances are all but immaterial
today, then indeed geographical distance may be the concept that at the beginning of the 21st century has the descriptive and explanatory capacity to render visible complex historical entanglements that prefigured our supposedly flat world. On the other hand, once we are past the sheer appeal of a concept that might derive new precision from its contemporary status, and thanks to the fact that the papers presented at this conference conspired to both rewrite historical and discursive links via the concept of distance, and equally to recast geographical distance within the more and less known historical narratives ranging from 16th-century Portuguese drawings to 1960s cybernetic projects in Zagreb, the issue of geographical distance emerges not only as a robust critical lens, but also, more often than not, as one of the key determining historical factors. The geographic dynamics of uneven economic and discursive development have been theorized in a variety of ways throughout the papers collected in this volume: distance that in the ex-Yugoslavian context allowed promiscuous and productive interpretation and appropriation of theories generated elsewhere, distance that enabled a relatively small artist in Paris to dominate in Chile, distance and exoticism (a common correlative of distance between center and periphery of discourse) as alibis for the constitution of scientific institutions. It will surely emerge from the work that follows, and with palpable urgency, that while definitions of centers and peripheries shift, the dynamics of their relationship always have a powerful hand in the production of discourse and reality. Thus, demanding of these dynamics to perform an important role in the writing of history as well, is the invaluable contribution of this collection of essays.
Introduction *research-in-progress 2010 Ana María León, Alla Vronskaya The general perception is that intellectual and creative production outside of major cultural centers necessarily defines itself in relationship to these centers. Moreover, the relative paucity of material resources and opportunities available in these remote areas seem to aggravate cultural dependence. However, this may not be the only possible perspective on the effects of this geographical and psychological remoteness. How and by whom are such notions as “periphery” and “province” constructed? How does the acceptance or denial of one’s own “provincialism” influence identity and culture in general? How do the edges affect dominant discourses? These were a few of the many questions posed by “In the Distance,” the 2010 *research-in-progress (*rip) conference, an annual graduate student conference organized by students of History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art at MIT. Nine of the presentations delivered at the conference found their way to this publication, spanning different geographical regions and disciplinary boundaries. New York’s Hart Island, a cemetery for those on the margins of capitalist social structure, is the focus of Deborah Buelow’s research. Azra Dawood finds a very different perspective on capitalism in the United States, exposing the process by which it symbolically appropriated Egyptian cultural heritage. Conversely, looking at the peripheral qualities of early twentieth century American architecture, James Graham uncovers notions of modernity behind the neoclassical façade of E.B. Green’s Lockwood Library at the University of Buffalo. Sara Stevens examines how real estate strategies deployed in suburbia found their way to the post-war architectural discourse and Chicago’s urban core. Another disciplinary shift—between technology and art—is analyzed by Ivan Rupnik, who looks at the work of Zagreb
artist Vjenceslav Richter in the 1960s. The political situation in Socialist Yugoslavia, mediating between two centers of power and equally distant from both, enabled Richter to subvert preconceived notions of art. More tragically, a political partitioning of Poland among Russia, Austria, and Prussia during the nineteenth century, provoked the consolidation of Polish culture and the construction of national architectural styles explored by Benjamin Matteson. In a double reversal, Matteson recounts how a Polish painter was presented as Russian while a Russian church was redressed as Polish. Considering the same time period, Delia Solomons looks at Catalan artist Isidre Nonell’s subversion of the Spanish gitana stereotype, in relation to his own experience as a Spanish artist in Paris. In contrast, Parisian clichés were translated abroad, as Josefina de la Maza Chevesich demonstrates in her paper on academic painter Raymond Q. Monvoisin, who in the mid-nineteenth century moved from France to Chile and reversed his fortune by becoming “the modernizer” of Chilean art. Finally, Joanna Hecker-Silva complicates the idea of intellectual appropriation by showing how the tropes of imperialist collecting on the one hand, and admiring and emulation on the other, coexisted in the work of a Portuguese artist Francisco de Holanda, who in 1537 was sent by King João III to Italy. Together, this set of historic and geographic narratives present a range of responses to the effects of colonial empires, diasporas of war, exile, migration, and mistranslation, repositioning the dependence generated by remoteness as sometimes stimulating, often productive, and at times even liberating.
Peripheral Memory: New York’s Forgotten Landscape Deborah Buelow
This paper explores how history and memory shape the spatiality of human burial on Hart Island, an isolated island threequarters of a mile from New York City across the Long Island Sound. For those who died in the city with no means of their own, whose bodies are unidentified and unclaimed, Hart Island acts as a final exit. The purpose of the paper is to reconnect Hart Island and New York City, exposing factors that have given rise to a perception of Hart Island as abject, disquieting, and ultimately unworthy of attention. I. The Geography of Contested Spaces In a 1967 lecture entitled “Of Other Spaces,”1 Michel Foucault introduced the notion of heterotopia, which is a space defined negatively, by way of an opposition to another. Physical properties do not describe Foucault’s heterotopias so much as meanings derived through cultural description. In other words, heterotopias are constituted metaphorically as much as spatially. The graveyard is one of Foucault’s primary examples. There, ideology and geographical space are inextricably linked. From the initial settling of the American subcontinent by European colonialists, graveyards or churchyards occupied a central location within the new towns, as opposed to the potter’s fields, located outside the town limits. In the early nineteenth century, however, changing perceptions of death and burial pushed churchyards into suburbs, separating the dark city of the dead from the vibrant city of the living. This kind of displacement, however, is different from the multiple removals of the potter’s field. While both are geographic, the latter includes a social element caused by prejudice against the forlorn, abandoned, and indigent.
The idiom “potter’s field” is often referenced back to accounts of Judas’s betrayal of Jesus in the Book of Matthew. Realizing his guilt, Judas refused the “thirty pieces of silver” given him by the chief priests for helping them arrest Jesus, “so they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners.”2 A potter’s field, says historian Thomas Badhe, “referred to a place where potters dug for clay, and thus a place conveniently full of trenches and holes for the burial of strangers.”3 In 1852 New York City’s Aldermen decided officially to rename the potter’s field “City Cemetery” in an effort to remove stigma from the place.4 But it was not quite a “cemetery.” The word “cemetery” is derived from the Greek word for “sleeping place,” its earliest use for a place of burial dating back to the ancient Roman underground catacombs. In the mid-19th century, “cemetery,” meaning a societal burial ground, became the popular replacement for “churchyard” or “graveyard.” Yet for the burial of indigents and unknown persons, “potter’s field” remained—and remains—a commonly used term. Discussing how rapidly crowding antebellum New York City buried its indigent dead, Badhe says, “The biblical veneer of the term was perhaps an antidote to one of the distressing costs of life in the chaotic new democratic city. At least in Potter’s Field they lay under a vague biblical scope.”5 II. Contested Geographies of Death A forlorn landscape on the outskirts of a thriving city, Hart Island is New York City’s eighth recorded potter’s field. Roughly one hundred acres in size and part of a small archipelago in the Long Island Sound, it is one of the city’s northernmost islands. From the neighboring City Island, Hart looks like a ghost town: all the buildings that are immediately within view
Fig. 1: Department of Correction dock off City Island. Authorâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s photo.
are abandoned. Here, the only access to the island is marked by barbed wire and large billboards flanking either side of a fenced boat landing. These postings say “Prison KEEP OFF” and “New York City Correction Department RESTRICTED AREA,” warning accidental visitors against proceeding further. Regular and authorized travel to Hart Island comes from Riker’s Island, the site of the city’s major penitentiary. Hart is connected to Riker’s through the labor of inmates transported daily to bury the city’s anonymous former inhabitants.6 Because it is run by the Department of Correction and involves prison labor, the island and its burial ground, the country’s largest tax-funded cemetery—a potter’s field—are not publicly accessible.7 Potter’s fields have always dotted the margins of New York’s history. Washington Square Park marks one of the earliest.8 Recent park renovations unearthed skeletons, bringing a fresh reminder of Washington Square’s early history. In 1776, during the Revolutionary War, the city’s boundaries did not stretch as far north as the location of the park. What became the park was farmland surrounding a few wealthy New Yorker’s country retreats, and a parcel acted as a place of interment for slaves and the poor.9 Such was the pressure of population growth and urban development that by the late 1790s the city’s built-up area had grown to the present line of Houston Street. By 1795 the Yellow Fever epidemics began their devastating campaigns against the city. These epidemics contributed to a misunderstanding of the infectiousness of diseased corpses, and miasmatic theories frightened citizens into believing that dead bodies spread noxious vapors, contaminating the city air. Foucault explains this shift: The dead, it is supposed, bring illness to the living, and it is the presence and proximity of the dead right beside the houses, next to the church, almost in the middle of the street, it is this proximity that propagates death itself. 10 The Washington Square potter’s field remained in place until 1823. The city grew northward until this graveyard was surrounded by urban life, forcing it to an area approximately forty blocks north, a space now occupied by Bryant Park. Over the next several decades a series of moves were undertaken, from approximately 50th Street and 4th Avenue in 1836 (site today of the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel), to Randall’s and Ward’s Islands in 1852, and finally to Hart Island in 1869.11 Newspaper articles partly reveal the reason behind the multiple moves. “Is our city always to be disgraced by some public exhibition?” asked a New York Times subscriber in 1858.
For the sake of decency, do call the attention of our City authorities to the exhibition of coffins, skulls and decayed bodies lying exposed on the corner of Fiftieth-street and Fourth-Avenue. I learned this is the spot formerly called ‘Potter’s Field.’ Every Sunday crowds can be seen idly gazing at the decayed remains, and at intervals tossing the skulls and bones from one spot to another by way of amusement.12 Displaying social delicacy, these words also reveal a social bias. Responses like these identified the potter’s field as a marker of social standing; it was (and is) a place that aided in the making of moral judgment. In 1894, the New York Times published an article entitled “Saved from Potter’s Field”, in which a woman who was “neat and clean and ladylike,” but whose life was “[debased] from liquor,” was given a proper burial by a charitable man. “No pauper’s or criminal’s grave is fit for her... and I won’t see her remains put in Potter’s Field.”13 Potter’s Fields looked different from cemeteries. Some of the perceptions that contributed to the physical appearance of the potter’s field became factors that forced cemeteries to the suburbs. Cemeteries like Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn and Woodlawn Cemetery in the Bronx had mimicked European attempts to conceal the ugly realities of death by placing burial sites in secluded landscapes. Their rolling hills came as welcome additions to the two cities as public spaces, and even inspired the design of some major parks.14 As bucolic cemeteries became city icons, Hart Island, antithetically, stood alone, defining itself in 1869 via the burial of a single 24-year old orphan. In the years since then, approximately 800,000 burials have taken place there.15 III. Geographies of Deviation The heterotopic nature of the potter’s field’s current location— that is to say, the negative perception of the potter’s field— carries a greater significance when viewed through the history of the island itself. Hart Island was the site of other activities. According to Foucault, “The heterotopia has the power to juxtapose in a single real place several spaces, several emplacements that are in themselves incompatible.” He considers these places “heterotopias of deviation,” which are “those in which individuals are placed whose behavior is deviant in relation to the mean or required norm.”16 During the Civil War, Hart Island was leased from the State of New York by the U.S. Army for use as a training ground for Union soldiers preparing for battle, but it became a prisoner of war camp for Confederate soldiers.17 After the war, the city utilized the island to ease pressure on Randall’s Island’s Indus-
trial School of Destitute Boys, and in 1895 the Department of Welfare and Corrections introduced a reformatory and jail workhouse to the island.18 These programs were supplemented by a variety of other occupancies throughout the decades, including a lunatic asylum, an almshouse, a school for traffic violators, and a city-funded homeless shelter. The island came under federal authority again in the 1950s with the Cold War as fears of air attack drove the U.S. Army to establish Nike missile bases along the country’s coastlines. Sitting opposite a concrete monument labeled “Peace” built in 1949 by New York prison inmates, the Nike missile silos are now abandoned concrete bunkers with no plans for reuse.19 Conclusion: The Divergence of Function and Meaning If, according to Foucault, the cemetery is an example of an “other space” or a contestation of a space, then it could be argued that the burial ground at Hart Island is a metacontestation of space. A heterotopia is by Foucault’s definition a place that exists in the public domain, such as a cemetery. But what
of the public cemetery that is not accessible to the public? Would this not be a contestation of a heterotopia and thereby a contestation of a contestation of a space? The cemetery and the potter’s field are functionally the same. They are, however, metaphorically opposite. For example, Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn is familiar to most New York City dwellers, but only few are aware of the existence the potter’s field on Hart Island. A cemetery is built into the urban consciousness; the potter’s field is outside it. A cemetery exists to embed the memories of the dead in eternity; a potter’s field obliterates the possibility of this symbolic opportunity. Hart Island is not just a “real space that shows reality to be an illusion”20 as a cemetery does, it also is “several places that are in themselves incompatible.”21 Here reality is not just an illusion; for practical purposes, it is obliterated. If society accepts the cemetery as a necessary and vital piece of urban geography, how does it classify the potter’s field? To keep the burial ground as unknown as its inhabitants renders its function a disservice and furthers the symbolic negations that keep it on the fringes of city geography and social consciousness.
Endnotes 1 Michel Foucault, “Of Other Spaces, Heterotopias,” in Heterotopia and the City: Public Space in a Postcivil Society, ed. Michiel Dehaene, and Lieven de Cauter (London: Routledge, 2008).
11 Folpe, It Happened on Washington Square (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 55-69.
2 Matthew 27: 7-8, New International Version.
13 N.A., “Saved from Potter’s Field,” New York Times, 2 January 1894.
3 Thomas Badhe, “The Common Dust of the Potter’s Field,” www.common-place.org. 4 N.A., “New-York City:... The Alms-House Department....” New York Daily Times, 21 April 1852. 5 Badhe, “The Common Dust of the Potter’s Field.” 6 Melinda Hunt and Joel Kleinfeld, Hart Island (New York City: Scalo, 1998), 23. 7 This is a remnant of an older system when the Department of Correction was linked with the Department of Welfare, but that was disbanded in 1895 because of the notion that poor people did not belong with prisoners. See N.A., “Mayor Strong Will Sign/He Believes Unfortunates Should Not Be with Criminals. Hearing on Bill for Separation/Mrs. Charles Russell Lowell, Charles S. Fairbanks, Carl Schurz, and Others Speak in Favor—No Opposition,” New York Times, 8 May 1895. and Gale Silver, “Potter’s Field Hart Island: A Historical Resume of Potter’s Field,” ed. Public Relations Unit (New York City: Department of Correction, 1967), 1. 8 Prior to the use of Washington Square Park, potter’s fields existed on the site of presentday Madison Square Park (1794-1797) and just north of City Hall. Emily Kies Folpe, It Happened on Washington Square, Center Books on Space, Place, and Time (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 55-69. 9 Eric Homberger, The Historical Atlas of New York City: A Visual Celebration of 400 Years of New York City’s History (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2005), 57, 58. 10 Foucault, 19.
12 Letter to the Editor, “For Decency’s Sake,” New York Times, 21 April 1858, 4. 14 The design of Central Park by Frederick Law Olmsted was inspired by the rural cemetery movement. James Stevens Curl, A Celebration of Death : An Introduction to Some of the Buildings, Monuments, and Settings of Funerary Architecture in the Western European Tradition (London: B.T. Batsford, 1993). 206-298. See also Blanche M. G. Linden and Library of American Landscape History, Silent City on a Hill : Picturesque Landscapes of Memory and Boston’s Mount Auburn Cemetery (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press in association with Library of American Landscape History, 2007). 15 Hunt and Kleinfeld, Hart Island, 27. 16 Foucault, 18. 17 Leslie Corn, “New York City’s Potter’s Field: A Visit to Hart Island’s City Cemetery in Bronx County,” New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, <http://www.newyorkfamilyhistory.org/modules.php?name=Sections&op=viewarticle&artid=60>. 18 Sharon Seitz and Stuart Miller, The Other Islands of New York City : A History and Guide, 2nd ed. (Woodstock, Vt.; New York City: Countryman Press ; Distributed by W.W. Norton, 2001), 127-134. 19 Ibid. 20 M. Christine Boyer, “The Many Mirrors of Foucault and their Architectural Reflections,” in Heterotopia and the City: Public Space in a Postcivil Society, ed. Michiel Dehaene, and Lieven de Cauter (London: Routledge, 2008), 54. 21 Foucault, 19.
