Monday, December 12, 2011
Ambasz Exhibit and the Return of the 70s
Emilio Ambasz returns as the subject of a show at Madrid's Reina Sofía Museum of Contemporary Art (Emilio Ambasz. Inventions: architecture and design, through Jan. 16th).
I am sure Ambasz is charming, and he did have his moment in the 1970's at the Museum of Modern Art. He's even built something outside Seville (photo above). But frankly, I'd forgotten all about him.
The Reina's Director, Manuel Borja-Villel, has returned to the 70s as one of the last great unclaimed virgin territories of the contemporary, as are many these days. He specializing in sprawling shows full of archival documents, another burgeoning fad. All those manifestos, pamphlets, posters and other ephemera. Original documents are great in a book or on a screen, but on the wall they are sheer tedium. Is this the reaction to digital media kicking in?
But back to Ambasz: I'm judging before seeing the show, but speaking from past experience, my sense is that Borja-Villel is not quite clued-in on the subject of architecture, and takes the broad view that makes innocents fall for someone like Calatrava.
Ambasz reminds me of all those artists financed by "1% for Art" who worked on public spaces with architects in the 1980s and who fell so far short of the multidimensional seriousness of the task (I interviewed several of them in New York at the time). Ambasz' work strikes me as flat and undernourished. Like so much art today, at best it's a one-liner, a clever ocurrencia. See for example the project above, featured in news stories on the show.
If one must return to the 70s, what about, say, Ant Farm, or mid-career Charles Moore, or James Wines, or.... On second thought, forget it.
Stay tuned for a live report from the scene pronto....
Photo: Emilio Ambasz, Casa de Retiro Espiritual, designed in 1975.
Live report from the scene, Jan.12, 2012:
Nothing to add.
Except that the work is very James Wines (remember SITE?), or James Wines was very Emilio Ambasz. The projects still read to me as cliched self-parody, up there with the most cynical PoMo stuff, and most are for rich know-nothing clients in Texas and Mexico. Supposedly all very natural but with a lot of abstract green lawns and earth-moving. A spectacular opera under a sloping artificial park in Japan (2000), actually built it seems (though photos throughout the show are scarce, I guess to hide the fact that almost all his ideas went nowhere with the clients) is straight out of Rem Koolhaas' 1978 classic Delirious New York, and only "reads" in one direction. Most of the projects only read from above, as models.
The Reina spent a lot of money on the installation, and someone spent a lot on the models and framed drawings. Too bad they don't give the same attention to deserving local talent -- a show on Francisco "Patxi" Mangado at the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid last year featured a hodgepodge of models carelessly crammed into a dark undersized basement showroom, like a fire sale.
Note: If you are confused by the model photo above, it is a view of the inside of the virtual cube, not the outside. The fact that reading it is so ambiguous shows just how boringly conceptual the conceit actually is.