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Outsider criticism

American art critic Hal Foster discusses his forays into architectural criticism

Hal Foster: Chat Rooms, Archival Spaces and Other Conundra in Contemporary Art, Architectural Association, London WC1, 30 October

Pushing 6’ 4”, Hal Foster is folded into a chair in a room at the Architectural Association, London. In a half an hour he’s due to give a lecture as part of the AA’s Curators and Critics series, discussing ‘Chat Rooms, Archival Spaces and Other Conundra in Contemporary Art’. But for now the art critic is happy to discuss the ‘promiscuity of collaboration’ between art and architecture.

Foster, an art and archaeology professor at Princeton, has recently turned towards architectural criticism, with articles for ArtForum and the London Review of Books. This extends an interest he originally formed in the late 1970s. ‘When I first came to New York some of the first people I met were Peter Eisenman, Kenneth Frampton, Bernard Tschumi, and so on,’ he says.

Foster was led to architecture through art. ‘In the public imagination, architects have taken over the positions of form- and imagemakers, and the attention, good and bad, that artists used to receive has been given to them’. He dates the origins of this crossover to the mid 1980s. As art expanded as a branch of the culture industry, the demand for new galleries increased. This demand for signature buildings for art’s sake came at a time when Western Europe was retooling old industrial sites for new economic climes.

The absorption of art into the culture industry, and architecture’s collusion in this, is his concern – with the concurrent creeping ubiquity of entertainment encroaching on the art world and eroding the critical faculty. ‘I have been out with younger friends, and after discussing the pitfalls or failings of a museum they have interjected, ‘But wasn’t it fun?’, as if that is enough. Well, it isn’t,’ he says.

In his articles on Norman Foster, Renzo Piano and Zaha Hadid, Foster explores his fascination with what he refers to as a ‘new wave of modernity’. What is this new modernity? ‘What I had in mind was the sense of a secondary or reflexive modernity,’ says Foster, expanding on a concept coined by sociologists Ulrich Beck, Scott Lash and Anthony Giddens. ‘Industrial modernity is an archaeological past that contemporary modernity wants to renovate,’ he continues. ‘At the same time architects like Foster and Piano are working out a global style of new infrastructure with extraordinary transportation hubs, such as Calatrava’s World Trade Centre and Piano’s Osaka airport, which embody the new modernity’

Foster feels a critical environment is lacking in architecture. He says: ‘It is too small an ecology for critical discussion. Too much architectural discourse is really theoretical publicity.’ He also believes he occupies a privileged position. ‘Even though I’m not an outsider, I am an outlier: my livelihood doesn’t depend on this. So I have a little more license to say critical things.

‘I’m a bit of an amateur,’ he adds, ‘and to be honest, I want to remain an amateur. It’s too important to be left to the professionals.’

Resume: The other Foster objects to archi-tainment

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