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REVIEW

1960s redux: Re-imagining the Avant-Garde at the Betts Project

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The latest exhibition at the Betts Project gallery in London EC1 focuses on work by contemporary architects and designers that reflects the radical architectural Big Bang of the 1960s and 1970s avant-garde

Consisting mostly of prints – digital, etching and lithography – with a few models thrown in for good measure, this small exhibition covers an impressive mix of imagery and idea.

It includes work from some of the most influential individuals and groups who mixed architectural theory with practice in the 1960s and 70s, such as Peter Eisenman, Aldo Rossi and Ant Farm, together with that of contemporary artists, designers and architects.

Works include a beautifully delicate line drawing by Belgian practice Traumnovelle, a watercolour-like landscape from Sam Jacob with a brooding black sun on the horizon, an atmospheric golden vision in gouache and oil pastel by WAI Thinktank and an etching of a fanciful walking tea urn by Pablo Bronstein. 

Other works in the show are by practitioners such as Jimenez Lai/Bureau Spectacular, Nemestudio, Damjan Jovanovic, Office Kovacs, Perry Kulper, Neil Spiller, UrbanLab and Warehouse of Architecture and Research (WAR). Everywhere the shadow of Archizoom, John Hejduk and, above all, Superstudio lies heavy. 

Curated by Matthew Butcher and Luke Caspar Pearson, who both have work in the show, the idea for the exhibition developed out of the recently published and similarly titled issue of Architectural Design that they guest-edited. The theme of both the issue and the exhibition is one that Butcher believes has a particular relevance now.

He says: ’I’d noticed that there was a critical mass of people over the past five years or so who seemed to be referencing this specific period, students in particular.’

’There are strong parallels between then and now, the sense of society being changed by tech, of political turmoil and environmental concerns,’ says co-curator Pearson. ‘I think also there’s a feeling today that any sense of a philosophic basis to what we as architects do has been missing from recent practice, in particular with ideas like parametricism, and that people are looking for this again.’ 

While parallels between the 1960s and today come through in the show, they arise not so much in terms of political engagement but more through a sense of play – even absurdity. This is work that reflects a slightly parallel universe of architectural theory, rather than practice in the real world.

As such, and as a celebration of the joy to be had in creating images and capriccios for the sake of it, it makes for a rich and enjoyable show. 

The exhibition runs until 21 December.

bettsproject.com

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