The Hayward Gallery
28 May-25 August 2008
The Hayward Gallery, London, under director Ralph Rugoff, has organised another trailblazing exhibition, 'Psycho Buildings', which is drawing the crowds. The purpose of the exhibition is given as to explore the relationship between art and architecture and never has there been a more appropriate time, where visions in architecture have become more and more marked - by economic and financial swings - and roundabouts. The old debate about postmodernism versus modernism has been overtaken by a kind of worldwide 'tsunami' which has demolished carefully preserved traditions (many of which have lost their real value) and uprooted and disoriented the growth of new bodies of philosophy. Little in architectural publication has been perceptive enough to take stock of these movements, partly because these have swept aside all before them. Whereas even until two decades ago the parameters and guidelines for architects and students to follow were fairly clear, today a kind of intellectual anarchy exists.
This has not been so in the world of contemporary art. It seems, especially in Britain, that new installation artists, painters, sculptors, land artists have driven debate forward in a constantly reinvigorating manner. If one compares the fruits of the Stirling Award for architects with the Turner Prize for younger artists, it is evident that the real debate is being pursued in the visual arts, where diversity, imagination, improvisation and redefinition reign across the board. The debate is progressed through new work, rather than proposals, as such. In London, Tate Modern, the Hayward Gallery, and a discriminating group of high calibre London galleries, together with the Serpentine Gallery and Frieze Art Fair, (and now to be embellished by Charles Saatchi's new Gallery in Chelsea, all have their finger on the 'mouse' and are ringing up dramatic new directions.
The Hayward exhibition, with the brilliant title 'Psycho Buildings', has stolen a march on all the others. The exhibiting artists have been encouraged to literally carve up the existing spatial conformation of this once much-lauded 'brutalist' enclave inherited from the 1970s that was in its time cutting edge. But times change. Of some exhibits, such as that of the Cuban collective 'Los Carpinteros', it should be said that more space was required. However the way in which Ikea and B&Q products are dissembled to parody a consumerist explosion is witty. The pieces hang in space as in a film still. Next door, however, is the antithesis. A brilliant 'Place', seemingly a hill town in early evening light, by Rachel Whiteread, ingeniously made up out of doll's houses, all of which had been collected from the heart by Whiteread, since childhood. Every house enhances the external ambience, all lit from their interior, through the windows. One searches fruitlessly for the inhabitants. Perhaps they have been eliminated by a sudden wave of toxic gases, but no bodies either.
The doll's house concept is infectious, since two other exhibits upstairs each fill a room. Do-Ho Suh, from Korea, does 'Fallen Star' which reflects upon his first arrival in America. This is literally a representation of a culture clash, his Korean home impacted into an apartment block. Here the consumerist materialism of the Western objects and goods clashes with the simplicity of an Eastern culture. Up on the roof, Tobias Putrih of Slovenia has turned one of the Hayward roof terraces into a mini-cinema, entitled 'Venetian Atmospheric', running the films of other artists about architecture. Elsewhere, architects Atelier Bow-Wow from Japan have created 'Life Tunnel', which reflects the materiality of services infrastructures, with poetic insight.
Of course, it is the absence of architectural banter and hubbub which is most exhilarating about this whole exhibition focused on 'Building'. Maybe architects should download all the essays on CAD computer programmes, trash the elegant designs on drawing boards, clear the decks and start again. Their first allies in this venture would be installation and land artists, sculptors and media artists. That world suffers no absence of debate witness the Metasenta book review here this month, where artists and students migrate from Melbourne and Edinburgh to Chicago, and coexist successfully in the snow for three weeks with remarkable outputs. In the 1970s, US architect Gordon Matta-Clark expressed his frustration at the various blind alleyways that intelligent architects had got stuck in, in a series of works in which he split whole houses down the middle. How about, in similar vein, putting one or two mega-rich, 'signature' architectural showpieces into such limbo? The public, in these times of constraint would surely applaud. One architect in the new critical tradition who will not give up is Will Alsop. A noted pioneer of the 'happy' building (viz the Peckham Library in South London) and previously brilliant creator of the competition winning 'Le Grand Bleu' regional headquarters in Marseille (still applauded), Alsop saw the light in what people really wanted out of architecture - 'Fun'.
This exhibition puts it finger on that nerve, but also opens up the whole debate on why artists are mainly excluded from planning committees, and treated as misdirected and irresponsible thinkers, 'not to be trusted'.