Constructing Worlds – Photography And Architecture In The Modern Age
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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);
Simon Norfolk’s Chronotopia (2001) and Burke + Norfolk (2010) series, show how the scars of the past are revealed in the architectural present.
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.
Finally Iwan Baan captures an example of contemporary usurpation, adaptation and repurposing of architecture through the Torre David series.
Organised by Barbican Art Gallery, the exhibition is curated by Alona Pardo and Elias Redstone and designed by the Belgian architecture practice OFFICE KGDVS.
Barbican Art Gallery, London: www.barbican.org.uk/artgallery