Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien have distinguished themselves in the field for their attention to materials, surfaces, tactility, and craft. You can see it most clearly in their hand-treated façade for the soon-to-be demolished American Folk Art Museum in New York City, or the interior courtyard of the new Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.
Given the nature of their work, we thought of the pair recently when viewing a Center-funded retrospective of art-furniture designer Paul Evans at the James A. Michener Art Museum. Perhaps—just perhaps—Williams and Tsien are aware of Evans’ work? We asked them, and indeed they are.
What do you think of when you look at Paul Evans’ art-furniture, with its patterned, textured, and often deliberately overwrought surfaces?
To us the work is fascinating because it takes us out of our comfort zone.
Is there an architectural equivalent for this type of surface treatment?
Not really. It seems to fly in the face of architectural protocol—in the face of design as it used to be taught, in fact, and how it still is both taught and practiced. But as our definitions of society and propriety have been challenged, so too has architecture.
No one comes to mind?
Well, it recalls the experimentation and freedom in Paul Rudolph’s later work: from his School of Architecture at Yale to his own home in New York, with its theatrical mirrored mylar and glass. This was work for which he was much admired and roundly criticized. Also Philip Johnson’s follies and much of the work of Bruce Goff; these are architects whose career trajectories, like Evans’, sometimes seemed to veer out of control, without a direction or sense of rigor.
We might also look at the way Philip Guston’s work developed. It moved so dramatically from abstraction to brute forms and cartoon figures of the Ku Klux Klan.
Also very much out of the mainstream are the great window dressers who must come up with bold concepts seemingly overnight and on a shoestring budget. Robert Currie comes to mind. We were always excited to see his windows at the old Henri Bendel store on 57th Street.
Do you think Evans would have made a good architect?
His interests were so widespread; we think he would have been far happier with interiors and homes. He needed a patron with incredibly strong convictions, who might have supported his eclectic tastes.
Architecture, by contrast, is very much a collaborative profession. And Evans seems to have never cared for context; he wanted to control the entire panorama.
For you, is Evans a proto-postmodernist, a regional modernist, or something else entirely?
We never like to classify designers, though we are sure we have. And Evans, we think, is particularly unclassifiable. In fact, were he alive and classified, he would flee your classifications.
We like the description of him wandering the edge of a volcano. He was neither conscious of the safety of set standards, nor of the danger of being a slave to fashion.
Are there any labels that have been applied to your own work that you have found fitting?
We are also architects who don’t want to be classified. We are attracted to many things and many materials and are always attempting to be connective—bold in our choices but sensitive in our use. We are on a rigorous search for the heart in all we do.
A tour of the Wharton Esherick Museum and Studio, organized by the James A. Michener Art Museum as part of Paul Evans: Crossing Boundaries and Crafting Modernism.
Founded in 1910, International House Philadelphia (IHP) presents cultural programs in the areas of music, exhibitions, and cinema—the latter being its flagship program.
This exhibition, the first major survey of Kasten’s work, seeks to broadly situate her legacy in relationship to contemporary art, beyond a strictly photographic history.
Astria Suparak is an independent curator and former director and curator of Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Gallery.
Laurence Salzmann is a visual artist and a 2001 Pew Fellow.
Juggler, playwright, and solo theater artist Sara Felder developed and produced the world premiere of a whimsical theatrical reflection on art, aging, and grief.
The first in a series of events organized by AUX’s fourth Curatorial Fellow, Anthony Romero, the evening will consist of lectures by Romero and ICA curator Ingrid Schaffner, followed by a screening of Marlon T. Riggs’ Tongues Untied from 1989.
Alice Oh is a visual artist and a 2000 Pew Fellow.
In April 2011, Nina Simon conducted a discussion and interactive workshop at the Center and shared her vision for the future of cultural institutions as personal, dynamic, and collaborative places for visitor engagement.
Mei-ling Hom is a visual artist and a 1998 Pew Fellow.
In 2011, Vox Populi received support from Center to research the new generation of so-called “alternative” art spaces. In this conversation, Vox Populi Executive Director Andrew Suggs discusses his discoveries.
Building on the success of its Museum Without Walls project, the Association for Public Art is working to engage audiences in an online dialogue about Philadelphia’s public art.
One of Philadelphia’s smartest and scrappiest small, no-profit art spaces, Marginal Utility is known for forging long-term commitments with artists.
Located in Germantown, Cliveden is an 18th-century historic house and site of the 1777 Battle of Germantown.
Ralph B. Peña is a playwright, actor, and the artistic director of Ma-Yi Theater Company, a New York-based theater group that develops and produces new Asian-American plays.
Winner of two Walter W. Naumburg Awards, soprano Lucy Shelton enjoys an international career bringing her dramatic vocalism and interpretive skills to repertoire of all periods.
Basekamp examined the emergence of plural artistic environments that exist outside of the commercial or institutional mainstream.
“I curate for curious people. I curate for people who love some other field or subject the same way I love art. I curate for those people who need to be won over, but are willing.”
Throughout Dancing around the Bride’s run at the Barbican Art Gallery in London, the exhibition received media attention from a number of publications.
Mural Arts hosts an exhibition of photojournalist Martha Cooper’s photographic preservation of graffiti and Steve Weinik’s documentation of psychylustro by Katharina Grosse.
Mei-ling Hom is a visual artist and a 1998 Pew Fellow.
Fleisher Art Memorial is a community arts organization dedicated to the ideal that people of all ethnicities and socioeconomic backgrounds have a right to experience art.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art hosted a tour of the locations of billboards upon which Zoe Strauss’ photographs were displayed during Zoe Strauss: Ten Years.
Billie Tsien, with Tod Williams, founded Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in 1986. Their studio, located in New York City, focuses on work for institutions—museums, schools, and non-profits.
The Quay Brothers’ Through the Weeping Glass received media mentions from the New York Times and NPR’s All Things Considered.
The Institute of Contemporary Art hosted this touring exhibition: the first major retrospective to honor the singular accomplishments of artist Sheila Hicks.