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.
The Barnes Foundation’s Center-funded exhibition, Yinka Shonibare: Magic Ladders, was highlighted in The Huffington Post, Wall Street Journal, and more.
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.
Flatland 2010 was Jumatatu Poe’s first evening-length work. The final piece incorporated structured audience feedback that Poe received after two work-in-progress showings.
Jan Ramirez, chief curator and director of collections for the National September 11 Memorial & Museum in New York City, speaks about the interpretive planning process for the museum.
Amy Smith is a dance artist, a founder of Headlong Dance Theater, and a 2006 Pew Fellow.
The Fabric Workshop and Museum is an internationally renowned artist residency program with an active exhibition program.
We posed our questions of (co-)authorship to Goldsmith, a visual artist-turned-writer whose prose consists simply of re-typing existing information.
Philadelphia Mural Arts Program commissioned an impermanent public art project by artist Katharina Grosse: a massive episodic painting along a five-mile stretch of Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor.
Muhsana Ali is a visual artist and a 2002 Pew Fellow.
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.
This project investigated various issues surrounding (co-)authorship in cultural production, asking questions around definitions of authorship, collaboration, audience participation, the influence of marketplace, and other concepts.
As the United States’ finest museum of medical history, the Mütter Museum displays its beautifully preserved collections in a 19th-century “cabinet museum” setting.
With a commitment to contemporary craft and design that is broad and inclusive, the Philadelphia Art Alliance is carving out its own space in the museum landscape.
Syd Carpenter is a sculptor and a 1992 Pew Fellow.
Jaye Allison is a dancer and founder of Philly Tap challenge, whose work in the tap genre has been vital in keeping Philadelphia’s rich tap legacy in the public eye.
Sheryl Robin David is a craft artist and a 2000 Pew Fellow in folk and traditional arts.
Zoe Strauss: Ten Years, at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, received media attention from a number of publications.
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.
FringeArts presents, develops, and commissions a range of high-quality contemporary performing and visual arts in Philadelphia.
David Allison is the Manager of Visitor Programs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.
Dean Otto is the associate curator of film/video at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, MN.
Dan Rothenberg is a theater artist, a founding member and co-artistic director of Pig Iron Theatre Company, and a 2002 Pew Fellow.
As an extension of its Pearl Street and Social Practice Lab programming, Asian Arts Initiative invites volunteers to work with Chinatown North and Callowhill residents and neighbors, in maintaining cleanliness in the Pearl Street alleyway.
As an extension of its Pearl Street and Social Practice Lab programming, Asian Arts Initiative invites volunteers to work with Chinatown North and Callowhill residents and neighbors, in maintaining the Pearl Street alleyway.
The Liberian Women’s Chorus for Change will perform a pop-up concert at Bluebell Triangle Park.
Basekamp examined the emergence of plural artistic environments that exist outside of the commercial or institutional mainstream.