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.
Moore College of Art & Design is the only visual arts college for women in the United States and the Galleries at Moore have showcased the work of women artists and curators to great effect.
Alex Kanevsky is a painter and a 1997 Pew Fellow.
The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts presented Basil Twist’s Petrushka and held workshops for local puppeteers, which included a tour of Twist’s studio.
Artist, teacher, and writer Odili Donald Odita studies and discusses the breadth and depth of contemporary art of the African diaspora.
Founded in 1992, Astral Artists plays a vital role in the discovery and development of gifted classical musicians.
Founded in 1973, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council is a private, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to providing every Pennsylvanian with access to the humanities.
Justin Witte is a visual artist and a 2004 Pew Fellow.
Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists 1958–1968, a film by 1997 Pew Fellow Glenn Holsten, had its world premiere in Philadelphia in the fall of 2010 at the University of the Arts.
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.
Working with colored thread and thousands upon thousands of knots, 2007 Pew Fellow Ed Bing Lee transforms a simple material and a common technique into a unique form of contemporary fiber art.
The Philadelphia Art Alliance commissioned the Miss Rockaway Armada, an internationally recognized group of artists and performers from all over the country, to install a building-wide exhibition.
The first-ever queer jazz festival in the United States, William Way LGBT Community Center’s three-day event will address intersections amongst sexual orientation, gender identity, and jazz music.
Song ErRui, the daughter of artists Song Dong and Yin Xiuzhen, talks about her contribution to her parents’ exhibition, “The Way of Chopsticks,” at the Philadelphia Art Alliance, her life as a young artist, and artistic collaboration.
Emily Brown is a visual artist and a 2000 Pew Fellow.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art will identify and implement optimal strategies for integrating contemporary art into all areas of the museum’s work and connecting with 21st-century audiences.
Whitney Kimball, Vox Populi’s third AUX Curatorial Fellow, presents a film by video/performance artist Miles Pflanz and sound artist Kate Levitt, as part of her “Schmart World” series.
Brooklyn-based performers Liftig and Cleary present an evening of performance rooted in comedic and ecstatic engagements of the everyday.
Catherine Wood is curator of contemporary art and performance at Tate Modern.
This month in Fellows Friday news: Vera Nakonechny is named a National Heritage Fellow by the National Endowment for the Arts, Alex Da Corte exhibits at White Cube, and much more.
The Museum of Modern Art’s Associate Curator of Media and Performance, Thomas Lax, takes up the question “Should we be dancing in museums?”
Robert Pinsky is a poet, essayist, literary critic, and translator. From 1997 to 2000, he served as poet laureate consultant in poetry to the Library of Congress.
Pew Fellow Paul Swenback developed a fascination with the macabre and occult at an early age, which has filtered into his idiosyncratic sculptures, paintings, photographs, and installations.
Asian Arts Initiative’s project to revitalize Pearl Street, an under-used alley behind its building in Philadelphia’s Chinatown North neighborhood, is featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
By connecting people with wildlife, the Philadelphia Zoo creates joyful discovery and inspires action for animals and habitats, and is home to more than 1,300 animals, many of them rare and endangered.
Strange Currencies will be the first exhibition to articulate a history for the unorthodox, artist-run spaces that emerged in Mexico City in the 1990s.
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.