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.
Curator of Collections Constance Kimmerle and Dorsey Reading, longtime fabricator and shop manager for Paul Evans, will talk about the exhibition and Evans’ work.
Opera Philadelphia presented the East Coast premiere of Tan Dun’s 2002 opera, which uses elements of Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies to tell a tragic love story.
How might a world-famous art collection inform a new piece of music? MacArthur award-winning saxophonist and composer Ken Vandermark shares his thoughts.
Stefan Sagmeister’s The Happy Show, on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art in the spring and summer of 2012, was featured in the New York Times.
Monument Lab: Creative Speculations for Philadelphia is a public art and urban research project taking place at City Hall in the spring of 2015. Through a series of art installations, public events, and community-sourced maps, the project asks a central guiding question: What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?
The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance created a full-time controller position to manage a wide range of departments.
Bissell, the Center’s Performance director, and Adair, director of Exhibitions & Public Interpretation, discuss the origins and learnings of a Center interdisciplinary research project between dancers and historians that explored alternative ways of interpreting historic sites. Participants in the project reflect on its outcomes and implications.
Alma Ruiz is a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where she has curated numerous exhibitions.
Julie York is a visual artist and 2007 Pew Fellow who works in porcelain, glass, and plastic, and whose practice is driven by the industrial process.
Rochelle Steiner is a curator, writer, public art producer, and professor of critical studies at the University of Southern California in the Roski School of Art and Design, where she was dean from 2010 to 2012. In 2015, Steiner served as a panelist in Exhibitions & Public Interpretation.
At age 33, Germaine Ingram (Pew Fellow, 2010) took up dance under the tutelage of a Philadelphia tap legend, the late LaVaughn Robinson (a 1992 Pew Fellow).
Daniel Tucker’s Center-funded exhibition will open with a series of newly commissioned performances by theater artist Thomas Graves, performance artist Jennifer Kidwell, poet and Pew Fellow Frank Sherlock, poet Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela, and performance artist Salem Collo-Julin.