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  • Most Precise Experiments
  • Matthew Goulish (bio)

Spaces without drama or surface is an illusion, but so is depth, a group show at The Graham Foundation for Advanced Studies in Fine Arts, Chicago, Illinois, February 16–July 1, 2017.

In his 1981 A Scientific Autobiography, architect, artist, theorist, and designer Aldo Rossi (1931–1997) wrote of his lifelong debt to the province of theatre:

When I think of markets I always draw an analogy with the theater, and particularly the eighteenth-century theater, with its relation between stages as isolated places and the total space of the theater. In all of my architecture, I have always been fascinated by the theater. …

I have always thought that the term teatrino was more complex than teatro; it refers not just to the size of the building but also to the private, specific, repetitive character of all that is fiction in the theater. Others have considered teatrino to be an ironic or diminutive word. Yet teatrino, as opposed to teatro, expresses not so much irony or childishness, even if these are closely linked to the theater, as a peculiar and almost secret quality which accentuates the theatrical. My terming of the 1979 project “scientific” has its source in a number of ideas: it is certainly a mixture of the anatomical theater in Padua and the teatrino scientifico in Mantua, an allusion both to the scientific function and to those puppet theaters where Goethe loved to spend time in his youth.

. … all the pieces of a system were assembled inside the Little Scientific Theater. It became a laboratory where the result of the most precise experiment was always unforeseen.

Rossi’s Teatrino Scientifico, represented by a modest, moody, color inkjet photograph of a model, sits at the heart of this ecstatic exhibition’s invitation to rethink the generative relationship between architecture and theatricality. [End Page 42] Curators Ruth Estévez and Wonne Ickx of the Mexico City–based experimental exhibition-oriented platform LIGA–Space for Architecture, claiming inspiration from “the recent proliferation of digital collage in architectural representation,” asked “artists, architects, and a dramaturge … to engage the overlaps between graphic collage and theatrical scenery and examine the ways that they employ two-dimensional surfaces to evoke architectural environments.” They have deftly mingled eighteen commissioned works with contemporary and historical models and renderings in this spiraling exhibition that occupies all three floors of the stately Madlener House, the 1902 Gold Coast mansion designed by Richard E. Schmidt and Hugh M. G. Garden. A Chicago landmark of the early Prairie School, the house, as the plaque states, “has the massing, logic, and dignity of a Renaissance palace, yet is a thoroughly modern design.” Renovated in 1964 by Daniel Brenner, it now houses the Graham Foundation, a pristine exhibition space with a library, bookstore, and unerring mission: to pressurize the borderlands between architecture and art.

“Illusion” inadequately describes the radical shifts in scale, time, and mode on display, notwithstanding the temptation of the exhibition title, which refers to artist David Hockney’s narration of the visual strategies at work in a seventy-two-foot-long seventeenth-century Chinese illustrated scroll in the 1988 documentary A Day on the Grand Canal with the Emperor of China. Despite the central place that Hockney’s playful thinking occupies in the exhibition, I might choose the humbler descriptor “analogy,” following Rossi’s musings.

Perhaps a design is merely the space where the analogies in their identification with things once again arrive at silence.

A design pursues this fabric of connections, memories, images. …

Even technique seems to stop at a threshold where its discipline dissolves.

A dissolution of disciplines at the threshold greets the visitor in the inaugural analogy, Gabriel Sierra’s Badly explained rainbow #3, banner cloths of solid colors blue, red, green, yellow, beige, violet, and orange hung in sequence from the mantel of the entranceway fireplace. A bad explanation makes a perfect gesture, ushering in the playfulness to come, but a playfulness not without edges. One could trip over the scalene triangular wooden form on the floor. The scale model of a proposed theatre in Varese, Italy, by the Milanese group baukuh extends the volume of the wall between two...


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pp. 42-48
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