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.
Anthony Smyrski and Dan Murphy, the artist duo that constitutes Megawords, worked with four European artists to plan for the creation of a roving media production lab.
Press keeps pouring in for psychylustro, a large-scale public art project by Katharina Grosse and Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, funded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and set to be unveiled on May 17.
Challenging conventional notions of expertise, Asian Arts Initiative will invite local community advocates and homeless people to organize a contemporary art exhibition on the concepts of home and homelessness.
The William Way LGBT Community Center is a non-profit organization serving the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender populations of Philadelphia and its nearby communities.
AXIS Dance Company performed in residence at Montgomery County Community College, coinciding with the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
An Experiment in Five Acts is aimed at artists and cultural producers working in the Philadelphia region who are negotiating mid-career challenges—be they purely aesthetic or more practical.
Richard Evans is co-founder and president of EmcArts, a New York City firm that works to strengthen the capacity and effectiveness of nonprofit arts and cultural organizations.
Ron Tarver is a visual artist and a 2001 Pew Fellow.
The Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education commissions art that more directly fulfills its missions of land preservation, restoration, and education.
Anthony Campuzano (Pew Fellow, 2009) is known for his use of found language in his drawings, using text from newspaper headlines, Wikipedia entries, paperback novels, and song lyrics.
In 2010, with Center support, Philagrafika—an organization dedicated to contemporary printmaking—organized a massive multi-venue festival.
Susan Stewart is a poet and a 1995 Pew Fellow.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania invites the public to learn more about African American women of the early 1800s who worked to end slavery, and to consider how this history illuminates our lives today. This lecture is part of An Artist Embedded, which explores, via a series of public events with visiting artists and scholars, how historical events are related to contemporary issues in the United States.
While Jens Hoffmann was in Philadelphia to lecture at the Center in 2011, he made a few “studio” visits with local dance companies and described the experience to us.
Bowerbird, in cooperation with the 2011 FringeArts Festival, presented the American premiere of More Mouvements für Lachenmann, and held workshops with choreographer Xavier Le Roy.
Member-run artist collective Vox Populi will launch a curatorial fellowship program dedicated to performance art, hosting five curatorial fellows in total over a period of two years.
The fourth event in a seven-part series organized by AUX Performance Space’s fifth Curatorial Fellow, Katya Grokhovsky.
One of the first venues in the United States dedicated to the appreciation of limited edition prints, the Print Center has expanded its purview to include photography and ephemera.
John Rasmussen is Midway Contemporary Art’s executive director. He founded the organization in 2001.
Elizabeth Neilson Armstrong is the curator of contemporary art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, as well as the director of its Center for Alternative Museum Practice.
Berlin-based visual artist Katharina Grosse will transform one of Philadelphia’s major transportation thoroughfares with a series of seven bright, bold installations.
Professor of jazz drums at the Juilliard School of Music and New York University, Billy Drummond has toured and recorded with a variety of jazz masters.
Pianist Marilyn Nonken is known for performances that explore transcendent virtuosity and extremes of musical expression.
Funeral for a Home has sought to generate critical thinking, discussion, and action around issues of housing redevelopment and preservation in Philadelphia. The project has received extensive media attention.
The Center’s publication, Letting Go? Sharing Historical Authority in a User-Generated World, received media attention from a number of publications.