Archaeological Ambassadors-at-Large and the Making of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago (1919) Azra Dawood
Between 1905 and 1907, James Henry Breasted—the United States’ first Egyptologist—organized expeditions to Nubia (southern Egypt and northern Sudan), using funds provided by the industrialist and philanthropist, John D. Rockefeller, Sr.1 In the photograph (Fig. 1), Breasted is the man in the white hat seated just above the uraeus of the Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel and just below a local expedition member who is holding him securely in place. When the expeditions ended, Breasted outlined an ambitious scheme for a floating, archaeological research laboratory on the Nile that would further the University’s documentation efforts, and presented his plans to Frederick T. Gates, Rockefeller Sr.’s philanthropic advisor and head of the Rockefellerendowed General Education Board (GEB). Gates rejected the proposal arguing that the Egyptian government itself should undertake a project of this scope.2 Near Eastern archaeology was not yet considered an established science, worthy of such private American philanthropic funding. But years later, one of the Board’s former President would write that of all the humanistic fields eventually funded by the GEB and other Rockefeller foundations, and through personal endowments by Rockefeller, Sr. and his son John D. Rockefeller, Jr., Near Eastern archaeology received the most money, with the largest share going towards the creation of the Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago in 1919.3 Breasted founded this Institute, organizing it as a two-pronged research facility for Near Eastern studies that incorporated an existing home-based philology department and a new archaeological field operations arm.4 The Institute, its expeditions, museum, and dedicated building, absorbed the sizeable monetary contributions of the Rockefeller philanthropic network. This extensive support can be attributed
to Breasted’s persuasiveness, and his reputation as a pioneering archaeologist, historian, and Orientalist. As Gates wrote, “He is the Atlas that carries [the Institute] on his back.”5 With Breasted’s death in 1935, funding for the Institute dwindled. The following paper analyzes Breasted’s transformation of the U.S. perception of Near Eastern archaeology in the early twentieth century, from merely a curiosity and biblical pursuit, to a scientific field with scientific techniques of research and documentation, such as photography. The Oriental Institute was a key component of this transformation. Breasted constructed his campaign for Near Eastern studies and for the Institute on both rational and ideological grounds. Although he presented the field as a legitimate science by comparing it with established sciences such as astronomy, he also appropriated the ancient civilizations as part of the origins and identity of an emerging U.S. power. Ultimately, he presented the ancient Near East as a new U.S. frontier, worthy of research and funding. I will situate these transformations and Breasted’s efforts within the larger political and scientific context of the period. What were the obstacles to Breasted’s mission? And what changes took place in archaeology, in the U.S., and in the world that finally led to U.S. support and recognition for Near Eastern archaeology? Clues to these questions can be found in a decisive letter written in January 1919, shortly after President Woodrow Wilson’s departure for the Paris Peace Conference, which marked the end of the First World War. Addressing the GEB and Rockefeller, Jr., Breasted wrote of an unparalleled historic moment in the Near East: As I realize that in these last few weeks … the opportunity of the ages has come to us. … For the first time in history the birth-
lands of religion and civilization lie open to unrestricted research and discovery. Palestine, Syria, Asia Minor, Assyria, and Babylonia have suddenly become ours.6 In an accompanying document, he wrote: The study of these lands is the birthright and the sacred legacy of all civilized peoples. Their delivery from the Turk brings to us an opportunity such as the world has never seen before … . Our allies in Europe are financially too exhausted. … This makes both the opportunity and the obligation all the greater for us in America.7 To fully comprehend this “opportunity” and “obligation,” we must first understand Breasted’s perception of the obstacles in his path. I argue that Breasted’s larger letter assumes the United States politically removed from the Near East, where he believed lay the origins of civilization and where European nations were engaged in imperial contests. Simultaneously, Breasted saw U.S. involvement in Near Eastern archaeology in a similarly peripheral position, due to conditions at home and abroad. In the second half of the nineteenth century, the imperially motivated British and French dominated the field. They presented themselves as responsible custodians of the ancient ruins and, by extension, of the modern lands themselves. Just prior to the First World War, the Germans commanded the field, particularly in Mesopotamia in the Ottoman Empire.8 Europeans also had the advantage of physical proximity to the Near East. In his letter, Breasted argued that the U.S. archaeologist and ancient historian must visit these lands to make his observations. Comparing the archaeologist with the astronomer, he wrote: The astronomer is sometimes required to visit distant regions in order to make his observations. This is constantly true of the orientalist and ancient historian. To secure his materials, he must be granted the time and the funds to become a kind of permanent archaeological ambassador-at-large to the Near Orient.9 But philanthropic organizations were more inclined to fund research in the natural sciences. Near Eastern archaeology was considered—as Breasted himself put it—“an oddity at a county fair,”10 on the outer fringes of science. Within the humanities itself, it was pushed aside by a strong Greco-Roman bias. The origins of ‘American’ civilization were not seen to lie with the much earlier Egyptians, Assyrians, Babylonians. These then were the obstacles.
Fig. 1: University of Chicago Expedition at the Temple of Ramses II at Abu Simbel, Photographer unknown (1906). Charles Breasted, Pioneer to the Past: The Story of James Henry Breasted, Archaeologist, Told by His Son Charles Breasted (Chicago, IL: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 2009), public domain.
As Breasted’s letter suggests, 1919 was a pivotal year in overcoming these obstacles. The United States’ participation in the peace talks signaled the beginning of the country’s political engagement with Europe and the Near East—something it had previously avoided, using its geographical distance and a policy of political isolationism. The U.S. emerged on the international political scene at a time when the British and French Empires were financially weak, and Germany had been politically and financially incapacitated. This was accompanied by the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire, with large parts of it falling under Western control, rising nationalism in the Near East and Egypt, the emergence of the U.S. as both an ally to the British and French, and as a ‘benevolent’ power supporting Arab and Turkish nationhood and independence. It was an opportune time for a U.S. institution to access the Near East and establish archaeological field expeditions.
Fig. 2: Photographing the Great Stela of Thutmose I at Tumbos. James Henry Breasted, photographer (1907). http://oi.uchicago.edu/pdf/oimp24.pdf, public domain.
Fig. 3: Tympanum above the main entrance to the Oriental Institute building on the University of Chicago campus. Sculptor: Ulric H. Ellerhusen, designed by James Henry Breasted. Courtesy of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago. Copyright 1931, renewed 1953.
Breasted argued that to assume its rightful place in this new world, the U.S. must have a solid grasp and understanding of its own origins. His research on ancient Near Eastern civilizations convinced him that the values, justice, industriousness, and religion of the West first sprung up in these ancient civilizations. And he argued passionately to move the origins of western civilization farther back from classical civilization. Positioning the U.S. at the forefront of historical development and of civilization, he argued that the ancient Near East was the “keystone of the arch, with prehistoric man on one side and civilized Europe on the other,”11 with Americans as the ultimate heirs of this civilization.12 Significantly, he denied the Near East’s modern-day inhabitants this heritage by describing them as uninterested or unknowledgeable about the ancient civilizations. He compared U.S. scientific and scholarly work against “alleged scientific excavators”13 and “illicit native diggings.”14 In
comparison, U.S. methods were precise, rational, and scientific. As a leader in science and technology, the United States–and its wealthy sons–was obligated to use scientific methods to protect, document, and study ‘American’ origins in the Near East. In his book, American Genesis, Thomas Hughes writes that more than a democratic nation, the U.S. was “the modern technological nation.”15 He terms the century from 1870 to 1970 as the “American Genesis,” describing it as a time of technological achievement and invention in the U.S., when processes of acquiring, archiving, and studying information were celebrated. Cognizant of this scientific enthrallment in his country, Breasted positioned himself as a new Orientalist–a man of science and action. He believed that the philological pursuits of traditional Orientalists were limited to the compilation of dictionaries, which ignored the search for evidence with which to reconstruct the story of man. However, the new Orientalist was concerned with physical evidence of ancient civilizations. The task of such a professional was to bridge the gap between: … the paleontologist with his picture of the dawn-man, enveloped in clouds of archaic savagery, and on the other hand the historian with his reconstruction of the career of civilized man in Europe.16 To construct such an Orientalist, Breasted looked to the archaeologist, the Americanist, and the astronomer. He imagined a free-lance historian not tethered by university protocol, a man equipped with the tools of technology: the camera and the airplane. And a man assisted by a team of specialists, fully equipped and organized around a scientific laboratory and archive. The Oriental Institute, in fact. Without such a facility, he argued, the Orientalist would be akin to an astronomer studying the skies without a telescope. Breasted repeatedly references the astronomer, the observatory, and the telescope. Between 1928 and 1948, the Rockefeller Foundation funded George Ellery Hale–an astronomer and Breasted’s friend–to build a 200-inch telescope and observatory in California that could penetrate deeper into space than ever before. Hale was the foreign secretary of the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), which was created during the Civil War to advise the government in its military efforts. He nominated Breasted to the NAS, making him the first archaeologist on the Academy. Breasted gained legitimacy as a scientist through association with Hale, and promoted archaeology by comparing its methods and techniques with astronomy – an established and well-funded science. Using the model of observatories, Breasted set up field expedition houses in the Near
East. The houses dotted the ancient landscape, and the data and material collected made its way to headquarters at the Oriental Institute–a literal and figurative embodiment of the United States as the new cultural and scientific center: inheritor of the ancients, inheritor of the skies. As U.S. astronomers used scientific technology to study the skies and understand the place of the Earth in the galaxy, Breasted used scientific technology to look at the Near East and construct the story of the modern American man.17 If archaeology and astronomy are imagined as disciplines that look into— and study—deep time and distant space, then their technology of looking and documenting becomes important. German archaeologists had pioneered the use of scientific technology in archaeology, such as photography (which was used to capture monuments for rational study or for posterity) and stratigraphy. Following the Germans, Breasted used these techniques, particularly photography, to construct the idea of scientific archaeology and responsible custodianship. The 1905-1907 expeditions (which preceded the creation of the Oriental Institute) resulted in over a thousand photographs. Most photographs documented endangered monuments, but the collection also included photographs that documented the act of documenting itself. Breasted took the photograph in Fig. 2, which shows the expedition’s official photographer documenting a rock stela. By showing expedition members engaged in the inarguably important task of documenting ancient ruins, Breasted demonstrated U.S. scientific contribution and capability but, significantly, he also presented native expedition members as just helpers or by-standers.
The scientific, political, and ideological consonance in Near Eastern studies and archaeology that I have described is embodied in Breasted’s design for the tympanum above the entrance of the Oriental Institute building on the University of Chicago campus (Fig. 3). An Egyptian scribe on the left, representing the East, presents a wall fragment from a temple to the personification of the West on the right. Breasted described the image as a suggestion of the “transition of civilization from the ancient Orient to the West.”18 Elsewhere, the image is described as the transference of the gift of writing from ancient Egypt to the West. The symbolism is reminiscent of the mural in the dome of the U.S. Library of Congress, which shows the civilizations and nations arranged in a circle, starting with the personification of Egypt, which represents “Written Records,” and ending with America (“Science”). America is shown facing Egypt. If we imagine writing as an early innovation or technology, then perhaps it is fitting that this gift of writing would be presented to (or rather, appropriated by) the new leader in innovation and science: the United States. The tympanum represents the significant contribution of James Henry Breasted to the American public’s consciousness of Near Eastern civilizations as the fountainhead of all civilizations, but it also shows U.S. appropriation of the ancient Near East. By simultaneously positioning the United States at the front of all civilizations and by denying the ancient Near Eastern civilizations to the modern-day inhabitants of the Near East, Breasted created what he called “the New Past,”19 for a new emerging power.
Endnotes 1. Rockefeller, Sr. initially funded Breasted’s projects, but his son (Rockefeller, Jr.) financed the Oriental Institute.
9. “Plan for the Organization of an Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago,” January 13, 1919, Folder 6851, Box 659, Series 1, GEB, RAC.
2. Charles Breasted, Pioneer to the Past: The Story of James Henry Breasted, Archaeologist, Told by His Son Charles Breasted (Chicago, IL: Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, 2009), 209-12.
10. Breasted, Pioneer to the Past: The Story of James Henry Breasted, Archaeologist, Told by His Son Charles Breasted, 96.
3. Raymond B. Fosdick, Adventure in Giving, 1st ed. (New York,: Harper & Row, 1962), 236-37.
12 See, “Plan for the Organization of an Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago,” January 13, 1919, RAC.
4. James Henry Breasted, The Oriental Institute (Chicago, Ill.,: The University of Chicago Press, 1933), 2. 5. Frederick T. Gates to John D. Rockefeller Jr., December 26, 1923, folder 802, box 111, series 2G, Record Group (RG) III, Office of the Messrs. Rockefeller, Rockefeller Archive Center, Sleepy Hollow, New York (hereafter designated RAC). 6. James Henry Breasted to Wallace Buttrick, January 13, 1919, folder 6851, box 659, sub-series 4, series 1, General Education Board Archives (hereafter designated GEB), RAC.
11. Breasted, The Oriental Institute, 11.
13. Ibid. Breasted is referring to Italian archaeologists and to items that mysteriously found their way to the Museum in Turin. 14. Ibid. 15. Thomas Parke Hughes, American Genesis : A Century of Invention and Technological Enthusiasm, 1870-1970 (New York, N.Y., U.S.A.: Viking, 1989), 2-3. 16. Breasted, The Oriental Institute, 1.
7. “Plan for the Organization of an Oriental Institute at the University of Chicago,” January 13, 1919, folder 6851, box 659, sub-series 4, series 1, GEB, RAC.
17. Breasted, The Oriental Institute.
8. Ann C. Gunter and Stefan R. Hauser, “Introduction,” in Ernst Herzfeld and the Development of Near Eastern Studies, 1900-1950, Eds., Ann C. Gunter and Stefan R. Hauser (Leiden/Boston: Brill, 2005), 7, 13.
19. Charles Breasted, Pioneer to the Past: The Story of James Henry Breasted, Archaeologist, Told by his Son Charles Breasted, 316.
18. Breasted, The Oriental Institute, 103.
Intimations of Order: Banham, the University of Buffalo, and the Double Visions of Frontier Modernism James D. Graham
The first chapter of Reyner Banham’s survey of the historiographical reciprocities between American industrial buildings and European modernism—A Concrete Atlantis—begins at the University of Buffalo’s Bethune Hall, then home to the School of Architecture at which Banham taught in the late 1970’s. The visual associations spurred by Bethune Hall were, for Banham, immediate upon first arrival: As the dean’s car turned into the potholed driveway that ran along the flank of the building, I found myself looking at a structure that appeared to have escaped from the pages of the second “Rappel à MM. les Architectes” in Le Corbusier’s best-known book, Vers une Architecture… Everything was neat, rectangular, rational, and self-assured, as my readings in Le Corbusier had suggested it would be! But instead of looking at a badly rescreened reproduction in his book, I was facing the real thing, and it was good.1 In fact, Bethune Hall, built for the Buffalo Meter Company in 1915, was not included among Le Corbusier’s examples of what Banham termed “daylight factories.” But Banham’s interest lies less with Le Corbusier’s selectivity than with the particular mode of textual and pictorial representation that draws the Midwest’s silos and factories into dialogue with European interwar architecture—the discursive trajectories through which these “adoptive monuments of modernism,” as Banham calls them, became the distant legitimation for “machine age” rationalism.2 His own impressions of Bethune Hall, then, straddle the experiential and the textual, a sort of double vision in which his scholarly understanding of Buffalo’s built legacy, seen from a temporal and geographical remove, is superimposed on his actual encounters. But another sort of double vision complicates the modernist view of Buffalo’s institutional and architectural history as framed by Le Corbusier, Gropius, and even Banham; alongside the Buffalo on to which the modern movement projected its origin myths one finds a self-consciously cultivated Buffalo, made visible through a very different sort of civic architecture that stands in stark contrast to the “wild and primitive production,” as Erich Mendelsohn put it, of an eminently un-European frontier city.3 If Banham’s Bethune Hall represents a kind of autodescriptive modernism, another building on the University of Buffalo’s campus—E.B. Green’s Lockwood Library, now known as Abbott Hall—serves as an example of this other architectural culture, hardly secondary in the eyes of practicing architects of the moment. On first glance, Lockwood Library (begun in 1933) exhibits the type of historically deferential vocabulary decried in Moisei Ginzburg’s Style and Epoch, to cite but one
Fig. 1: Lockwood Library at the University of Buffalo, under construction, April 4, 1934. All images courtesy of the University Archives of the State University of New York at Buffalo.
example of anti-classical critique: “Wishing to be ‘as good as’ Europe, America continues to import European aesthetics and romanticism as though they were commodities that had stood the test of time and been ‘patented,’ as it were,” which, for Ginzburg, results in “a horrifyingly mechanical mixture of new, organic, purely American elements with the superficial envelopes of an outlived classical system ‘made in Europe.’”4 The thesis of Banham’s A Concrete Atlantis, of course, is that Ginzburg’s trajectory of importation can be reversed; just as the Buffalo campus takes Europe’s “outlived classicism” as its point of authentic origin, European modernism likewise exhibits a “causal, cultural, and conscious connection” to the engineered structures of American industry—which, as Banham is at pains to remind his reader, was rarely firsthand.5 With that in mind, Lockwood Library, the centerpiece of Green’s several buildings at the University of Buffalo’s “Main Street” campus, is of interest not for any particular originality but for its relative lateness, and should thus be situated as much in reference to its American forebears as to its classical origins. Designed well after the heyday of the American Greek Revival of the midnineteenth century—when the evocation of Hellenistic aesthetics and ideals were a “medicine for modernity,” as Caroline Winterer puts it—the University of Buffalo’s classical language might instead
Fig. 2: E.B. Green’s Lockwood Library (now Abbott Hall).
