Forget galleries: work ought to be explored in a laboratory
Friedrich Kiesler, born 1890 (died1965), is one of those figures that can be claimed by architects and artists alike as a major influence on their practices. His work ranged between architecture, theatre design, installation and theory, in a way that is difficult to achieve today in our world of compartmentalisation and management. I have always thought of him as one of my heroes and his work has definitely influenced mine, although it would be difficult to be specific as to how. One of the aspects of his life I find fascinating is the apparent directness in approach of some of his commissions.
On 26 February,1942, he received a letter from Peggy Guggenheim. It read: 'Dear Mr Kiesler. I want your help. Will you give me some advice about remodelling two tailor shops into an art gallery? May I show you the space and also may I first show you my collection, so that you will have some definite idea of what is needed. If you will telephone me at El Dorado 5-3559 as soon as possible, I will be very grateful. Very sincerely yours' Her modest but important letter embodies an idea of the proper relationship between client and designer. There are no OJEC notices, fee bids or repetitive interviews here.
A decision is made to employ somebody for what they can do in order to embark on a voyage of discovery that could be a huge success or a complete disaster.
On 21 October,1942, the exhibition opened. Called 'Art of this Century', it was a huge success, in part due to Kiesler's unconventional method of presenting art.
Two days later, the New York Sun reported: 'Kiesler has made such a startling job of it that these still questionable works of art, that have been disrupted at every turn by conventional people, almost escape the question marks that are usually hurled at them, and seem to tie themselves naturally enough to the 'age of demolition'We, the inheritors of chaos, says Mr Kiesler, must be the architects of a new unity.'
The exhibition dispensed with frames and ignored the convention that galleries have walls. The whole installation was mobile.
People crossed invisible electric currents that caused pictures to come into view; they could turn a handle and view Marcel Duchamp's entire oeuvre through a peep-hole; and lighting put some work into deeper shade.
If this was done today, it would appear radical, but sadly it would not be done today because curators are beings and not artists or architects. Today, the work is not challenged through the space it occupies; it is merely displayed as a means of giving credibility to the work - there is little dialogue.Many artists have become disenchanted with the idea of both the gallery and exhibitions, as there is no interaction that contributes to an ongoing debate.Robert Rauschenberg famously displayed priceless jewellery disappearing into mud in the windows of Cartier in New York.Kiesler created a context for the work that changed the work, and also aided the artists to re-see their own production. This opportunity can only come from a society that allows risk and a closer friendship between artists, writers and designers.
We are in need of a laboratory. The Royal Academy is well-placed to achieve this within its school, and later in practice, but sadly there are no architects or designers in the school, for reasons I cannot understand. Who will provide us with the circumstances that will permit the exploration of a laboratory style of enquiry? Where can we create the reality of Ezra Pound's verse? 'The face oval beneath the glaze; Bright in its suave bounding line, as; Beneath half-watt rays; The eyes turn topaz.'
WA, from the garden hut, Sheringham