Constructing Worlds – Photography And Architecture In The Modern Age

by | 14. Oct 2014

Exhibitions and Events
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Berenice Abbott. Night View, New York City, 1932. © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

By Kirsten Kiser

With over 200 works by 18 leading photographers, who have changed the way we view architecture and think about the world we live In, the exhibition Constructing Worlds takes the visitor on a global journey of 20th and 21st century architecture.

Organized both chronologically and thematically the exhibition opens with Berenice Abbott’s project Changing New York (1935-1939) that captured the transformation of New York into a modernist metropolis, with towering skyscrapers replacing older low-rise buildings.

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Berenice Abbott. Rockefeller Center, New York City, 1932. © Berenice Abbott, Courtesy of Ron Kurtz and Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York.

At the same time, Walker Evans was on assignment for the Farm Security Administration photographing the vernacular architecture of the Deep South which bore witness to the adverse consequences of modernity.

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Walker Evans. Atlanta, Georgia. Frame Houses and a Billboard, 1936. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USZ62-34380]. © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

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Walker Evans. Frame Houses. New Orleans, Louisiana, 1936. Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, FSA/OWI Collection [LC-USF342-T01-008060-E]. © Walker Evans Archive, The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Stephen Shore’s explosive color photographs from Uncommon Places (1973-79) and the unsentimental street scenes of Unconscious Places by Thomas Struth all reference Evans’s documentary approach, while reflecting on the repetition and banality which modernity can incite.

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Stephen Shore. Beverly Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, Los Angeles, California, June 21, 1974. Image courtesy of the artist, 303 Gallery, New York and Sprüth Magers, London. © 2014 Stephen Shore.

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Thomas Struth. Clinton Road, London, 1977. © Thomas Struth.

In contrast, Julius Shulman’s photographs of the Case Study Houses program (1945-1966) capture the experimental architecture and ideal modern lifestyle in California in the 1950s.

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Constructing Worlds. Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age. Barbican Art Gallery. © Chris Jackson / Getty Images.

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Julius Shulman. Case Study House #22, 1960 (Architect: Pierre Koenig). © J. Paul Getty Trust. Used with permission. Julius Shulman Photography Archive, Research Library at the Getty Research Institute (2004.R.10).

Combining the cityscape of Los Angeles with the vernacular, Ed Ruscha’s photobooks Some Los Angeles Apartments (1965) and Thirtyfour Parking Lots (1967) communicate a particular urban experience while the decaying industrial European landscape is the focus of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s comprehensive archive of arcane industrial archetypes.

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Constructing Worlds. Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age. Barbican Art Gallery. © Chris Jackson / Getty Images.

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Ed Ruscha. Dodgers Stadium, 1000 Elysian Park Ave., 1967/1999. © Ed Ruscha. Courtesy of the artist and Gagosian Gallery.

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Constructing Worlds. Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age. Barbican Art Gallery. © Chris Jackson / Getty Images.

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Bernd and Hilla Becher. Goole, Great Britain, 1997. Courtesy of Hilla Becher.

One section focuses on the photographers’ interpretation of the architect’s vision and the relationship between photography and the architectural subject. Le Corbusier’s architectural vision was perfectly expressed in Lucien Hervé’s cinematic documentation of Chandigarh – a modernist symbol of a newly independent India.

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Lucien Hervé. High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2002.R.41).© J. Paul Getty Trust. With permission from Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris and Judith Elkan Hervé. © 2014 DACS.

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Lucien Hervé. High Court of Justice, Chandigarh, 1955. The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2002.R.41). © J. Paul Getty Trust. With permission from Fondation Le Corbusier, Paris and Judith Elkan Hervé. © 2014 DACS.

These photographs offer a way of understanding the architects’ intentions in relation to the lived reality, as exemplified in Luigi Ghirri’s lyrical response to Aldo Rossi’s architecture; Hélène Binet’s studies of fragments of Daniel Libeskind’s Jewish Museum in Berlin; deliberately blurred photographs by Hiroshi Sugimoto of iconic 20th century architecture; Luisa Lambri’s exploration into the reality of inhabiting and living a modernist lifestyle in domestic Modern architecture; and the response to the impersonality of individual works of architecture in Andreas Gursky’s monumental photographs.

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Luigi Ghirri. Cemetery of San Cataldo, Modena; the ossuary in winter, 1986. Courtesy of the Luigi Ghirri Estate and Matthew Marks Gallery, New York. © 2014 Eredi Luigi Ghirri.

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Hélène Binet. Jewish Museum Berlin, Daniel Libeskind, Untitled 9, July 1997. Courtesy of Hélène Binet.

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Hiroshi Sugimoto. World Trade Centre (Minoru Yamasaki), 1997. Courtesy of Hiroshi Sugimoto.

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Constructing Worlds. Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age. Barbican Art Gallery. © Chris Jackson / Getty Images.

Constructing Worlds culminates with an exploration of cities experiencing dramatic changes. The contemporary experience of the urban built environment is conveyed through Guy Tillim’s exposé of late-modernist-era colonial structures in Angola, Congo, and Mozambique in the series Avenue Patrice Lumumba (2008);

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Guy Tillim. Grande Hotel, Beira, Mozambique, 2008. © Guy Tillim. Courtesy of Stevenson, Cape Town and Johannesburg (Diptych).

Simon Norfolk’s Chronotopia (2001) and Burke + Norfolk (2010) series, show how the scars of the past are revealed in the architectural present.

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Constructing Worlds. Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age. Barbican Art Gallery. © Chris Jackson / Getty Images.

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Simon Norfolk. Former Soviet-era ‘Palace of Culture’, Kabul, 2001 – 02. Courtesy of Simon Norfolk.

Bas Princen documents the urban transformation in the Middle East in Refuge, Five Cities (2009) while Nadav Kander portrays the impact of colossal modern construction.

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Bas Princen. ‘Mokattam Ridge’, (Garbage Recycling City), Cairo, 2009. Courtesy of Bas Princen.

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Bas Princen. Cooling Plant, Dubai, 2009. Courtesy of Bas Princen.

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Nadav Kander. Chongqing IV (Sunday Picnic), Chongqing Municipality, 2006. © Nadav Kander, courtesy Flowers Gallery.

Finally Iwan Baan captures an example of contemporary usurpation, adaptation and repurposing of architecture through the Torre David series.

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Iwan Baan. Torre David #2, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles.

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Iwan Baan. Torre David #1, 2011. Image courtesy of the artist and Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles.

Organised by Barbican Art Gallery, the exhibition is curated by Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone and designed by the Belgian architecture practice OFFICE KGDVS.

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Photo: Kirsten Kiser ©arcspace

Barbican Art Gallery, London: www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery

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