be seen as a purposeful expression, rather than an amelioration, of the city’s self-confirming modernity.6 As a counterpoint to the European aestheticization of the factories and silos of the Midwest, Lockwood Library’s apparent anachronism, seen in the context of modernism’s symbolic self-understanding, correlates with another kind of “modernity,” one tied to the cultural and typological evolution of the American university. Although Buffalo’s early architectural heritage is well known, the city’s iconic status in Europe was specifically cemented by a set of fourteen photographs of grain silos and elevators gathered by Walter Gropius and incessantly republished in a host of architectural periodicals.7 The apparently straightforward purity of these industrial “volumes in light” was a frequent justification for a modernist language of structural honesty and formal clarity that, in its own way, recalls certain ideals of classicism; as Adolf Loos concisely opined, “Engineers are our Hellenes… from them we receive our culture.”8 For Banham, it was precisely this type of rhetoric that called into question the rationalist narrative of modernism; rather, he argues, “the form of factories and grain elevators were an available iconography, a language of forms, whereby promises could be made, adherence to the modernist credo could be asserted, and the way pointed to some kind of technological utopia.”9 Erich Mendelsohn was especially fervid in his approbation of these industrial forms, and he was among the few European architects to make a pilgrimage to the American Midwest. He spent an afternoon photographing Buffalo’s silos, writing in a letter of “mountainous silos, incredibly space-conscious, but creating space… I took photographs like mad. Everything else so far now seemed to have been shaped interim to my silo dreams. Everything else was merely a beginning.”10 In a similar vein, Le Corbusier’s use of Gropius’ industrial imagery, first in L’Esprit Nouveau and later in Vers une Architecture, appeals to a mystical notion of abstraction, space-creation, and intellectual integrity through the appearance of silos and elevators as artifacts of engineering: “NB—Let us heed the advice of engineers. But let us fear American architects.”11 The knowing irony of Le Corbusier’s statement is, of course, that the aspects of American architecture to be “feared” were precisely those that harkened back to its European origin, if writ at a more expansively American scale. As Mendelsohn would put it, “even a century of population explosion and machine-based increase in production cannot completely break the resistance of a thousand years of civilization… On top of the remnants of ideas that they brought along with them, the Americans have constructed the wild emblems of ‘enhanced civilization.’”12 For Le Corbusier and Mendelsohn alike, the
inertial resistance that classical culture exerts on their present, more so than the celebrated wilderness of the west, is the backdrop against which the forms of industrial architecture looked so appealing to European eyes; in keeping, authenticity is associated with literal distance from America’s colonial residue. Frederick Jackson Turner, in his seminal text on the idea of the American frontier, puts it thus: “At first, the frontier was the Atlantic coast. It was the frontier of Europe in a very real sense. Moving westward, the frontier became more and more American.”13 The European desire to evade its own architectural influence is what leads the modern movement to sites like Buffalo, more so than the actual buildings to be found there; precedents much closer at hand were rejected in favor of finding validation in the distant frontier.14 The University of Buffalo, then, is a complex reaction to the frontier ideal and the assumed industrial modernity of its urban and geographic milieu. After a dubious founding in 1836 (no degrees were granted and no academic work appears to have been undertaken) the University was reconstituted as a medical school in 1847 and slowly accreted professional programs.15 It took some seventy-five years to fully realize its College of Arts and Sciences, finally begun in 1919, which spurred the need for its new campus. Unlike the cloistered ideal of the nineteenthcentury American university (Ralph Adam Cram’s monastic graduate college at Princeton, completed six years prior, is one contemporaneous echo of this tradition), Buffalo’s campus was to be explicitly urban, with the intention of redefining the commercial city’s identity. As Julian Park, the first dean of the college as well as its most thorough historian, inveighed: Bearing the name of the city rather than that of an individual, the University links the city’s name with its own success or failure… No city is great unless it rests the eye, feeds the intellect, and leads its people out of the bondage of the commonplace… to do all three it must be blessed with the moral reservoir of higher education.16 This elision of civic-mindedness and pedagogy parallels Frederick Jackson Turner’s call (made in the same year) for “the production of a self-determining, self-restrained, intelligent democracy” through higher education in the former frontier states. After all, asks Turner, whose prolificacy was most notable in the field of collegiate commencements, “what more effective agency is there for the cultivation of the seed wheat of ideals than the university?”17 Buffalo’s first attempt at constructing this “seed wheat of ideals” culminated in a little-known master plan by the office of McKim, Mead, and White on the site of a former almshouse,
three of whose buildings are still utilized by the university (including Hayes Hall, whose centrally prominent siting and iconic tower, added later, are reminiscent of Princeton’s Nassau Hall). Out of this new masterplan, only one building—Foster Hall— was ultimately constructed, and can be seen as a posthumous homage to Stanford White’s work at the University of Virginia of twenty years earlier; along with stylistic and volumetric similarities, erasures on the firm’s drawings show that the original plan included a semicircular auditorium that rather precisely echoes White’s Old Cabell Hall. Shortly thereafter, however, the University turned to the man who would become the chief protagonist of the school’s building campaign—“Buffalo’s Grand Old Man of Architecture,” E.B. Green, whose major monument to the “university ideal” was his Lockwood Library.18 Descriptions of the library’s position of prominence in Green’s master plan tend to cite Jefferson’s Rotunda at the University of Virginia—a comparison borne out by the pediment and columnation—but the campus’ spatial planning is substantially more akin to the work of McKim, Mead, and White at Columbia University; Lockwood’s biaxial organization and its four-side ionic-ordered porches likewise evoke a more intimate version of Columbia’s Low Library. Indeed, the mixing of pedimented and flat porticos at Lockwood can be read as a play between the articulation of Jefferson’s and McKim, Mead, and White’s façades. Jefferson’s Rotunda, a supposed half-scale homage to the Pantheon in Rome, is explicit about its classical origins; after entering the American discourse, however, it is transformed and reconfigured—MIT’s campus is a notable example here—and it finds itself belonging more to a specific lineage of inquiry. The fact that Lockwood Library bears the influences of both McKim, Mead, and White’s rendition of Jefferson’s library alongside the original points to a specific idea of classicism that was being internally and continuously developed as much as it was influenced by the antiquarian past. Without eliding the usual stylistic distinctions conferred by the word “modernism,” one might say that Green’s deliberately progressive adaptation of the university library type—affiliating Lockwood with an ongoing discourse of civic monumentality appropriate to an enlightened America, instead of solely evoking European precedent—remains an expression of a kind of self-confirming modernity. Such a project neither courts nor opposes external validation so much as it borrows an available symbolic language, to borrow Banham’s argument about European modernism, rendered less constraining by the fact of its distance. Indeed, Green (educated at Cornell) was of a generation of architects who felt less obliged to undertake the European Grand Tour; his own educational frame of reference
was specifically American, and his classicism, as with many architects following the 1893 Columbian Exhibition in Chicago, was a displaced one. The untimeliness of Green’s work at the University of Buffalo was at the same moment being reciprocated by the European emulation of Buffalo’s increasingly obsolete industrial buildings; as Banham observes, stacked factory floors were already being replaced with vast single-story layouts, and buildings like Bethune Hall evinced their own lateness with over-articulated fussiness. “These great factories,” Banham writes, were “a doomed building type… in abandonment and death they evoke the majesties of a departed civilization.” The factory or the silo, then, even at the start of the twentieth century, is recast as a monument to a specific manner of outmoded production; and as a monument, to borrow a Tafurian formulation, “it is free to demonstrate continually and openly its own untimeliness”— which is to say that its relevance is not in its contemporaneity or even its functionality but rather its symbolic valences.19 Tafuri’s subject of inquiry in the above quotation was, in fact, Washington DC, which, like the University of Buffalo, employs neoclassical architecture to differentiate its cultural weight from a more commercially-oriented context; each, in Tafuri’s words, “tends to underscore in every way its own separation (not its extraneousness) from development… they are symbols of the American longing for something other than itself.”20 The American university and the American capitol are alike in their selfconscious counter-definition of ideals against context, intended to confirm a progressive spirit of modernity and to appeal to a distant projection of democracy’s origins. Banham’s closing example in A Concrete Atlantis, Matté Trucco’s charismatic Fiat Lingotto factory (begun the year after Bethune Hall), offers a useful if oblique foil for Lockwood Library. Banham, borrowing Amedée Ozenfant’s aphorism that “those who profess to love machinery usually prove to be collectors of antiques,” determines that Lingotto’s modernism is, in fact, a historicizing one—a wild emblem of “enhanced industrialization,” to reverse Mendelsohn’s phrase.21 Based on a long-discredited typology, its modernity is confirmed not by functionality—severely limited by its stacked organizational scheme—or its over-determined material assembly but rather by its referential echoes of Americanism. It is an architecture of representation as much as Lockwood Library is; furthermore, the building exhibits a number of almost classical ideals, as with Loos’ vision of engineers as Hellenes. Banham describes how the art critic Edoardo Persico sees in Lingotto “intimations of order, even a divine order… compelling evidence of obedience to the Laws.”22 These intimations address the parallel desires of
Lockwood and Lingotto—whether confronted with the rawness of the American frontier or the chaos of the European city—to exceed the ordinary through an appeal to a distant legitimating other, whose idealization grounds the work in a tradition that is always being remanufactured. This view is, of course, a retrospective one; neither the architects of European modernism nor the critics who championed their work would abide the thought that their movement could traffic in the same constructions of meaning that informed a strand of American neoclassicism, nor, except in rare cases, would they see that their abstraction was as representational as the classicizing architectural language of American institutional buildings. Banham, pondering the “cultural width of the Atlantic,” wonders whether a visitor like Mendelsohn could have perceived the difference between the constructed myth
of these industrial outposts and their actual presence. “Was the vision double for him, as it was for me,” he asks, “or did he see it with the single eye of faith, in the heyday of that idea of modernism, now in decline, that we have wished upon these our adoptive ancient monuments?”23 Even with this awareness, though, Banham betrays his own “single eye of faith,” choosing not to explore the possible reciprocities between a building like Lockwood and Lingotto, not on the grounds of excellence or originality but as participants in their respective lineages of borrowed meaning. Both are self-consciously discursive objects, staking out specifically local and avowedly progressive identities through counter-definition, while legitimizing their aesthetics through trans-Atlantic dialogue, an appeal across geographical and cultural distance.
Endnotes 1. Reyner Banham, A Concrete Atlantis: U.S. Industrial Building and European Modern Architecture 1900-1925 (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1986), 23-26. See also Reyner Banham, “Buffalo Industrial,” Little Journal 3 (February 1979). 2. Ibid, 143. 3. Erich Mendelsohn, Russland, Europa, Amerika: Ein Architektonischer Querschnitt (Basel: Birkhäuser, 1989), 18-19. 4. Moisei Ginzburg, Style and Epoch, trans. Anatole Senkevitch, Jr. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1982), 70. 5. Banham, 3. “Insofar as the International Style was copied from American industrial prototypes and models,” he writes, “it must be the first architectural movement in the history of the art based almost exclusively on photographic evidence rather than on the ancient and previously unavoidable techniques of personal inspection and measured drawing.” Ibid, 18. Banham even blames the frequent failings of European “flat roof” construction on its adoption from photographs rather than personal inspection: “The magazine illustrations of such works seen by European modernists were usually too small and too course-screened for details.” Ibid, 87. 6. Caroline Winterer, The Culture of Classicism: Ancient Greece and Rome in American Intellectual Life, 1780-1910 (Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002), 117. 7. See Banham, 9-15. This selective dossier included images from Canada, Argentina, and Brazil, which never undermined the prime importance granted to the American Midwest and specifically Buffalo, an emblematic frontier junction. 8. Adolf Loos, Ins Leere gesprochen, quoted in Banham, 258 fn 19. 9. Banham, 7. 10. Mendelsohn was accompanied by a “fresh, athletic car driver” named Buckley, who tells him that “the real city for silos is Chicago.” Again, Buffalo’s primacy is related more to a sense frontier mythology than the actual artifacts found there. Eric Mendelsohn, Eric Mendelsohn: Letters of an Architect, ed. Oskar Beyer (London: Abelard-Schuman, 1967), 69. 11. Le Corbusier, Toward an Architecture, trans. John Goodman (Los Angeles: Getty Research Institute, 2007), 113.
14. See Banham, 8-9. 15. For a complete if partisan account of the University of Buffalo’s history, see Julian Park, “The Evolution of a College: A Century of Higher Education in Buffalo,” The University of Buffalo Studies, vol. 15, no. 3 (May 1938), 42-52. Park’s institutional history is of interest for more than its factual content; the University of Buffalo Studies journal, which began publication in 1921 even as the university’s Main Street campus was being constructed, affirms the presence of the school as a participant in the intellectual culture of print — at its most critical moment of growth, the university grounded itself as much in text as in a physical locale. As such, Park’s historical retracing is an active part of the school’s self-realization; the physical fact of its architecture (“more than merely a paper institution” is his phrase) legitimates its somewhat questionable date of origin. For an institutional history in the context of Buffalo’s current masterplan, see “The Path of a Great University,” Building UB: The Comprehensive Physical Plan (Buffalo: University at Buffalo, 2009), http://www.buffalo.edu/ub2020/plan/final_pdf.html. 16. Julian Park, “The City and the University,” University of Buffalo Studies, vol. 1, no. 2 (June 1920), 203-206. 17. Frederick Jackson Turner, “Pioneer Ideals and the State University,” The Frontier in American History (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1921), 282-288. 18. The phrase is from the 1926 Buffalo Artists’ Register, cited in E.B. Green: Buffalo’s Architect (Buffalo: Burchfield-Penney Art Center exhibition catalog, February 8-April 6, 1997), 7. For background on Green, see also The Gallery Architects: Edward B. Green and Gordon Bunshaft (Buffalo: Albright-Knox Art Gallery, 1987). See also Andy Olenick and Richard O. Reisem, Classic Buffalo: A Heritage of Distinguished Architecture (Buffalo: Canisius College Press, 1999), 138, which contains little on Green’s work at the University of Buffalo but does indicate his stylistic versatility and presence in the city. A guidebook introduced by Banham, Henry-Russell Hitchcock, and Charles Beveridge—Francis R. Kowsky et. al., Buffalo Architecture: A Guide (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1981)—lists Lockwood Library only marginally. 19. Manfredo Tafuri, Architecture and Utopia: Design and Capitalist Development (Cambridge: MIT Press, 1976), 34. 20. Ibid, 36-37.
12. Erich Mendelsohn, Amerika, trans. R. Mosse (New York: Dover Publications, 1993), ix-xi.
21. Banham, 179.
13. Frederick Jackson Turner, “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” The Frontier in American History (New York: Henry Holt and Co., 1921), 4.
23. Ibid, 168.
22. Ibid, 21.
Transmissions from Suburb to Center Sara Stevens
In an apparent fit of confessional apologetics, Kansas City real estate developer J.C. Nichols published two articles in 1945: “Mistakes We Have Made in Community Development” and “Mistakes We Have Made in Developing Shopping Centers.”1 Both were well-received, oft-reprinted as bulletins from the Urban Land Institute, and offered a list of best practices that simultaneously contradicted conventional knowledge in the field. Nichols, revered as a successful, upstanding professional, publicly presented his errors of judgment as sacrifices on the altar of professionalization—lessons that were then taken up by other developers and applied to entirely different urban contexts in the centers of American cities. As urban land development shifted in scale during the twentieth century, from streetcar suburbs of a few blocks to Levittown-like subdivisions covering thousands of acres, real estate developers gained new knowledge about where and how to attain economies of scale and financial stability. Like other subdividers, the experiments Nichols oversaw in greenfield development—where the sites were outside city limits, untouched by zoning restrictions, and tangential to existing urban fabric— offered new methods for creating profitable, repeatable developments. Nichols and his colleagues working at the outskirts of town invented strategies for dealing with encroaching land uses, noxious neighbors, and falling market prices. Without the pressures of a dense urban environment, developers could test new street patterns and lot sizes, experiment with administrative bodies like homeowners associations, and vertically integrate their businesses to include financing, insurance, and engineering. At the scale of the tract and not the urban block, developers engaged in a spatial practice that was legally, formally, and administratively geared toward investment protection.
In the postwar years, some real estate developers began to apply these lessons from suburban subdividing to projects in increasingly powerless central cities. A generation after Nichols, the Chicago developer Herbert Greenwald worked with Mies van der Rohe to do just that. Whereas Nichols had encouraged the trend drawing population out of city centers, Greenwald used some of Nichols’ techniques to control the impacts of adjacent properties to retain middle class residents in the city center. This case shows how the professional practices of real estate developers found new advantages in applying greenfield/ periphery rules to downtown/central sites. Studying Nichols and Greenwald will illustrate a story of a translation and transmission from periphery to center that is grounded in the private sector, in its historical context, and in spatial practices. Nichols’ active professional period was from 1906 to his death in 1950. Greenwald began working as a developer in 1946 and died in 1959. Nichols worked exclusively in Kansas City; and Greenwald, in Chicago, Detroit, Newark, and New York. They never met, they shared no close friends or colleagues, they overlapped in no organizations, professional or otherwise. Nichols lived to old age, wrote and gave speeches extensively, and was actively involved in the national organization for the field of real estate; Greenwald died quite young and wrote no treatises on his profession. But there are many commonalities between them. They had no formal training and little to no background in real estate when they initiated their sizeable first projects. They found the financing for their projects first from people in their social circles and later from larger organizations like insurance companies. They each had a strong vision for the kind of environment they wanted to create with their projects, and were willing to push aside conventional wisdom to find
Fig. 1: Photograph (date unknown) of a J. C. Nichols’ billboard advertising the Country Club District. J.C. Nichols Company Records (KC0054-00017), State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center - Kansas City. http://www. umkc.edu/WHMCKC/
ways to achieve those dreams. As such, a comparison between them, though broad, highlights changes in the professional practices and the logic of real estate development, especially as they relate to urban form. Nichols’ vision was to create a high-class suburb southwest of Kansas City that would attract the city’s elite and middleclass residents and that would retain its value decade after decade. His experimentations in land development allowed him to improve upon techniques that appeared as paternalistic advice to a younger generation of developers in articles like the “Mistakes We Have Made” series. His active role in founding the Urban Land Institute in 1940 as a non-profit, advice-giving organization solidified the legacy of his techniques by offering a platform for further dissemination. Nichols’ involvement in writing guidelines for the Federal Housing Administration on residential subdivisions again ensured a wide audience for his preferred methods for controlling and profiting at residential land development.2 Much of the innovation in Nichols’ residential work appears in the deed restrictions applied to all the properties he developed in the Country Club District, the 4,000 acre agglomeration of subdivisions built over four decades on the southwest side of Kansas City, Missouri. Through automatically-renewing restrictions that he filed with the plats, Nichols could control a host of conditions in his subdivisions—minimum building costs, land use, building setbacks, and, until declared unenforceable by the Supreme Court in 1948, the race of occupants. But Nichols found other ways to ensure the “high quality” development he sought, and those practices had lasting effects on the landscape as well.
