Gift of the gab
Counterpoint: The Architecture of Daniel Libeskind
At the Jewish Museum Berlin, until 14 December.
Organised in collaboration with the Barbican Art Galleries, London, where it can be seen from 16 September-23 December 2004 With only a handful of built projects under his belt when he won the Ground Zero competition in February, Daniel Libeskind subverted expectation and convention, both personally and architecturally, promising the world something new. Faced with a radical reworking of the role of the 'client' in such an emotionally charged project, Libeskind sees his Ground Zero proposal as 'bringing these seemingly contradictory viewpoints into an unexpected unity'.
His role as architect swells to encompass that of celebrity, project spokesperson and cultural theorist. When asked, at the opening of this exhibition, about the status of his Ground Zero project, in light of criticism and reports that his contribution could be reduced, he stressed that the act of creating architecture is concerned with believing in the project's potential; creating something tangible out of abstract ideas and drawings.
Ever the optimist, Libeskind argues that architecture is about suspending disbelief.
Marking the second anniversary of the opening of the Jewish Museum Berlin, 'Counterpoint' is an ambitious retrospective of Libeskind's life and work.
Some of his early drawings, Micromegas and Chamberworks are on show, highlighting his unique graphic style, and revealing connection and disconnection in the planes of horizontal space. The drawings are enigmatic and beautiful, bringing musical and mathematical logic to experimental threedimensional space. When asked how these early works related to his realised projects, Libeskind replied that he has always been doing architecture - now people have started building it. 'Things develop in unexpected ways, ' is his superb understatement, as he collects commissions across the globe.
With a minimal, black and white aesthetic, the exhibition panels feature 15 of Libeskind's projects, illustrated with plans, sections, sketches, architectural models and photographs. Sensuous sepia-coloured textiles hang from the walls, creating layers, transparency and drama. Black sandpaper slices across the floor, in fragments, and wraps the plinths that display the models, making them appear solid. The monochrome display is highlighted by flecks of colour in the architectural models and films.
The exhibition includes an interactive musical instrument, which can be played by selecting sounds that a computer then pieces together as a composition. The last room features screenings of dance and musical performances inspired by and created for the museum's architecture.
'Counterpoint' was designed by the project architect of the Jewish Museum Berlin, and the schemes were selected by Studio Libeskind. This collaboration is evident, as the exhibition sympathetically frames Libeskind's projects, creating a dialogue with his work. It seeks to highlight Libeskind's relationship to other arts - his inclusive and multidisciplinary approach, taking inspiration from music, history, theatre, dance and philosophy.
Cecil Balmond has compared the structure of Libeskind's extension for the Victoria and Albert Museum to 'a Hitchcockian staircase in Ve r t i g o '. Libeskind's work transforms dramatic narrative qualities into structure. The experience of the Jewish Museum requires you to suspend disbelief. The walls are sloping, and the windows are dramatic shards of light, incised into the facade.
While Libeskind has built such a limited body of work, and is still known primarily as a theorist and academic, this will all change as he is increasingly entrusted with the building of important monuments and landmarks. He passionately believes in the power of architecture to begin to heal wounds as deep as the persecution of Jews during the Holocaust, and the fall of the Twin Towers. In truth, nothing can heal these wounds, but Libeskind, the self-confessed optimist, will certainly try.
Terri Whitehead is a freelance architectural journalist and contributor to Student Union, the AJ's new student website, which launches in October