A tale of two halves
Among the abiding images of the last quarter-century of architecture must be those of Aldo Rossi's Teatro del Mondo at the 1980 Venice Biennale. Made of wood wrapped around steel scaffolding and welded to a barge, it was in the tradition of 16th-century floating pavilions. After the biennale and a tour of the Dalmatian coast it was dismantled, but the photographs remain: the Teatro being towed across the Venetian lagoon, or moored by the Punta della Dogana at the end of the Grand Canal.
Now, reconstructed, it reappears for an ambitious exhibition in Genoa, 'Arti e Architettura 1900-2000'. Situated in the triangular Piazza Caricamento, it's beached but in sight of the sea. 'The Teatro pays symbolic homage to all architecture that turned toward art for suggestions and techniques, ' says the show's curator, Germano Celant. That's his subject - a century's interplay between artists and architects; including architects like Le Corbusier who were also artists and those, like Gehry, who think they are.
If Celant had settled for tracing those reciprocities just to the late-1930s, this would be a superb exhibition; but after then it falls apart. With a rich mix of models, drawings, paintings, books, photographs and film clips, the displays on Futurism, Constructivism, De Stijl and the Bauhaus are a treat. There's a room dedicated to German Expressionism, lots of 1930s Italy (Terragni's Casa del Fascio in a cut-open model) and the imposing presence of Corb.
In the vaulted lower rooms of the Palazzo Ducale, MusÚe d'Orsay architect Gae Aulenti has installed these items sympathetically.
Ancillary wedge-shaped spaces complement the main orthogonal halls and allow for, say, a sculpture by Kurt Schwitters to be spotlit in a niche.
Although each section is highly selective, there's a sense of seeing movements and individuals in some depth, and the chance to make connections between exhibits. But as the show accelerates to the late 1960s, and then moves onto the upper level of the Palazzo Ducale to reach 2000, it loses substance and coherence. It's not that there's an absence of worthwhile items, just that the choices and juxtapositions often seem arbitrary.
What, for instance, is Aldo van Eyck's drawing of the Wheels of Heaven Church doing next to a Superstudio fantasy and an Andy Warhol painting of reflections? Why place Aldo Rossi beside Robert Smithson and Gordon Matta-Clark? Too many people are shown either obliquely or insufficiently (van Eyck, Aalto, Kahn) while others are omitted altogether (the Smithsons). Why no South America, fertile ground for Constructive art after the Second World War? Why, excepting Herzog & de Meuron, is there nothing Swiss, given the intense engagement with art of such practices as Gigon/Guyer?
The answer to this last question can be inferred. Celant prefers the more 'sculptural', expressive trends in architecture now. He talks of 'the unstoppable process of spectacularisation of the arts' - and seems to welcome it. But in the ornate upper rooms of the palazzo, with their frescoes, gilding and plaster embellishments, his exhibits risk becoming simply bric-a-brac, shorn of meaning.
There's a further dimension to his show in works by artists or architects sited elsewhere in the centre of Genoa, looped together on an itinerary you can follow. Koolhaas, Hollein and Piano are among those featured - but do they really add much? In one corner of Piazza San Lorenzo is a protoype for Gehry's 'Fred and Ginger' building, just a few metres away from the intricate carved portal of the medieval cathedral. What attracts people more? Maybe a really jaded Genoese, blasÚ about his city's buildings, might give the Gehry a second glance, but for most visitors there's no contest.
The exception is Rossi's Teatro, which does serve as an emblem of sorts. Rossi thought how apt it was when anchored by the Punta della Dogana: 'It seemed to me a place where architecture ended and the world of the imagination, or even the irrational, began.''Arti e Archittetura 1900-2000' is certainly strong on the imagination. It's just a shame that the second half of the show isn't curated more 'rationally'.
Skira has published a two-volume catalogue to the exhibition, so far only in Italian. The first volume, covering 1900-1968, is an excellent visual resource and a bargain at .30