Unlike typical subdividers of the time, Nichols always worked with a landscape architect to design street layouts and grading plans for his subdivisions, hiring Kansas City’s most prominent, George Kessler. Nichols’ street plans avoided a rigid gridiron for layouts with gently curving roads that respected the gentle topography while nonetheless maintaining the framework that the pre-existing grid pattern imposed. His street plans connected and continued adjacent existing streets, linking into and underscoring a hierarchy of arterial roads leading downtown and along survey township lines. Though other subdividers would limit access points to their subdivisions, quickly disintegrating the grid, this was not Nichols’ approach.3 Nichols’ deployment of green space also set him apart from other developers. His lot sizes were generous, and deed restrictions established deep building setbacks, ensuring wide areas of green space around the houses. Nichols believed the setbacks and plantings contributed to his properties’ high valuation and stability by creating a buffer around each building that shielded inhabitants from unwanted intrusions. Nichols also liked to preserve green spaces along major roads, deeding strips of land to the city for tree-lined boulevards, or to screen out inharmonious neighbors with parks or golf courses. Green space was a buffer that Nichols often used to protect a property’s value, but it also resulted in very low building density compared with more urban and older residential developments.4 Nichols felt strongly that in order to maintain high property values, a developer must retain control over the aesthetics of a subdivision. Thus, he wrote into the sales contracts of all his properties that building plans must be approved by the Nichols Company. Another way that Nichols tried to increase and maintain property values was by providing public amenities to im-
Fig. 2: Aerial view of southwest edge of J. C. Nichols’ Country Club District, c.1925. J.C. Nichols Company Records (KC0106-00136), State Historical Society of Missouri Research Center - Kansas City. http://www.umkc.edu/WHMCKC/
prove the perception of quality while at the same time allowing him to control the tone of activities in the District. Though it came at a high cost to his company, Nichols scattered fountains, sundials, colonnades, and sculpture around the Country Club District at small parks and intersections.5 He planned sites for parks, churches, and schools, and gave away those properties to be developed as such. Because he worked outside the city limits, Nichols was free from municipal regulations—taxes, zoning, and planning board approvals—but he was also outside the range of municipal aid—water, sewers, electricity, and fire and police protection. All were provided privately by the Nichols Company to his subdivisions until the areas were annexed by the city (though not all were). In testing out ways to provide and manage these services, Nichols landed on the homeowners’ association as an effective way to delegate management responsibilities away from the developer and onto the homeowners. This particular mechanism would become extremely popular with developers, and like many of Nichols’ innovations, would not have come about except at the urban periphery. Despite the vast differences between Nichols’ and Greenwald’s work, Greenwald imported many of the same techniques on his urban projects. Studying the towers of apartments he built in Chicago with Mies van der Rohe, we can see these high-rises share many characteristics with Nichols’ residential subdivisions in their comparative building density, in their insistence on and definition of a vision of “high quality,” and in their relation to the site and the surrounding context.
Greenwald and Mies built five high-rise apartment projects in Chicago before Greenwald’s early death. Promontory Apartments, near Hyde Park, was first, begun in 1946 and completed in 1949. Then followed the Algonquin Apartments (1948-1951), 860-880 Lake Shore Drive Apartments (1949-1952), Esplanade Apartments (1953-1956), and Commonwealth Promenade Apartments (1953-1956). Unable to find enough funders for Promontory, Greenwald opted for a mutual-ownership plan through cooperative financing to raise construction funds. Subsequent projects found funding more easily, with investors having increasing stakes and opinions about project decisions, on topics from air conditioning to finishes.6 Like Nichols, Greenwald believed that high quality residential developments would attract buyers and improve quality of life for inhabitants and communities. Whereas Nichols saw Kansas City as expanding southwest from downtown and believed that this direction (and the pattern it entailed) needed his guiding hand, Greenwald believed in keeping Chicago’s central core strong. During a rare moment in Chicago’s history when the city was building more single-family houses than apartments per year, Greenwald opted to build high-rise multi-family housing for middle class residents of Chicago’s core.7 After beginning work on projects under Congress’ 1949 Title I Urban Redevelopment Act, Greenwald was frequently noted to say, “The city is damned but by no means doomed. Let’s rebuild it.”8 All of his projects were in city centers, and as one of the earliest developers to embrace Title I programs, he showed a willingness to take financial risks to preserve his vision for a vibrant city core. Greenwald’s vision of “high quality” development focused on modernist design, in promoting what he saw as a progressive aesthetic that would contribute to the art and culture of the city. Like Nichols’ work, a relatively high price point would select middle and upper-middle class residents for the housing units, leaving it to the developer to find ways to control surrounding development. Greenwald saw to this in the site layout and in some cases by building adjacent to other high-end properties or parks. At 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, he bought the neighboring site to develop 900 Esplanade on it only a few years later, ensuring at least one neighbor would be of comparable quality (and financial stability). Mies’ designs held fast against valueengineering in favor of expensive materials in public areas—the marble lobbies and stone plazas—and instead performed costcutting inside the apartments when needed.9 Greenwald’s site plans, when compared with the older urban fabric of the surrounding neighborhoods, show a smaller portion of the site is used for building footprint. More open space surrounds the buildings than on small row house sites
or larger, but older, towers. For Greenwald, this trend grows stronger over time, with Promontory Apartments exhibiting zero-setbacks on side lot-lines, and later projects showing buildings floating like islands on a site. The logic of setbacks that Nichols pursued in the suburban subdivisions of Kansas City appear in the site plans of Greenwald’s apartment towers. While the historiography of modern architecture offers certain aesthetic or technological explanations for this tendency in skyscrapers, an additional explanation can be found along a developer-centric axis. In general terms, real estate developers lobby for designs that can easily please investors. Investors want to believe that their investment is sound, that it will increase in value, and not be threatened by externalities outside their control. Neighboring properties often represent those externalities, and a spatial separation is insurance that dilapidated, decaying neighbors will not negatively impact property value. Nichols’ consistent, career-long advocacy for this perspective in residential subdivisions and in real estate more generally had fed into and bolstered this view in the field, before Greenwald even began his career. Setbacks ensure financial stability. Both Nichols and Greenwald were committed to high-quality development, meaning they spent more money than most developers on public spaces and amenities, attracted a middle-
and upper-middle class clientele, and worked with well-known designers (Kessler and Mies). Neither abandoning the pattern of the surrounding urban fabric, nor isolated from it, their projects were integrated to a pre-existing street grid. In that way, their shared bias was urban in its orientation. But both developers also maintained setbacks that separated their buildings from the street, often employing a green buffer between streets and buildings that emphasized that separation. Compared to other development techniques, especially in older, urban areas, this technique was decidedly anti-urban or suburban in outlook. The pressures calling for financial stability likely influenced both developers, seeing the separation between sites and buildings as a way to protect against neighboring land uses that would be harmful to their property’s bottom line. Professional practices in the field mixed urban and suburban techniques. Looking at these two influential developers and what sets them apart illustrates trends in the field. As real estate development became a bona fide profession, its increasing ties to the financial industry infiltrated site planning and urban form. Tracing further these tricks-of-the-trade as they transmitted from suburb to center illustrates their impact on urban form and destabilizes the usual narrative of sprawl as a directional movement out from the center.
Endnotes 1. J. C. Nichols, “Mistakes We Have Made in Developing Shopping Centers,” Technical Bulletin No. 4 (Washington D.C.: Urban Land Institute, August 1945); ———, “Mistakes We Have Made in Community Development,” Technical Bulletin No. 1 (Washington D.C.: Urban Land Institute, 1945). 2. William S. Worley, J.C. Nichols and the Shaping of Kansas City: Innovation in Planned Residential Communities (Columbia, Mo.: University of Missouri Press, 1990). Richard Longstreth, “J.C. Nichols, the Country Club Plaza, and Notions of Modernity,” Harvard Architecture Review 5 (1986). Mark H. Rose, “’There Is Less Smoke in the District’: J.C. Nichols, Urban Change, and Technological Systems,” Journal of the West 25, no. 1 (January 1986). 3. Nichols, “Mistakes We Have Made in Community Development,” 3. 4. Ibid., 4. 5. Ibid., 7.
6. Berger, “Glass and Steel: Herbert Greenwald” in They Built Chicago: Entrepreneurs Who Shaped a Great City’s Architecture (Chicago: Bonus Books, 1992), 233-44. Eric Mumford, “More Than Mies: Architecture of Chicago Multifamily Housing, 1935-65,” in Chicago Architecture: Histories, Revisions, Alternatives, ed. Charles Waldheim and Katerina Rüedi Ray (Chicago: University of Chicago, 2005), 85. Jean-Louis Cohen, Mies Van Der Rohe, 2nd ed. (Basel: Birkhäuser, 2007), 179-81. Phyllis Lambert, ed., Mies in America (New York: H.N. Abrams, 2001). 7. “Table 3” in Carl W. Condit, Chicago, 1930-70; Building, Planning, and Urban Technology (Chicago,: University of Chicago Press, 1974), 286-87. 8. Berger, “Glass and Steel: Herbert Greenwald,” 238. 9. See for example William S. Becker to Herbert Greenwald, 12 April 1955, “Commonwealth/Esplanade Folder #2,” Mies van der Rohe Archive, Museum of Modern Art, New York.
Programmed Architecture on the Cold War’s Periphery: Vjenceslav Richter, Synturbanism, and the New Tendencies Ivan Rupnik
Introduction This paper will examine the work of Vjenceslav Richter (19172003), the only architect to participate in the New Tendencies (NT), a series of international exhibitions and conferences that occurred in Zagreb, in what was then Socialist Yugoslavia, between 1961 and 1973. The NT meetings brought together a variety of artists and theoreticians, including Umberto Eco and Abraham Moles, around a common interest in programmatic (or optical) art, design, and—after 1965—cybernetics and digital media. Richter’s primary creative contributions to these meetings were a series of objects he called “reliefmeters” and “systemic sculptures,” which were scale architectural models of “Synturbanism”—Yugoslavia’s contribution to the “megastructure conversation.” His work provides a synthesis of such disparate discourses and practices as programmatic art, megastructural architecture, self-managing socialism, and cybernetics. Richter’s synthesis can be understood within the framework of the theories of Ljubo Karaman, a Croatian art historian and Richter’s contemporary. Between 1930 and 1960 Karaman developed a methodological lens for examining work in provincial and peripheral milieus, insisting on key differences between the two: while a province received direct and regimented cultural influence from a single center, a periphery was open to less regimented influences from multiple centers, creating a condition Karaman called “the freedom of the periphery.” This freedom allowed an artist access tovarious discourses without any prescribed modes of operation. The political influence of multiple centers of authority also insured weak local political authority thereby offering the artist, or in this case the architect, a greater degree of agency. For these reasons, Karaman felt that the “periphery is fertile ground for broad
creative synthesis.”1 While most of his own research focused on Medieval and Renaissance architecture, his theories have slowly become of interest in other contexts.2 The Cold War and the New Tendencies The trickle of visits by various Western intellectuals and artists searching for an alternative to the divided Cold War world in Socialist Yugoslavia during the 1950s culminated in 1961, the inaugural year of the New Tendencies exhibitions. This event was initiated by Almir Mavignier, a French artist, Matko Mestrovic, a Croatian art critic, and Bozo Bek, the director of Zagreb’s recently founded Gallery of Contemporary Art, the host institution for all of NT’s thirteen years of existence.3 The first exhibition consisted of works which are generally associated with Optical Art, although most NT’s participants preferred the term “programmatic art.”4 In 1963 the scope expanded to include kinesthetic works and environments. The 1965 meeting expanded the ambitions of the movement: in addition to exhibiting works, the organizers held a multi-day conference and workshop, as part of which—and in response to what they felt was the consumerization of optical art—they engaged the aesthetic and political implications of the cybernetic discourse and early digital technology. From 1965 until 1974 the NT conferences would continue to investigate these issues, expanding their activities to include a journal, BIT International, ten issues of which came out between 1968 and 1973. The post-ideological politics of the NT movement can best be summarized by the writings of Karl Gestner, a Swiss artist and editor of the 1965 New Tendencies Manifesto who stated that the “movement is not revolutionary, nor does it develop a front against anyone or anything.” Instead he would go on
Fig. 1: Vjenceslav Richter, Synturbanism, axonometric of super-structure, 1963-64. Vera Horvat-Pintaric, Vjenceslav Richter (Zagreb: Graficki Zavod, 1970).
Fig. 2: Vjenceslav Richter, Synturbanism, interior, showing housing units adjusted by users, 1963-64. Vera Horvat-Pintaric, Vjenceslav Richter (Zagreb: Graficki Zavod, 1970).
to describe it as “a cooperative/community which was never officially founded… an organization without a statute… [and] without a written program which nevertheless tied together 50 odd artists.”5 Like the theorists, if not always the practitioners, of self-management—Yugoslavia’s form of Socialism—, many of the New Tendencies members sought to replace the revolutionary ideology of the historic avant-garde with a more participatory and indeterminate form of aesthetic practice, one in which the political message (or any other meaning) emerged from critical engagement with a work of art. Vjenceslav Richter and the New Tendencies Movement , 1963 – 1970 The unique synthesis of unlikely aesthetic discourses such as optical art, cybernetics, and the “megastructure conversation,” as well as the possible aesthetic implications of Worker’s selfmanagement, can best be studied through Richter’s work. The majority of the work he exhibited there between 1963 and 1973 was actually architectural models or computational simulations of his research into the development of self-managing megastructural urbanism, Synturbanism. These models are particularly relevant in terms of their political implications, technological ambitions, as well their innovative representational approaches. Richter’s architectural studies at the Department of Architecture in Zagreb were cut short by World War II. Already an active member of the Croatian Communist Party during his studies, Richter joined the anti-fascist resistance in Croatia in 1941, and quickly shifted from active fighting to working in the propaganda wing of the Resistance. Richter’s political pedigree secured him a series of important commissions while he was
still completing his studies in the immediate aftermath of the war. Working in collaboration with a group of young architects and artists, Richter designed Yugoslavia’s first international pavilions in Trieste, Vienna, Paris, Stockholm, and Chicago, where he also gained access to the late László Moholy-Nagy’s archive. For reasons that are still not entirely clear (but possibly due to the Modernist language of their work), somewhat later Richter and his collaborators fell out of favor with the Federal Government and Communist Party in Belgrade. By 1956, however, Richter would return to favor, garnering the commission for the Yugoslav Pavilion at the International Fair in Brussels in 1958.6 Richter continued to design Yugoslavia national pavilions for a number of other important international fairs in Europe and North America during the 1960s, but by then his focus shifted to a different project, Synturbanism. Synturbanism Between 1957 and 1963, a team of architects and urbanists in Zagreb worked on adapting the theories of Worker’s selfmanagement into planning practice.7 In essence the formal and organizational logics of Zagreb’s General Urban Plan, or GUP as it was commonly referred to, drew heavily from the principles of CIAM as well as from the revisions proposed by Team X. Many of the GUP’s authors had in fact been privy to the unveiling of those revisions at the tenth CIAM congress held in Dubrovnik in 1956.8 The familiar modernist morphological structures of the plan were complemented by a few peculiarities such as an emphasis on a general decentralization of the plan’s urban units of 5,000 to 10,000 inhabitants, known as “local selfmanaging cooperatives,” which possessed a certain political and economic autonomy.
Fig. 3: Vjenceslav Richter, Reliefmeter, sequence of different configurations of the same object, 1963-65. Courtesy Vjenceslav Richter Archive, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb.
For Vjenceslav Richter these adapted familiar urban and architectural elements did take enough advantage of the political possibilities afforded by the theoretical principles of selfmanagement, which promised ever-increasing self-governance and direct participation. Immediately following the unveiling of the proposed GUP, Richter began to develop Synturbanism, a project for a “city of 1,000,000 inhabitants, concentrated, vertical, autonomous but interconnected.”9 Instead of using the more established urban and architectural typologies of CIAM and Team X, Richter decided to adapt a more experimental international architectural strategy, the megastructure. In Richter’s proposal, the smallest urban units, the local self-managing cooperatives, took the form of gigantic ziggurats, whose superstructures carried a skin of adjustable living containers and cores that included space and infrastructure for all of the current programmatic needs of the commune as well as space and structure for the development of future uses.10 Despite of his own insistence on Synturbanism’s relation to the “the great ongoing international megastructure conversation”11 Richter’s ziggurats differed from the majority of megastructural proposals in several important aspects: they had a clear political context, a logical client for their superstructure, as well as a specific population for their containers. In other words, the frame and containers would be provided by the Yugoslav State to be used by their inhabitants in order to replace that same State with the architectural tool of self-management. Instead of a “permanent and dominating frame containing subordinate and transient accommodations,”12 the transient accommodations, arranged in a loosely pyramidal volume, totally covered the superstructure, suppressing its expression.
Richter’s preoccupation with the political feasibility of his megastructures led him to systems theory and digital technology. In a 1968 text titled “The Hypothesis of Systemic Architecture,” Richter saw the direct applicability of these theories and technologies for the resolution of what he called the “polyfunctional” nature of contemporary urban life.13 The computer also provided an objective surrogate for the State, potentially negotiating individual inputs and the needs of the entire collective. While cybernetics and computation were popular subjects in the “megastructure conversation” throughout the 1960s, Richter’s depth of investigation of these issues was only matched by Cedric Price’s Generator—a project for a corporate retreat center developed between 1976 and 1979. Richter’s development of the initial Synturbanism project and his direct access to systems theory and cybernetic discourse were made possible by his participation in the New Tendencies movement. Although Richter began his long term involvement in NT in 1963, through the exhibition of a number of works, from 1965 until 1973, Richter’s participation would directly parallel the development of the Synturbanism project. This participation took the form of a series of objects called “reliefmeters,” elastic surfaces composed of ten thousand interconnected aluminum rods, with each rod capable of sliding 10 centimeters forwards of backwards with respect to its neighbor. This microscale flexibility had important consequences at the macro-scale: the production of a five meter pyramidal surface at maximum extension, a surface area increase of nearly ten times, as well as 10010000 possible surface combinations.14 Vera Horvat Pintaric, one of the organizers of the NT events, was the first person to identify these “systemic sculptures” as what they really were,
Fig. 4: Vjenceslav Richter, Reliefmeter, detail, 1963-65. Author’s photo, Museum of Contemporary Art, Zagreb.
Fig. 5: Vjenceslav Richter, Self-managing Modulator, Yugoslav Pavilion, International Exhibition of Labor, Turin, detail, 1961. K. M. “Jugoslavenski Paviljon u Torinu: Arhitekt Vjenceslav Richter” in Arhitektura no. 5-6 (Zagreb, 1961), 29.
“small-scale model(s) of a system usable on the scale of architectural and urban space”.15 The challenge of representing “various arrangements of habitable containers beyond the control of the architect” proved to be as difficult a problem for the proponents of megastructures as the political one. In his recent autobiographical account of this period, Yona Friedman recollected his critique of Team X’s early designed frame and user-defined infill projects as “an artistic thing,” “a picturesque jumble,” as opposed to his proposals of “an order in which randomness is introduced by the instinctive act.”16 Despite this critique, Friedman would go on to describe his own projects as well as those of his contemporaries as “habitable images,” and state that “the designer’s works closest to these images are those of Piranesi, with his volumes, his footbridges, his decks, which were suspended or held up by a structure that does not seem real,”17 or, in other words, an architect’s picturesque representation of informality. Following this problem of representation, Mark Wigley describes Constant’s “extremely well-crafted architectural models” of New Babylon as if they were actually the results of a process and not the design of an individual author, with their “occupants continually (rearranging) their sensory environment, redefining every microspace within the sectors according to their latest desires.”18 Richter’s political aspirations for his Synturbanism project led him away from representation and towards simulation. A 1959 text alludes to this attitude towards a new politics of aesthetics where the primary role of the designer was not to generate images of State power or indeterminacy, but “to give the working man access to art in such a way that whether he is producing or consuming, he participates in the making of art and at the same time enjoys the benefits that it offers.”19 The ziggurats of Synturbanism would not simply be the architecture of self-management—they would provide the necessary frameworks for its realization. In the meantime, reliefmeters would not simply represent Synturbanism, they would help simulate it, providing Richter with a tool of what the NT organizers called “visual research,” an art object designed as a medium for the production of user-generated messages.20 Horvat Pintaric even suggested that interaction with reliefmeters would already accomplish some of the goals of Synturbanism: The on-looker who once, by viewing a work, observed the logic, according to which it was created, now can become a participant in the process of its creation… the range of effectiveness of systemic plastics depends on the faculty for conceptual and logical visual thinking of all who use them… allow(ing) its user to discover, learn,
and develop such thinking. It thus becomes a means for creation and discovery, for developing spatial thinking and spatial imagination.21 Reliefmeters not only simulated Synturbanism, they became pedagogical tools for teaching the politics of self management. This abstract and elaborate capacity to simulate a political system can be seen in one of Richter’s earlier projects, The Self-regulating Modulator, an object designed for the Yugoslav Pavilion at the International Exhibition of Labor in Turin in 1961. This object, exhibiting Richter’s familiarity with the interwar work of László Moholy-Nagy, allowed visitors to generate photogram-like political systems from the interlocking glass cosmos of rings etched with the elements of self-managing socialism provided by Richter.22 Richter’s reliefmeters provide a unique synthesis of selfmanaging socialism, the megastructure conversation, as well as the ideas of programming central to all of the work the New Tendencies participants. As Richter himself described them, they are a very early form of computational architecture, “’hand computer(s) consisting of a repertoire of agreed signs by which
I program certain compositions enabling my team to work with great precision and well… programmed in the entirely non-machinelike way just described….” and thereby “avoid[ing] the … relationship of superiority of executor towards the author.”23 Richter’s interest in interactivity and eventually in systems theory and computation was driven and determined not by technology but by political and architectural concerns; the computer was simply a productive parallel and possibly an efficient tool for the realization of other aspirations. The reliefmeters directly influenced the work of younger NT participants, particularly Vladimir Bonacic, an electrical engineer turned new media artist who produced a number of architectural and urban scale environments utilizing digital technology while Richter’s ideas and those of his collaborators, particularly the architect and pedagogue Zvonimir Radic, seem to have influenced the emerging Conceptual and Performance Art scenes in Yugoslavia. For this reason, Richter’s work provides an important parallel to the standard narrative of the relationship of architecture and computation.
Endnotes 1. Ljubo Karaman, O Djelovanju Domace Sredine U Umjetnosti Hrvatskih Krajeva [On the Work of the Local Scene in the Production of Art in Croatian Lands] (Zagreb: The Institute for Art History, 1963), 77. 2. Karaman’s theories on the periphery have received attention from Latin American art historians. For more information see Thomas De Costa Kaufmann, Towards a Geography of Art, 2004. 3. “In the year 1960 I was in Zagreb. My first contact with local artists and art critics was exciting due to the openness of a surprisingly well informed group .The subject of one of our discussions at the Gallery (MSU) turned to a report from the 1960 Venetian Biennial. To the question as to which new art directions could be seen at that Biennial I replied: none, and that for the simple reason that the structure of the Biennial itself favored a presentation of art which was already familiar in terms of the art market and in terms of the representation of specific countries. In order to discover new directions for art it would be necessary to enter ateliers and learn about the work of artists who are experimenting with new ideas and new materials, and I believe some of those artists are: Morellet, Grupa N, Castellani, Mack, Wilding, Gerstner, Pohl, Adrian, Zahringer and others, who are searching for new directions and a new conception of art. In order to affirm my presuppositions I proposed an exhibition of these artists… A little later preparation actually began.” Almir Mavignier quoted in Jesko Denegri, EXAT 51 – Nove Tendencije: Umjetnost Kunstuktivnog Pristupa. [EXAT 51 – New Tendencies: Art of the Constructivist Approach]. (Zagreb: Horetzky Press, 2000), 214-215. 4. Optical Art was a term first used by William Seitz in 1965, in relation to the MoMA exhibition, The Responsive Eye. Programmed or Programmatic Art, frequently used in its Italian form, arte programmata, was first used by Umberto Eco in a 1962 catalog for an exhibition of the same name. Eco described this work as “a dialectic between a chance occurrence and a program, between mathematics and hazard, between a planed concept and the acceptance of whatever might occur.” (No pagination)
8. For a detailed account see: Eric Mumford, The CIAM Discourse on Urbanism: 1928-1960. (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 2000), 255. 9. Vjenceslav Richter quoted in Vera Horvat-Pintaric, Vjenceslav Richter. (Zagreb: Graficki Zavod, 1970), 10. 10. Vjenceslav Richter, Synturbanism (Zagreb: Mladost, 1964). 11. Reyner Banham, Megastructure: Urban Futures of the Recent Past (London: Thames and Hudson, 1976), 6. 12. Ibid, 9. 13. Vjenceslav Richter, Hipoteza Sistemske Arhitekture [The Hypothesis of Systemic Architecture] (Zagreb: The Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1968). No pagination. 14. Vjenceslav Richter, Odnosi mogucnosti i stvarnosti u Sistematskoj skulpturi [The relation between possibilities and achievements in systemic sculpture], (Zagreb: The Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1969). No pagination. 15. Horvat-Pintaric, Vjenceslav Richter, 17. 16. Yona Friedman, Pro Domo (Barcelona: Actar, 2006), 30. 17. Ibid, 31. 18. Catherine de Zegher and Mark Wigley, eds. The Activist Drawing: Retracing Situationist Architecture from Constant’s New Babylon and Beyond. (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2001), 27. 19. Vjenceslav Richter, “Formalni Regulator Industrijske Produkcije” (Formal Regulator of Industrial Production) in Covjek i Prostor no. 86, (Zagreb, 1959). 20. See: Bit International no. 2: Computers and Visual Research, (Zagreb: The Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1968).
5. Quoted in Denegri, EXAT 51 – Nove Tendencije, 221.
21. Horvat-Pintaric, Vjenceslav Richter, 16.
6. The Brussels Pavilion was Yugoslavia’s first attempt to present Worker’s Self-management to an international audience. For a detailed account of this pavilion and the fair see: Jasna Galjer, The Brussels Fair and the Yugoslav Pavilion, (Zagreb: Horetzky, 2010).
22. K. M. “Jugoslavenski Paviljon u Torinu: Arhitekt Vjenceslav Richter” in Arhitektura no. 5-6 (Zagreb, 1961), 28-30.
7. For more information on this plan see: Eve Blau and Ivan Rupnik, Project Zagreb: Transition as Condition, Strategy, Practice. (Barcelona: Actar, 2007), 246-260.
23. Vjenceslav Richter, “Dilema” in Bit International no. 2: Computer and Visual Research, (Zagreb: The Gallery of Contemporary Art, 1968), 25-29.
Not Far Now: Romanticization and the Search for a Polish Modern Architecture Matthew Benjamin Matteson
In his ninth thesis on the philosophy of history, Walter Benjamin famously describes the Angel of History looking back upon the accumulating wreckage of the past while being swept into the future by the inexorable storm of progress.1 The Angel would stop to interrogate the past if the wind of progress had not pinned back its wings, transforming them into sails carrying the backward-facing angel powerlessly into the future. Benjamin asks us to imagine that the Angel of History looks like the angel depicted in Paul Klee’s 1920 painting ‘Angelus Novus.’ However, his description of the two angels also differentiates them in at least one crucial respect. While the Angel of History is “caught up” by the storm of progress, Klee’s angel is on the verge of taking flight—“about to distance itself from something.” The Angel of History is constrained to look upon the past, while Klee’s angel retains freedom of motion and control over the direction of its gaze. The historiographic imagination that motivated efforts to found a national style in Polish architecture in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries can be pictured as an unstable amalgam of the characteristics of these angels. This paper addresses the transformation of romanticization as a historiographic model in the development of Polish architecture from the 1880s through the mid-1920s. Early in this period, this model contributed to the search for a Polish national style in architecture by allowing Polish architects to locate their work at a distance from both their traumatic recent history and contemporary foreign influences negatively associated with past injuries. However, romanticization also came to represent an obstacle to those Polish architects who were desirous to develop an architecture embodying the cultural modernity, to which the independent twentieth-century nation-state aspired. After outlining the shifting political and cultural contexts in this
period, I will present two examples of romanticization in the search for a national style in Polish architecture, arguing that their contrasting approaches suggest that by the 1920s this latenineteenth century historiographic model had largely ceased to be an overt operation, but that the architectural practices that replaced it are unthinkable without its earlier manifestations. Struggling throughout the long nineteenth century against the occupation by partitioning powers—Russia, Prussia, and Austria—and unable to see in their immediate past anything but ruin and destruction, many Poles turned instead to their distant history. Their mode of historical engagement entailed looking backwards while caught up in a present storm, yet, through romanticization, they controlled their view to find in the past not “one single catastrophe” (as Benjamin had described) but rather the most flattering of the possible perspectives. Some chose, for example, to look back to the sixteenth century ‘Golden Age’, when the Polish-Lithuanian Union was one of the largest states in Europe with a powerful military and economic leverage and a large, proud gentry.They overlooked the ignominious present in order to ground the path to the future in an attractive, if grotesquely anachronistic, legacy. The motive force behind this brand of romanticization in Polish art and architecture diminished with the post-WWI renewal of independence, although analogous historicisms persisted alongside subsequent, arguably more sober, interwar approaches that referred to contemporary practice and the immediate past. Late-partition-era exploitation of romanticization as a means of overcoming historical distance and reframing the future is illustrated by the story of academic history painter Jan Matejko’s Wernyhora at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exhibition. This monumental canvas depicts a popular legend—the
fortune-teller Wernyhora prophesying the partition and resurrection of the Polish state. Matejko portrays Wernyhora staring into the distance with eyes wide and arms outstretched as if overcome by the vision he relates. While for the Polish audience still awaiting the resurrection of their state in 1893, there was surely no ambiguity about the messianic political message of Matejko’s work, its display in Chicago aptly illustrates the ambiguities inherent in Polish participation in international Exhibitions under the partitions. Throughout the long period during which Poland was not an internationally recognized state, Polish artists could not participate directly in international exhibitions. Instead, they had to apply for inclusion in the national exhibition of the local partitioning power. The only available mode of participation entailed the labeling of one’s work as not Polish but rather Russian, Prussian, or Austrian—in any case dislocated and foreign; the alternative being marginalization through the invisibility of non-participation. To escape this hateful dilemma, a coalition of Polish artists, with support from the large Polish expatriate community in the United States,2 secured the right for Polish artworks to be shown in the 1893 Exhibition in the name of a newly created organization, the Society of Polish Artists. Gaining the right to mount an independent exhibit was a significant achievement, exploited to maximum patriotic effect in Polish-language media, even though the group still did not have equal status with the participating nation-states. According to the official catalog of the Department of Fine Arts, the Society of Polish Artists’ exhibit of paintings (in one Gallery, #62) was awkwardly sandwiched between parts of the Italian exhibition. It was also hung in the following spaces: “Staircase Landing at Third Floor; Around the Top of the Northwest Staircase; Around the Top of the South-West Staircase; Staircase Between the Second and Third Floors; On Screen Next to Spanish Art Exhibit Alcove 95.”3 Polish artworks remained difficult to locate in these interstitial spaces, just as Poland remained officially outside the geopolitical system of the exhibition. Even so, Matejko won a Grand Prix for Wernyhora, though his award certificate—presented to “John Mateyko, Russia”— reiterates the contortions and compromises the marginal conditions imposed even on this highest form of validation. Since the Exhibition’s organizational structure did not permit granting a prize to a representative either of Poland or of the Society of Polish Artists, some appropriate substitute affiliation had to be found. In this case, however, Russia is a fundamentally incoherent alternative as Matejko came from the partition territory which fell under the control of Austria.4 Presenting this prize to “John Matejko, Russia”—at best a doubly displaced person—
Fig. 1: Polemical 1918 “Map of Unified Poland” (Mapa Zjednoczonej Polski), public domain.
could hardly be considered a satisfactory form of validation for Polish art. Nevertheless, in 1893 Poles took heart both from their direct mode of participation in the exhibition and from the recognition of their work in the distribution of prizes, for these suggested that the veil obscuring Poland could yet be pulled back. In this context, Matejko’s Grand Prix represented progress won through a combination of contemporary diplomacy and the romanticizing appeal of the seer of Polish resurrection. Once Poland in fact reappeared as a sovereign nation-state in the wake of WWI, romanticization had to be reassessed. What, for example, had romanticizing historiography contributed to Polish independence? Could it remain a powerful guide for intervention in the complex challenges presented by independence, many of which arose from very immediate, contemporary states of affairs? Historian of Poland Norman Davies notes that while the political independence of interwar Poland fulfilled the dream that oppressed Poles had clung to for over a century, it was hardly self-determined as Poles themselves were largely passive bystanders to post-war political transformations.5 Furthermore, skeptical participants in the diplomatic process emphasized that any conceivable configuration of a Polish state would face various economic, military, and
Fig. 2: Aerial view, from the West, of Saxon Square (present day Piłsudski Square) shortly after construction of the Russian Orthodox Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral. Wikimedia Commons, Marek Tuszyński’s collection of old prints, public domain.
political vulnerabilities and predicted that an emergent Poland would fail to withstand renewed challenges from its historically antagonistic neighboring states. John Maynard Keynes, for example, referred to Poland as “an economic impossibility whose only industry is Jew-baiting” and David Lloyd George is said to have remarked that it made no more sense to give the industrial region of Upper Silesia to Poland than it would to “give a clock to a monkey.”6 Clearly, romanticization had not brought about an entirely triumphant return to autonomy and independence. Although Poland entered the interwar period with an internationally recognized government, achieving political, economic, social, and cultural unification and sustaining a stable statehood proved to be a difficult and protracted endeavor. In many respects, the Second Polish Republic consisted of three individually weakened areas still divided by disconnected logistical networks tying them to their former partitioning powers as well as internal differences in language and national identification. In his history of the major groups of artists active in Poland in the first years of the Second Republic, Marek Bartelik notes that the multiethnic and multilingual composition of the still de facto partitioned interwar Poland was a source both of cultural richness and conflict.7 Finding a national model for new works of architecture that could contribute to mending, or even merely overcoming, these internal divisions and doubts was a lengthy process of trial and error. This process had begun in the mid-nineteenth century with strictly historicist approaches that offered formal and decorative recipes for architectural expression of former unity ostensibly discovered through romanticizing historiography. Historicist architects laying the foundations of a new Polish national style in the late nineteenth century experimented
with the architecture of various periods—Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque. Gothic, however, was the most popular referential period style due to Poles’ perception that their culture, and its architecture, formed the eastern limit of the Gothic. Catholic churches such as Józef Pius Dziekoński’s St. Florian Church in Warsaw (1886) constituted the majority of significant works in the earliest Polish neo-Gothic style, Styl Wislansko-Baltycki (Vistula-Baltic Style). Dziekoński’s competition-winning design displays the style’s typical characteristics— brick masonry, dual tower front, stepped pinnacles, friezes, and battlements. As a sign differentiating western, Catholic Poland from eastern, Orthodox Russia, the Vistula-Baltic Style confirmed Poland’s historical orientation to the West in the struggle to retain autonomous cultural identity under the pressures of aggressive russification policies in the Russian zone of partitioned Poland. However, the historical narrative on which this differentiation depended was highly selective: conveniently neglecting, for example, the considerable influence of the German traditions of the Teutonic Order which exerted a decisive impact on the development of Gothic in northern Polish territory. Naming this ostensibly Polish Gothic after the Vistula river and Baltic sea—the key waterway through historically Polish territory—is a romantic nationalist ploy born of the sentiment expressed in Johann Gottfried von Herder’s remark that, “If otherwise mountains had arisen, rivers flowed, or coasts trended, then how very different would mankind have scattered over this tilting place of nations…”8 A 1918 map, contribution to the tense polemic over the borders of the new Polish state, highlighting the Vistula river system at the center of Polish territory and prominently bearing the motto, “We do not want that which belongs to another, but we will not give up that which is ours,” echoes Herder’s ideology (Fig. 1). The proposition that geological order conditions the rise of nations and that national identity depends upon a priori natural forces is characteristic of the pre-modern, ethnicity-driven nationalism that predominated in late nineteenth century Polish romantic culture.9 As the challenges of independence replaced the struggle for independence in the early 1920s, complex and direct engagement with the immediate past increasingly replaced romantic appeals to a bygone era in the search for a satisfactorily ‘Polish’ expression in architecture. This shift is apparent in the debate over what should become of Warsaw’s Alexander Nevsky Cathedral (Fig. 2). From the start of its construction in the 1890s, the Poles saw the massive Russian Orthodox Cathedral designed by a Russian architect and placed on a prominent site in central
Warsaw as an aggressive political act. Its presence became all the more bothersome—politically and aesthetically—once Poland regained its freedom, at which point a lively debate ensued regarding what to do with the Cathedral. The principal options consisted of either accepting the substantial economic costs of demolishing the artifact of Russian authority for the sake of spiritual catharsis or, more pragmatically, leaving the Russian monstrosity, with its “horrific belltower” and “gargantuan onion domes,” standing in the Polish capital despite the continuing insult to Polish national pride and aesthetic sensibility. Rather than accept either of these options in its extreme form, the prominent Warsaw historicist architect Stefan Szyller proposed to renovate the church, putting Polish resources to work to transform the remains of Russian rule into an an exemplar of Polish artistic traditions and sensibilities.10 Szyller, himself trained in St. Petersburg,11 was as sensitive as anyone to the foreignness of the Cathedral’s Muscovian features, and, under the right circumstances, would no doubt have been more than happy to rid Warsaw of such an offensive eyesore. On the other hand, he was just as receptive to the architectural value and potential of certain aspects of the cathedral: its monumentality, the underlying “Western” Byzantine plan, the artistry of its extensive interior mosaic work, and the economic and artistic value of the fine finish materials. Moreover, given the continuing importance of the Catholic Church to Polish identity, Szyller realized that anticipated levels of migration to Warsaw would only exacerbate the existing shortage of churches in the capital city. For these reasons, he argued that, “this cathedral, which the Muscovites built as a powerful monument to their force over us, should remain as a strong, lasting memorial to our triumph, the triumph of Poland over Russia. A monument to our freedom.”12 To show how this radical transformation of the cultural valence of the monument could be achieved, Szyller offered a drawing of a neoclassical renovation, emphasizing that his proposal was only one possibility among many (Fig. 3). Endnotes
Fig. 3: Architect Stefan Szyller’s 1920 drawing of a renovated church on Saxon Square. The caption reads, “One of the possible transformations of the Byzantine edifice into a sanctuary along Western European lines.” Published in Tygodnik Ilustrowany of May 1920, public domain.
Szyller’s vision for the Cathedral remains historicizing; it is certainly not compatible with contemporary approaches that we would now label modernist, then only nascent in Polish architecture. In positioning his proposal as calculated according to immediate material and sociological concerns, his historicism is, however, not simply an extension of the historicism of the 1880s predicated on romanticizing appeals to distant Polish pasts. Furthermore, presenting the design of a monument to interwar Poland as an open problem of architectural style suggested that the romanticizing search for an absolute, authoritative font of historical Polishness could be abandoned. More positively, it implied the confidence that some genuinely Polish contemporary architecture was possible, and such a belief certainly owed something to romanticization, which had previously sustained Polish culture against the injuries and obstacles of the partition era. To extend the earlier analogy to Benjamin’s angels, in Szyller’s approach we see emerging the prospect of taking flight—of actively projecting a strong architectural future for the Polish nation and state, albeit one in which cultural artifacts were still expected first and foremost to assert Polishness.
1. Walter Benjamin, “On the Concept of History,” in Gesammelte Schriften, I:2, Abhandlungen, unter Mitwirkung von Theodor W. Adorno und Gershom Scholem, ed. Rolf Tiedemann and Hermann Schweppenhäuser (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1974).
8. Johann Gottfried von Herder, Reflections on the philosophy of the history of mankind, 1784. Translated excerpt included in the Internet Modern History Sourcebook at http:// www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1784herder-mankind.html.
2. The large Polish expatriate community was commonly known as ‘Polonia’, or, in solidarity with the then divided homeland, the Fourth Partition.
9. Anthony D. Smith labels such nationalism ‘primordialism’ which he notes, in contrast with modernist theories of nationalism, implies “nations before, and without, modernity.” See Anthony D. Smith, “Nationalism and modernity,” in Central European avant-gardes: exchange and transformation, 1910-1930, ed. Timothy O. Benson (Cambridge, MA; Los Angeles: MIT Press; Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 2002).
3. World’s Columbian Exposition. Revised catalogue, Department of Fine Arts, with index of exhibitors ... Department of Publicity and Promotion (Chicago: W.B. Conkey, 1893), 428-431. 4. The Austrian delegation protested granting prizes to works in the Society’s exhibit, and the Russian delegation did not submit its art exhibition for judging—rendering Matejko’s award both more bizarre and rather ironic. 5. Norman Davies, God’s playground: a history of Poland in two volumes, Vol. 2, 1795 to the present (Oxford: Clarendon P., 1981), 289-90. 6. Davies, God’s playground, V.2, 291. 7. See Marek Bartelik, Early Polish modern art: unity in multiplicity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005).
10. Szyller’s project is described and illustrated in „O Swiatynie na Placu Saskim,” Tygodnik ilustrowany, May 1, 1920, 356-7. 11. For a comprehensive account of the work of Stefan Szyller, see the recent monograph by Małgorzata Omilanowska, Architekt Stefan Szyller, 1857-1933 (Warsaw: Liber Pro Arte, 2008). 12. “… ten sobór, który Moskale zbudowali, by był potężnym pomnikiem ich przemocy nad nami, powinien pozostać potężnym i wiecznym pomnikiem naszego tryumfu, tryumfu Polski nad Rosyą. pomnikiem naszej wolności.” From „O Swiatynie,” Tygodnik Ilustrowany, 357 (my translation).
Disobedient Bodies: Isidre Nonell’s Paintings of Spanish Gypsies Delia Solomons
In 1901, Catalan artist Isidre Nonell (1872-1911) began to depict the Spanish female gypsy. Canvas after canvas, he portrayed hunched figures wrapped in vast mantles, hermetic women who eschew the spectator and seem to fold in upon themselves physically and psychologically (Figs. 1 and 2). The lively freneticism of Nonell’s brushstrokes contrasts with the heavy stasis of the figures, who appear as rooted in economic hardship as in the dense materiality of the artist’s muddied palette of browns, ochres, reds and greens. The Spanish female gypsy, or gitana, subject matter almost exclusively occupied Nonell’s artistic production for seven years, a substantial portion of the career of an artist who succumbed to typhus at the age of thirty-eight. Nonell’s name has become synonymous with this gitana imagery. Nonell initiated this new body of work upon his return to Barcelona from Paris, and quickly set out to exhibit these paintings at the Sala Parés, one of the only galleries that showed contemporary art in the artistically conservative city of Barcelona. His 1902 and 1903 exhibitions, which should have heralded the artist’s triumphant return from Paris, met with scathing opposition from their Catalan audiences. One journalist, Juan de Dos, described the vitriolic reaction as follows: The public, critics, aficionados and painters themselves all joined together in a chorus and spoke out against poor Nonell. ... There are those who have true hate to the point of rage for the artist. The most impulsive demand the gallows or jail, the more passive suggest an insane asylum, and the most benevolent are content to shut all doors to him and burn all of his works.1 Another critic echoed that the works “incited true repulsion,”2 a testimony further evidenced by the artist’s inability to secure a
solo exhibition for over seven years.3 The public outrage reached such a frenzy that it even stimulated several literary works by Nonell’s contemporaries. In “The Death of Isidre Nonell”, writer Eugeni d’Ors imagined the grotesque murder of the artist by a mob of the social outcasts mercilessly depicted in his paintings.4 Now, over a century since the maligned Sala Parés exhibitions, the precise nature of the offenses issued by these paintings and the logic behind the artist’s tenacious dedication to the gitana subject matter remain elusive.5 In this paper, I reposition Nonell’s work, and examine the central roles of cultural alterity and romanticization in the creation and fin-de-siècle reception of the Catalan artist’s gitana paintings. Past scholars of Nonell’s work have failed to consider that the imagery of the Spanish gypsy comprised a highly codified representation that flooded first French and then Spanish nineteenth-century visual culture. Typified as a sexually available dancing girl (Fig. 3), the gitana as subject matter must be understood within the context of French exoticization of Spain, Spanish participation in this exoticization, and the imagined coalescence of Spanish and gypsy identities. Nonell was undoubtedly familiar with this common trope, and his paintings of sullen withdrawn figures enveloped in their shawls markedly depart from the types that titillated the popular imagination in nineteenth-century Europe. Viewers would likely not have even identified his subjects as gypsies had the artist not specifically used models from the Roma community in Barcelona and frequently (but not invariably) titled these paintings as gitanas. By eliminating the conventions ascribed to his subject’s representation, Nonell defamiliarized a markedly familiar figure. His work should not be interpreted as an artist’s benevolent advocacy for an oppressed people or entirely apolitical pure painting,6 but
Fig. 1: Isidre Nonell, Young gitana, 1903. Oil on canvas, 81 x 65.5 cm. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona. Fig. 2: Isidre Nonell, Two gitanas, 1903. Oil on canvas, 136 x 136 cm. Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya, Barcelona.
instead as a complex, provocative commentary on the construction of visual tropes. After all, Nonell began to concentrate on this quintessential Spanish stereotype directly following his experience of his own exoticization as a Spanish artist in Paris. The pilgrimage to Paris, which Nonell undertook in 1897 and again in 1899, was an almost obligatory rite of passage for any Catalan artist of his generation.7 Nonell developed artistically in Barcelona in the 1890s within a close-knit circle of avant-garde artists and intellectuals who endeavored to transform their native city into a modern European metropolis. Viewing Paris as the conveniently nearby prototype, this artistic community primed the young artist’s high expectations of his trip to the French capital. While Nonell achieved moderate success in Paris, showing works at the salons, Le Barc de Boutteville and Ambroise Vollard’s gallery, he above all aspired to exhibit at the gallery of Paul Durand-Ruel.8 However, when Durand-Ruel finally approached Nonell, he requested “typically Spanish” works, which Nonell refused to provide, insisting that the gallerist merely “wanted me to paint tuppenny works.”9 This interaction reveals Nonell’s keen awareness of the French demand for essentializing images of a violent, passionate Spain, epitomized by bullfights, Andalusian garb and, of course, dancing Spanish gypsies. Throughout the nineteenth century, the sexualized gitana had become deeply ensconced in the French popular imagination. Travel writers like Théophile Gautier, Pierre Loti and André Gide flocked to Spain seeking remnants of the exotic they deemed absent from their own excessively cultivated France.10 Romantic fictional characters like Prosper Mérimée’s Carmen, and George Sand’s Morena further promoted the consolidation of Spanish and gypsy identities that would culminate in the late nineteenth century.11 Illustrations by artists like Gustave Doré and Jules Rougeron widely disseminated the gypsy as a sexually available figure sensuously displaying her body in the midst of a flamenco dance (Fig. 3). Folkloric images of gypsies appeared in every Parisian salon from 1831-1881,12 and became ubiquitous as products for bourgeois consumption in the 1880s and 1890s. The consistency and popularity of the gitana image served to domesticate the subject’s potentially inflammatory, schismatic message as the paradigmatic societal dissident. It was instead put to use as the highly saleable controlled exotic foil to mainstream French identity and interests. French demand for stereotypically Spanish images provided a lucrative but prescriptive market for Spanish artists of Nonell’s generation. Two of his Catalan contemporaries particularly fulfilled these romantic predilections. Hermen Anglada Camarasa created vibrant, dramatic paintings of gypsies
dancing the flamenco (Danza gitana, c. 1901, Pedro Masaveu Collection) and even a series of provocative gestural drawings revealing nude gypsies in sensuous contorted poses (c. 190812). Ricard Canals, with whom Nonell shared an apartment in Paris, eagerly took advantage of the French taste for colorful images of Andalusian dancers in works like Café cantante (1901, private collection). Through these works, Canals established a fruitful relationship with Durand-Ruel. French collectors sought out Spanish artists as authentic native voices who could articulate these stereotypes in a modern visual language that originated in France. On a more grandiose scale, even the Spanish government made spectacle of this exoticism by including flamenco dancers and musicians in the country’s pavilion at the 1889 World’s Fair in Paris. In an 1889 illustration “Les Belles au Monde” by Lucien Métivet, the Spanish gypsy appears alongside her orientalist and africanist counterparts, as one of several varieties of “beauties of the world” available for visitors to the World’s Fair.13 While in France the gitana iconography furthered the fusion of Spanish and gypsy identity, in Barcelona the very same imagery often served to drive a wedge between the two populations. In Catalan magazines like La Ilustración Artística, Fig. 3: Gustave Doré, Gypsy Dancing the Vito Sevillano, 1862-73. Illustrated in Baron Charles Davillier, Spain, 1874.
both Andalusian and Eastern gypsies played an important discursive role as “the Other” to bolster moralistic prescriptions regarding proper women’s roles and behavior, classist attitudes, Catholic piety and other conservative ideologies. Although utilized toward different ends (the polarization or consolidation of Spanish and gypsy identities), the same sexualized exotic gitana fulfilled significant functions in both Spanish and French nineteenth-century visual culture.14 Therefore, when Nonell began to depict his gitanas in 1901, the subject was already delimited by a stereotype widely disseminated in both Paris and Barcelona. However, his treatment of the subject departed so dramatically from the established prototype, having eradicated the prescriptive markers of the gitana’s idealized pictorial identity, that his work was inassimilable within the traditional visual idiom. Nonell’s slumped figures hermetically turn away from the viewer instead of performing for the spectator’s delight. He used a dull, muddied palette lacking the bold, vibrant coloring of works by Anglada Camarasa and Canals. Nonell’s figures resist not only incorporation into the familiar gitana trope, but also, through the vigorous gestural facture, traditional visual possession and consumption by the viewer. Nonell’s figures seem on the verge of dissipation beneath the volatile overlaid hatchings of brushstroke that tenuously hold them together; they refuse to provide the smooth illusionism of nineteenth-century academic paintings.15 Although art historians have characterized such gestural application of paint as sensual, based on the visual equation of facture with tactile caress, Nonell’s hasty, careless brushstrokes deny such access. This kinetic gestural language used by the Impressionists to depict the fleeting nature of such phenomena as light and movement is here employed to depict a figure entirely sapped of light and movement. And this painterly assertion of the artist’s authorial gestural freedom cruelly contrasts with his subject’s own motionless and powerless state. In these paintings, Nonell presented gitanas culled from the quotidian urban experience of both Paris and Barcelona, rather than from pictorial precedents. While typical illustrations supplied crisp delineations of prettified, sanitized dancing girls (Fig. 3), Nonell embedded his collapsed figures within sooty, unhygienic contexts that remain ambiguous: either decrepit bare interiors or urban alleyways. In the nineteenth century, major urban restructuring in both cities—the Haussmanization of Paris and Ildefons Cerdà’s gridded expansion of Barcelona—introduced wide promenades with increased visibility of the beggars populating the public sphere at a time when homelessness and poverty reached tragically high numbers. In his paintings, Nonell endows the gallery visitor with the raised, controlling
vantage point of the flâneur, who, as Georg Simmel observed, is conditioned to adopt a blasé attitude as he consumes and commodifies the sites of his urban environs.16 Nonell even brought his viewers into potentially injurious proximity with his insalubrious subjects. He piqued the bourgeoisie’s fear of contamination of their physical, social and moral health through contact with the masses of the great unwashed. That gypsies were emblematic societal outcasts would have exacerbated such threats. This flâneur perspective aggregates the complex ambiguous attitude Nonell assumed before his downtrodden subjects, people he used for his own economic and aesthetic purposes.17 Although today we likely view these sympathetically as heart-rending images, reviews demonstrate that the fin-desiècle Catalan audience saw only threatening, offensive dirtiness. Nonell countered the widely accepted representation of the gitana with cruelly realist images from city life, thereby laying bare the falsity of the romantic construction. Nonell’s
gitanas were neither saccharine moralistic paradigms of poverty nor the exotic Other, yet they were emphatically familiar, gleaned from the image bank of the streets rather than salons and illustrated magazines. I would argue that the bitter taste of Nonell’s own recent interactions with Durand-Ruel in Paris may have prompted his selection of this emblem of stereotypical Spanishness as his central and exclusive motif for the seven years following his return to Barcelona. And it was his intervention into this conventional subject matter deeply anchored in an exoticist discourse that incited the antagonistic rejection of his paintings. By selecting an essentialized subject and yet refusing to supply the expected codes that define it, Nonell reveals to viewers the fabricated, false nature of the exotic idiom tout-court. In this way, Nonell destabilizes the well-worn topoi of colonial discourse, revealing the gitana, and the avant-garde artist himself, as mercurial beings on the margins of bourgeois society and its dominant languages of representation.
Endnotes 1. “El público, los críticos, los aficionados, los pintores mismos se juntan todos y, a coro, empiezan a vociferar contra el pobre Nonell…hay gentes que tienen verdadero odio y sienten hasta ira contra el personal artista. Los más impulsivos piden para él la horca o la cárcel, los pacíficos extrañan que no se le haya recluido en una casa de salud y los más benévolos se contentan con que se le cierren todas las puertas y se quemen sus obras.” Juan de Dos, “Crónicas rápidas. Isidre Nonell,” La Publicidad, Barcelona, November 12, 1903. Translations are mine unless otherwise noted.
8. Cristina Mendoza, “Isidre Nonell,” in Isidre A. Nonell: 1872-1911, 23. Durand-Ruel represented preeminent impressionists like Edgar Degas, whose influence on Nonell merits more emphasis and analysis than it has received in the past. Degas’s bather pastels, which Nonell almost certainly saw at Durand-Ruel’s gallery, offer a rich comparison to Nonell’s gypsies given their vigorous gestural facture, irregular cropping and allusions to voyeurism and hygiene.
2. “…causan veritable repulsió…” C. [Raimon Casellas], “Saló Parés,” La Veu de Catalunya, Barcelona, November 12, 1903.
10. Lou Charnon-Deutsch, The Spanish Gypsy: The History of a European Obsession (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 133.
3. By the time Nonell mounted his next solo exhibition at the Sala Dalmau in Barcelona in 1909, he was creating more classically impressionistic paintings of reclining white women (sometimes semi-nude) in pale blues, pinks and whites. 4. Eugeni d’Ors, “La fí de l’Isidre Nonell,” Pèl & Ploma 84 (Barcelona, January, 1902), 248-253. 5. For past treatment of these issues see: Isidre A. Nonell: 1872-1911, ed. Cristina Mendoza and Mercé Doñate (Barcelona/Madrid: Museu Nacional d’Art de Catalunya/ Fundación Cultural Mapfre Vida, 2000). Francesc Fontbona, Nonell (Barcelona: Ediciones de Nou Art Thor, 1987). Josep Pla, Dalí, Gaudí, Nonell, tres artistas catalanes (Barcelona: Alianza Editorial, 1986). Enric Jardí, Nonell (New York: Tudor Publisher Co, 1969). Rafael Benet, Isidro Nonell y su época (Barcelona: Editorial Iberia, 1947). 6. Valeriano Bozal, Robert Lubar and Cristina Mendoza have each convincingly discussed the lack of clear social commentary and sentimentality in Nonell’s paintings and drawings. Valeriano Bozal, Arte del Siglo XX en España: Pintura y Escultura 1900-1990 (Madrid: Espasa Calpe, 1995), 74. Robert Lubar, “Barcelona Blues,” in Picasso: The Early Years, ed. Marilyn McCully (Washington: National Gallery of Art, 1997), 97-9. Cristina Mendoza and Francesc M. Quílez i Corella, “Nonell and Mani: Two Artists against the Current,” in Barcelona and Modernity (New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2007), 125. 7. For more on the relationship between Paris and Barcelona, see Paris-Barcelone: De Gaudí à Miró (Paris: Réunion des Musées Nationaux, 2001).
9. Quoted in Jardí, 120.
11. Ibid, 45-56. 12. Marilyn Ruth Brown, Gypsies and Other Bohemians (Ann Arbor, Mich: UMI Research Press, 1985), 4. 13. Charnon-Deutsch, 129-30. 14. Charnon-Deutsch discusses this phenomenon in Spanish illustrated magazines as a manifestation of self-exoticization in The Spanish Gypsy, 183-4 and Fictions of the Feminine in the Nineteenth-Century Spanish Press (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2004), 148-51. 15. Carol Armstrong interpreted Degas’s bathers in this manner in “Edgar Degas and the Representation of the Female Body,” in The Female Body in Western Culture, ed. Susan Rubin Suleiman (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1986), 223-42. 16. Georg Simmel, “The Metropolis and Mental Life,” in Classic Essays on the Culture of Cities, ed. Richard Sennett (Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1969), 47-60. 17. Several scholars including Bozal (74) and Jardí (128) explain that Nonell took advantage of the fact that gypsies would have been less expensive models. While such financial concerns are pertinent, they do not fully account for his seven-year preoccupation with the gitana subject matter, particularly since the work rarely sold.
From Metropolitan Decadence to Provincial Success: Raymond Q. Monvoisin and the Chilean Post-Independent Elite of the 1840s Josefina de la Maza Chevesich
In 1843, Raymond Quinsac Monvoisin (1790-1870), an obscure and unknown academic painter trained in Paris’ École des Beaux-Arts, traveled to Chile. Escaping from the “cultural metropolis”— after a series of ineffective attempts to succeed in the French art establishment—Monvoisin ended up landing on the “periphery,” a Spanish ex-colony that had obtained its independence in 1810. His objectives in what he called “a still virgin country” were to reverse fortune using his academic training to revolutionize Chile’s scant and limited cultural milieu. Viewing in anything French the model of an artistic modern nation, Chile’s elite, intellectuals, and bureaucrats embraced the most conservative and decadent aspects of French art embodied in Monvoisin’s figure to become “modern.” Most of the scholarship devoted to Chilean nineteenth-century art agrees that the 1843 exhibition of Raymond Q. Monvoisin in the hall of the ex-St. Felipe Royal University was the moment in which Chile left behind its colonial past.1 The significance of this event can be grasped from different angles: the displacement of an artist from the “center” to the “periphery,” the first encounter of Chilean society with history paintings and genre scenes, the introduction of French taste, and the novelty caused by a “well-connected” professional artist are some of them. Although all these features are accurate, Chilean Art History has usually interpreted this episode uncritically. Indeed, Monvoisin’s arrival to Chile is usually examined as a “foundational fiction” that allowed Chilean society to establish a deep connection with France through arts and culture.2 Within this context the painter was the first and most important artistic ambassador of his time, and Chilean society operated as an open, well-versed, and receptive public. However, “in each of these ‘foundational fictions’ the origins of national traditions turn out to be as much acts of affiliation and establishment as they are moments of disavowal, displacement, exclusion, and cultural contestation,” as Homi Bhabha stated it.3 In this case, instead of analyzing what is at stake in Monvoisin’s arrival to Chile—in artistic, cultural, and social terms—there has been a simplistic praise that has considered his relationship with Chilean audience as face value. Let’s unravel, then, the different threads that inform this narrative. When the political, social, and administrative turmoil provoked by the independence wars came to an end, Chile, as well as many other Latin American countries, begun to define the institutional apparatus that would fulfill the republic’s needs. Within the state-building period, the 1840s are representative: a series of educational, scientific, and cultural institutions were founded acknowledging the relevance of science and humanities.4 Despite the new state’s agenda, however, Santiago was in many respects a colonial city. Indeed, the capital and its elite were still experiencing the remaining
Pinacoteca Palacio Cousiño collection. Photography: Origo Ediciones.
Fig. 1: Raymond Monvoisin. Alí Pacha y Vasiliki, 1832, oil on canvas, 345 x 272 cm.,
Fig. 2: Raymond Monvoisin. Retrato de José Manuel Ramírez Rosales, 1820s, oil on canvas, 100 x 75 cm, private collection. Photography: Origo Ediciones.
of colonial life while longing for modernity. This was the setting that welcomed Raymond Q. Monvoisin, who was invited by the administration of President Manuel Bulnes (1841-1851) to organize a state Academy of Fine Arts. In France, Monvoisin was an artist as any other in the midst of the Academy, the salons, and state and private patronage. Trained in Pierre-Narcise Guerin’s atelier in the 1810s, he had the opportunity to benefit himself from the privileges of the Prix de Rome without ever obtaining the prize—Guerin, his master, was dear to his pupil and influential enough to secure his way while he assumed the direction of the Academy in Rome. After four years in Italy, Monvoisin opened his way back to Paris in 1825 thanks to the protection and connections of his mentor. Throughout the last years of the Restoration and the July Monarchy he was at the service of the monarchy and some private clients. But this was not enough. Not for an ambitious artist like Monvoisin. When his former peers at Guerin’s atelier, Eugène Delacroix and Ary Scheffer, started changing the groundings of French art in the 1830s (from the standpoints of Romanticism and the aesthetics of the juste milieu, respectively) he realized that success in the salons was difficult to achieve without impressive artistic and social skills. And when he failed in getting important commissions due to a notorious argument with Alphonse de Cailleux, Louis-Phillipe’s curator for the soon-to-be-openedMusée de Versailles, and was infamously mocked by Paul de Kock’s novel Mon voisin Raymond, Monvoisin recognized that he had to leave Paris. And while explaining his desire to “improve his health”—traveling to a warmer country—to some of the old Chilean clients he had portrayed during the previous decade, he accepted the offer of the diplomat Francisco Javier Rosales to introduce French taste in Chilean society.5 In January 1843, Monvoisin was already in the country following a seven-month journey. The press greeted him with laudatory words: “his arrival is a new step in progress; we can say with pride that today Chile inaugurates a new artistic era.”6 After spending a couple of months in the capital city of Santiago, the artist and the administration of President Bulnes agreed in the suspension of the Academy’s project due to financial problems. But far from being disappointed, Monvoisin understood what a great opportunity he had in his hands. Indeed, the growing desire of the Chilean elite to become cosmopolitan and modern through arts and culture transformed the artist’s presence in Santiago into one of the few cultural highlights of the first half of the 1840s. In order to introduce himself to Chilean society and promote his artistic skills Monvoisin organized an exhibition of
his work with the government’s support. The show—opened on March 4th 1843—was a success. The exhibition included nine paintings: Alí Pasha, Blanca de Beaulieu, Nine Thermidor, Eloise in Abelard’s Tomb, Joan of Arc, The Spanish Beggar, Parisian Boy Fishing, Aristomenes, and a sketch of a Catholic mass. Four out of the nine paintings on display are nowadays lost; however, we can have an idea of Monvoisin’s style and technique from the remaining group. Following typical features of Guerin’s oeuvre, Monvoisin’s paintings are overtly academized, his compositional solutions are simple and predictive, and they rely on standard dramatic strategies—for example, the gaze of all the main characters. The artist privileges the representation of dramatic love stories drawn from literature, Blanca de Beaulieu, medieval history, Eloise in Abelard’s Tomb, or recent ‘orientalist’ scenes, like Alí Pasha (Fig. 1). The subject matter of his works is determined by the flexibility of genres’ boundaries in nineteenth century painting. Their evident sentimentality and theatricality—that defocuses painting’s analysis for the sake of drama—reinforces this position: they make these works closer to the new historical genre that was merging at the time than history painting.7 Despite its compositional and expressive common places, the Chilean elite considered these paintings as the obvious proof of French supremacy. However, among the visitors of Monvoisin’s exhibition, there was a critical voice that raised an inquiry about how Chileans were “seeing” art. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, a prominent Argentinean intellectual exiled in Chile during Juan Manuel de Rosas’s dictatorship, observed that the Chilean elite did not understand what they were seeing: they did not understand “Art.” For Sarmiento there were no doubts about Monvoisin’s work—the reduced knowledge and exposure to art made impossible to critically analyze the show—but his interest in artistic matters helped him out to put into words part of the problem. According to Sarmiento, the show’s public did not appreciate the relationships between the hierarchies of genres, between history and painting, and between the stories’ pregnant moments and compositional choices—Sarmiento was scandalized, for example, by the success of a small genre painting, Parisian Boy Fishing, in comparison to the little attention paid by the Chilean public to works such as Nine Thermidor.8 Indeed, Chilean society was more concerned—and seduced by— material aspects like the translation into the canvas of flesh, draperies, silk, and jewelry. Curiously enough, the same features that called the attention of the Chilean elite presented—besides the artist’s skill—the materialization of wealth. After the show, Monvoisin immediately started portraying Santiago’s elite. The demand for portraits soon outgrew the capabilities of the artist, although he did not reject any com-
mission. Rapidly, he found himself producing portraits whose main common features were a sketchy-like character and lack of artistic decorum. The fame he had achieved in Chilean diplomat circles in Paris during the early years of his career due to his elaborate portraits—and highlighted by the large historical genre paintings exhibited in the show—was gone. Monvoisin was not anymore in France; he was in Chile, far away of royal commissions and dreams of grandeur. Nevertheless, it was this “past fame” that had brought him to Chile and the portrait of the young José Manuel Ramírez Rosales is a good example of that “ideal” epoch (Fig. 2). In this portrait, Ramírez Rosales has been portrayed as a young cosmopolitan that romantically directs his gaze to a dream-like space. With a loose and relaxed posture and a rich but sober suit, the sitter does not engage with the beholder. He has been represented by Monvoisin to be admired. His well-todo and carefree condition has been reinforced by the portrait’s background: the Roman Coliseum, site that could indicate the travels made by the sitter to cultivate himself through arts and culture, as a “grand tour” a la chilena. Indeed, he is not a young Chilean anymore: he is a “citizen of the world.” José Manuel Ramírez Rosales’s likeness was the paradigm of Chilean portraiture because it left behind the geographical confinement and provincialism of Chilean culture. However, as we can infer, the portraits produced by Monvoisin in Santiago were far from that model. In fact, most of his Chilean portraits are minor works, rigid and hastilyproduced sketches. Among those paintings, perhaps the most reproachable aspect is the technical license he took in order to paint faster (license he used earlier in France, being severely punished by French art criticism): the direct print of “real” laces into the canvas to save time when painting the elaborate details of female dress. This procedure helped him saving time, benefiting even more in relation to the high prices he was charging per painting: six ounces of gold per picture. Despite these high fares, his customers did not seem to matter at all spending large sums of money for works that, in most cases, did not meet the minimum requirements of good academic portraiture. Monvoisin knew what he was doing, and scholars usually agree that the existence in Chile of portraits of “good quality” obeys to the fact that Monvoisin would occasionally find “people of some intelligence” that were aware of the decay of his art, or “beautiful women” who “inspired” him to paint a portrait of quality. Reflecting on his travels through Latin America and close to death (he also traveled through Peru, Argentina, and Brazil with similar objectives), the artist did not acknowledge his faults, but the little artistic and intellectual incentive which
he claimed had received during his Chilean and American years: “I usually had ups and downs. I had bad company, I worked with people that did not understand me, [but] I won a lot of money with portraits and some large paintings.”9 Less than thirty years after independence, Chilean elite was embracing the most decadent visual aspects of French art to become “cosmopolitan” and “modern.” If we follow Mary Louis Pratt’s notion of “auto-ethnography,” Chilean society was trying to recognize the formal codes of the “metropolis” in order to produce a new and different (empowered) self-representation.10 However, if Pratt’s concept also implies a desire of being different from the metropolis (in this case, a cultural metropolis embodied by France), we observe here an impossibility to draw the line of difference. That basic distinction (between an ex-colony-turned-into a republic and the metropolis) was, therefore, symbolically and visually imposed from the outside. In the 1840s, there was little left of the visual schema that celebrated patriotism and civic virtue from a vernacular perspective in-between colonial and republican times. From now on, a new representational paradigm emerged. And it most important features were those that did not acknowledge “Chileanness”
at all. What was expected was a European “air” that only a French artist like Monvoisin could give to the Chilean elite. The imposed difference, in this case, was determined by Chilean society’s lack of artistic knowledge. Chile’s geographical peripheral location, the burden of a recent colonial past, and the more common news from France can help us understand why Santiago’s elite aspired to mimic a “cultural metropolis.” However, those reasons do not shed light on the particular circumstances from which mimicry took form. What is interesting of these circumstances is their peculiarity: a painter that loosing his place in the metropolis re-fashions himself in the province, and a large clientele that being not quite sure about its own image longs to be fashioned by a metropolitan painter. In this context, the province built an imaginary and idealized “cultural metropolis,” France, using Monvoisin as the base for that construction. Metamorphosing an average painter—who was seeking fortune in foreign lands—in the symbol of French taste and elegancy, the Chilean elite transformed, without realizing it, metropolitan decadence into provincial success.
Endnotes 1. See, for example, Eugenio Pereira Salas, Historia del arte en Chile republicano (Santiago:
(1849), and the Academia de Pintura de Santiago (1849).
Ediciones de la Universidad de Chile, 1992); Antonio Romera, Historia de la pintura
5. See National Archives of Chile, Legación de Chile en Francia y Gran Bretaña, vol. 4
chilena (Santiago: Editorial del Pacífico, 1951) and Asedio a la pintura chilena (Santiago:
Editorial Nascimento, 1969); Gaspar Galaz and Milan Ivelic, La pintura en Chile: desde la
6. El Progreso, Santiago, February 3rd, 1843.
colonia hasta 1981 (Valparaíso: Ediciones Universitarias de Valparaíso, 1981); Isabel Cruz,
7. Paul Duro, “Giving Up on History? Challenges to the Hierarchy of the Genres in Early
Arte: lo mejor en la historia de la pintura y escultura en Chile (Santiago: Editorial Antártica,
Nineteenth-Century France. Art History, vol. 28, n. 5, (Nov. 2005): 689-711.
1984); and Ricardo Bindis, Pintura chilena 200 años (Santiago: Origo, 2006).
8. Domingo Faustino Sarmiento, “Cuadros de Monvoisin,” in Obras de D.F. Sarmiento,
2. “Foundational fiction:” concept coined by Doris Summer in Foundational Fictions: The
vol. 2 (Buenos Aires: Librería La Facultad, 1913). All of Sarmiento’s notes come from the
National Romances of Latin America. California: University of California Press, 1993.
3. Homi Bhabha, “Introduction: Narrating the Nation,” in Nation and Narration (New
9. Quoted in Miguel Solá, Raymond Quinsac Monvoisin su vida y obra en America (Buenos
York: Routledge, 1995), 5.
Aires: Publicaciones de la Academia Nacional de Bellas Artes, 1948).
4. Among the institutions founded in this period: Escuela Nacional de Preceptores (1842),
10. Mary Louise Pratt, Ojos imperiales. Literatura de viaje y transculturación (Buenos Aires:
Universidad de Chile (1843), Conservatorio de Música (1850), Escuela de Artes y Oficios
Universidad Nacional de Quilmes, 1997) [Routledge, 1992].
Outside Looking In: Francisco de Holanda and the Margins of Renaissance Art Joanna Hecker-Silva
Some critics have concluded that Francisco de Holanda was an adequate sketch artist, capable of rough documentation of things he saw in the world, but little more.1 Indeed, given his familiarity with the great artists of the movements we now know as Italian High Renaissance and Mannerism, his drawings of Italian women in regional costume show a comparative lack of refinement (Fig. 1). There is little variation among their faces, despite his insistence upon the importance of physiognomic variety and specificity.2 Showing no signs of interaction, the women are grouped awkwardly in an indeterminate space. Their gowns fall in stiff folds, giving little indication of the shape or volume of real bodies beneath and no suggestion of movement. Holanda’s famous portrait of Michelangelo, widely known as one of the few portraits likely made of the great artist from life, is less expressive still (Fig. 2). Rendered in an uncompromising profile, Michelangelo’s face is utterly devoid of detail or any rendering of shadows. On the other hand, we must consider Holanda’s powerful allegorical image of the fall of the Roman Empire (Fig. 3), complex and subtle in both subject matter and style. This drawing demonstrates Holanda’s capacity to render the human face in three-quarters as opposed to strict profile, in accordance with his theoretical and practical discussion of portraiture. Bodies are massive: careful modeling gives volume to the torso of the figure of Rome, and foreshortening increases the sense of dynamic movement of the angel in flight. The extreme torsion of the angel recalls some of the twisted figures of the ignudi in Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel ceiling, which Holanda almost certainly saw while he was in Rome. These drawings only begin to demonstrate the inconsistent quality and style--as well as the great diversity of subject
matter--contained within Holanda’s Album dos Desenhos dos Antigualhas. The album contains over 112 drawings characterized by what we might call a persistent inconsistency. Some are carefully modeled using both cross-hatching and ink or watercolor washes. Others are more strictly linear and less insistent on the illusion of three dimensions. Holanda constructed a sense of space and distance in some drawings of landscapes, city scenes or buildings, through which human figures move freely; in others, he drew monuments in a flattened pictorial space wherein static figures serve to provide a sense of scale, but little dynamism. The question emerges: why would an artist capable of refined detail, modeling and perspective submit to his patron such an uneven and variable album of drawings? King João III of Portugal sent Holanda to Italy in 1537 with the responsibility of documenting the great monuments of Roman antiquity and modern fortification architecture. Holanda dedicated the album to the king after his return to Portugal in 1541. Past scholarship has assumed that Holanda’s project, and the king’s, represented an attempt to disseminate Italian Renaissance art and culture to the European periphery.3 While gathering Italian models may have been one recorded goal of Holanda’s journey, the variability of his drawings suggests that the task may have been informed by a “collectivist” impulse. During Holanda’s lifetime, the complex theory and practice of collection—works of art, or precious exotic objects, or both—may have played a crucial role not only in his conception of art-making, but also in early-modern Portuguese self-perception and identity construction. Holanda’s century was certainly not the first in which wealthy patrons collected works of art and exotic, precious objects from distant lands. The unprecedented expansion of European engagement with
Fig. 1: Francisco de Holanda. Study of Costumes of Ladies and their Attendants: Sienese, Roman, Neapolitan and Venetian. From Das Antigualhas, ca. 1540, folio 3 recto. All images are in public domain. Fig. 2: Holanda. Portrait of Michelangelo. Watercolor on paper. From Album dos Desenhos das Antigualhas, folio 2r.
the rest of the world in the decades around 1500, however, had consequences for collection—and collection practices had consequences for art patronage and art theory.4 A consideration of motivations more complex than the simple Italophilia assumed by previous scholars can allow space for such themes as inversion and multivalence as a part of artistic intent, whether from the patron, the artist, or both. After his sojourn to Italy and the completion of his album of drawings, Holanda also produced an extensive treatise on art theory. In the second book of Holanda’s treatise, comprised of a series of dialogues, the interlocutor Michelangelo notes that Iberian patrons are “the strangest nobility” because of the high praise they will offer to paintings on the one hand, but the low wages they offer to their own painters on the other.5 While Italian and Northern patrons seem to have displayed preferences for the stylistic attributes of their own countrymen, investing consciously in the development of regional or local styles, Iberian patrons alone seem to have felt an interest in the artistic production of other parts of the world, to the exclusion of anything that we might consider “their own.” Documents suggest that they even requested their own local artists to produce works in foreign styles—a highly unusual predilection.6 It seems as though some Iberian patrons of art, in their patterns of purchase and commission, were gathering examples of different regional styles—that is, amassing a collection of different styles that were seen as representative of their respective cultural origins. The Iberian patrons who collected artworks from Italy and from the north also sent artists along with navigators on voyages to the New World, Africa and the East, and gathered images, objects and artifacts from those distant lands.7 Therefore prints and copies of artworks by Raphael and Dürer, and leaves from Serlio and translations of Vitruvius, moved in the same circles as did prints depicting the customs of the Brazilian Tupinamba. Ancient Greek and Roman sculptural fragments passed through the same hands as did carved statuettes from Africa and the Americas. Flemish tapestries and Persian carpets hung side-by-side, and Aztec goldwork was admired alongside silver reliquaries of the European middle ages.8 A single surface within a collection might juxtapose objects from nature, objects from antiquity, and objects designed by artists of the present day. The wife of João III, Catherine of Austria was an avid collector of both natural and man-made objects from around the world.9 She had a taste for northern paintings and tapestries, perhaps in homage to her familial background, but – taking full advantage of the profusion of exotic artifacts and materials that flooded into Lisbon from the worldwide Portuguese colonies
Fig. 3: Holanda. Allegorical Composition: Fallen Rome. From Album dos Desenhos das Antigualhas (c. 1540), folio 4r.
during her husband’s reign—she also amassed one of the largest “encyclopedic” collections of Renaissance Europe. Catherine seems to have had little interest in Italian things—but perhaps this is because the responsibility for acquisition of Italian objects was passed to her husband. The king’s decision to send Holanda to Italy may take on a more complex meaning in light of the queen’s collection. It seems possible that collectors like Catherine gathered exotic objects as a function of imperialist self-identification and identity construction—in effect, as an expression of dominance over the “collected” cultures. On the other hand, we have assumed that her husband collected classicizing architectural elements as a function of aspirational imitation—as an expression of the desire to emulate Italian culture, and therefore an acknowledgment of a certain degree of inferiority to it. If we recall the simple fact that these two collectors were husband and wife within the same royal household, however, we must consider the possibility that these two seemingly opposite motivations might operate very much in concert with one another. We can imagine Holanda’s detailed drawings of Roman statues among Indian statuettes in gold and crystal, and inlaid ivory gaming boards; we might consider his studies of classical architectural ornament alongside Japanese lacquers and paper folding fans, animal bones and skins, and objects wrought of parrot feathers. Collections included representations of humans as well as their cultural products, and despite particular fascination with the legendary “savagery” of natives of the Americas and Africa, collectors’ interest was not limited to people of the New World. The first ethnographic compendium was published in 1520, presenting the diverse peoples of Europe in some detail.10 In this context, Holanda’s drawings of Italian women and their costume begin to look rather like a taxonomic exploration of Italian female culture, as though these people were as inscrutable and fascinating as Burgkmair’s drawings of American Indians or Dürer’s “Orientals”.11 Such images were used in the process of examining, understanding and interpreting the great variety of human cultures, including European cultures themselves, around the world. Holanda’s writings, as well as his drawings, push us to think about these opposing motivations—the desire to collect artifacts of “inferior” cultures, and the desire to collect aesthetic models from “superior” cultures—in concert with one another. In his treatise he defended the value of different artistic styles in different contexts, and to serve different purposes.12 Holanda was the first art theorist to attempt to bring the arts of Asia, Africa and the new world into the scope of his theory. For him, each of these foreign and exotic art forms had its own value, in
its context, but all were united by their manifestation of transcendent ideal form. Holanda and his patron may have admired much about Renaissance Italian art and culture, but when we take Catherine of Austria’s collection into account we can see that the early and mid-sixteenth-century Portuguese court also “admired” the contemporary arts and culture of many other regions of the world. Gathering Italian models was, in fact, the stated goal of Holanda’s sojourn, and the purpose of his drawings—but this need not be interpreted as a manifestation of simple Italophilia. If indeed this emulative collection was the basis for active re-interpretation, the identity that served the Portuguese best would have been not Renaissance Italian, but imperial Roman. For Holanda and João III the concept of Ancient Rome as a far-reaching military and mercantile empire encapsulated very present and practical concerns, rather than being a distant historical prototype for theoretical and philosophical emulation. One way to experience and express an imperial identity was to gather the symbolic cultural capital of the entire world into one place, the seat of the Empire, the center of the Lusitanian world thus conceived. We can begin to understand Holanda’s variable style as an expression of this “collectionist” paradigm: in this single
Álbum, the artist self-consciously demonstrated his familiarity with multiple modes of graphic representation. The drawings seem like a collection in and of themselves, compiled from the hands of different artists in different places, brought together by Holanda to serve a single purpose for his king—and yet they are all by his hand. Holanda’s “inconsistent”, eclectic style was thus an expression of a pointed engagement with practices of collection. Aesthetic purists see inconsistency as a weakness, but for an artist and a patron deeply invested in the gathering and display of disparate elements of distant cultures, it was an expression of strength. In this way, the simple desire to imitate Italy and adopt its culture does not explain the complexity of the art and art theory that Holanda dedicated to his embattled patron. This tangle of ideas and themes doesn’t help us to simplify Holanda’s work, but his art-theoretical treatise and his drawings—and the works of art and architecture commissioned by his patron—seem infinitely richer when we allow for the possibility that such tangles may have been precisely the point. His work serves as a case study that challenges the idea that retrospectively-imposed and oppositional categories of behavior—such as imperialist collecting on the one hand, and admiring emulation on the other—can be so neatly differentiated from one another.
Endnotes 1. John Bury’s work is exemplary of this trend. See particularly Two Notes on Francisco de Holanda (London: Warburg Institute, 1981); “Francisco de Holanda and his illustration of the creation,” Portuguese Studies 2 (1985-1986).
5. Holanda, Da Pintura Antiga, Book 2, Dialogue 3.
2. All references to Holanda’s theoretical statements indicate his three-part treatise, Da Pintura Antiga / Do Tirar Polo Natural, completed between 1548 and 1549. I have here relied upon the Portuguese version edited by Angel Gonzales Garcia (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional – Casa de Moeda, 1984). Holanda’s discussion of the theory and practice of portraiture occurs in the third book, Do Tirar Polo Natural, published separately with introduction, notes and commentary by Jose da Felicidade Alves (Lisbon: Livros Horizonte, 1984).
7. Modes of relationship between art patronage and collection have been explored in several volumes, particularly through the 1990s, including Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, edited by Jay Levenson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991); The Age of the Marvelous, edited by Joy Kenseth (Hanover: Hood Museum of Art, 1991); First Images of America: Iconography of America through 1800, edited by Fredi Chiappelli (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976).
3. For examples of discussion of the Italophilia of João III’s court, see George Kubler’s Portuguese Plain Architecture: From Spices to Diamonds, 1521-1706 (Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1972); A.H. de Oliveira Marques, History of Portugal, Volume 1: From Lusitania to Empire, 2nd edition, most particularly chapters 4 and 5 “The Renaissance State” and “Rise of the Monarchy” (New York: Columbia University Press, 1976); Luis Filipe Barreto, Descobrimentos e renascimento: formas de ser e pensar nos seculos XV e XVI (Lisbon: Imprensa Nacional – Casa de Moeda, 1983); Jose V. De Pina Martins, ed. O Homanismo portugues 1500-1600 (Lisbon: Academia das Ciências, 1988). The degree to which Holanda’s work represents his own agency, his patron’s expectations, or a combination of both requires further consideration. 4. For an effective discussion of recent literature on the phenomenon of collection in the sixteenth century – albeit with a focus on the Italian context – see Lia Markey, The New World in Renaissance Italy: A Vicarious Conquest of Art and Nature at the Medici Court. PhD Dissertation submitted to the University of Chigago, 2008.
6. For this section I have relied primarily upon Jonathan Brown’s seminal text, Painting in Spain 1500-1700 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1999).
8. Joy Kenseth, “Introduction” and “A World of Wonders in One Closet Shut,” The Age of the Marvelous, edited by Joy Kenseth (Hanover: Hood Museum of Art, 1991). 9. Annemarie Jordan, “Portuguese royal collecting after 1521: the choice between Italy and Flanders,” Cultural Links between Portugal and Italy in the Renaissance, edited by K.J.P. Lowe (Oxford University Press, 2000). 10. Marvin Harris, The rise of anthropological theory: a history of theories of culture (New York: Crowell, 1968), 399. 11. Many examples of such works can be found in Circa 1492: Art in the Age of Exploration, edited by Jay Levenson (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1991). 12. Laura Camille Agoston has explicated the internal contradictions between the first and second dialogues in Book 2 of Da Pintura Antiga, in which Michelangelo and Vittoria Colonna argue for the relative value of Italian and Flemish devotional painting styles. See Agoston, “Male/Female, Italy/Flanders, Michelangelo/Vittoria Colonna.” Renaissance Quarterly 58/4 (2005): 1175-1219.
Ana Miljacki is Assistant Professor of Architecture at MIT. She has previously taught studios and seminars at Columbia University, City College in New York, and the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She has a B.A. from Bennington College, an M.Arch. from Rice University, and a Ph.D. in the History and Theory of Architecture from the Harvard GSD. Deborah Buelow recently completed her Master of Science in Architecture Studies with a focus on Architecture and Urbanism at MIT. She has a B.Arch. from Iowa State University. Azra Dawood is currently an SOM Travel / Research fellow. She has a B.Arch. from the University of Texas at Austin and a Master of Science in Architecture Studies from the Aga Khan Program for Islamic Architecture at MIT. James D. Graham is a Ph.D. student at the Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation at Columbia University. He has a B.S.Arch. from the University of Virginia, an M.A. from the New School, and an M.Arch. from MIT. Sara Stevens is a Ph.D. candidate at the School of Architecture at Princeton University. She has a B.Arch. from Rice University and a M.E.D. from Yale University. Ivan Rupnik is a Ph.D. candidate at the Harvard Graduate School of Design and Assistant Professor of Architecture at Northeastern University. He has a B.Arch. from Louisiana State University and an M.Arch. from the same institution.
Matthew Benjamin Matteson is a Ph.D. candidate at the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art Group at MIT. He has a B.Arch. from the University of Tennessee and an M.Arch. in Urban Design from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Delia Solomons is a Ph.D. student at the Institute of Fine Arts at NYU. She has a B.A. from Washington University in St. Louis and an M.A. from NYU. Josefina de la Maza Chevesich is a Ph.D. candidate in the Program in Art History and Criticism at SUNY – Stony Brook, NY. Joanna Hecker-Silva is a Ph.D. candidate at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She has a B.A. from Michigan State University and an M.A. from the University of Toronto. Ana María León is a Ph.D. student in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art Group at MIT. She has an Architecture Diploma from the Universidad Católica de Guayaquil, an M.Arch. from Georgia Tech, and an M.Des.S. with distinction from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. Alla Vronskaya is a Ph.D. candidate in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art Group at MIT. She has a specialist degree in Philosophy from Moscow State University, and a candidate of science degree in Art History from the Russian Academy of Science, Moscow.
Funded by the Council for the Arts at MIT, the Graduate Student Life Grants, the Department of Architecture, and the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Special Thanks to: Mark Jarzombek for his continual guidance and advocacy. Kathaleen Brearley and Anne Deveau for their help and support. Michael Ames, Victor Park, and Minerva Tirado for their guidance in the publication process. Zeynep Çelik Alexander, Ajantha Subramanian, Elizabeth Wood, and Ana Miljacki for their valuable comments on the conference papers. Ash Lettow for his input in preparing the conference, and all our HTC colleagues for their support. Editorial Policy *research-in-progress is an annual graduate student conference organized by students in the History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art Group, in the Department of Architecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Opinions in this publication are those of the authors alone and do not represent the views of the editors, the Department of Architecture, nor MIT. No part of this publication may be copied or distributed without written authorization. Correspondence History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art Department of Architecture, Rooms 10-303/3-303 Massachusetts Institute of Technology 77 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02139 USA firstname.lastname@example.org research-in-progress.mit.edu Copyright 2011 PSB 10.04.0189 Printed by Puritan Press, Hollis, NH Text set in Chaparral Pro and Rockwell Cover Image: Alla Vronskaya Graphic Layout: Ana María León
Massachusetts Institute of Technology History, Theory, and Criticism of Architecture and Art Group Department of Architecture, Rooms 10-303/3-303 77 Massachusetts Avenue Cambridge, MA 02139
Deborah Buelow Azra Dawood Josefina de la Maza Chevesich James D. Graham Joanna Hecker-Silva Matthew Benjamin Matteson Ana Miljacki Ivan Rupnik Delia Solomons Sara Stevens
Edited by Ana Mar铆a Le贸n Alla Vronskaya
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