02 April 2020

Coming up in April

Despite the current situation, which has led to the closing of museums and institutions, we still intend to flag up the events and exhibitions that we feel are interesting, in the name of culture.

The revolutionary 35 years of the Campana brothers. The Museum of Modern Art (MAM) in Rio de Janeiro is holding a major Fernando and Humberto Campana retrospective, entitled Campana Brothers – 35 Revolutions, curated by Francesca Alfano Miglietti. A 1,800 square metre space is showcasing one-off and mass production pieces, ventures into craftsmanship and sculpture. It is an enormous space and an impactful approach, but nothing will ever match the aesthetic tremors that accompanied the eruption of the Brazilian brothers onto the global design scene in the late ‘80s. At the time the original, popular, local and political words of Humberto and Fernando insinuated themselves among the dregs of bourgeois post-modernism and the refined beginnings of minimalism. The brothers were totally unlike any other designers, oblivious to fashions and trends, retrieving many of the materials needed for their work from the street (years before recycling became popular). Working alone initially, then with the legions of disadvantaged people whom they helped and educated, the Campanas worked with unwanted wooden slats from the favelas (the Favela armchair, 1991), cardboard packaging (the Papel sofa, 1993), watering hoses (the Anemona chair, 2000) and cheap stuffed toys (the Banquete chair, 2002) and so on in an unstoppable and fantastic crescendo. Then when the Campana vocabulary had become the current vocabulary, in Brazil at least, Fernando and Humberto had another surprise in store for us, inclining towards highly-skilled craftsmanship (porcelain, blown glass, bronze), here too pre-empting and conditioning so-called “art design.” Basically, the Campana brothers were, unfailingly, true revolutionaries!

FormaFantasma take on Caravaggio and Bernini. An unprecedented Caravaggio+Bernini show is on at the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, until 7th June. Hand-in-hand with the unusual curatorial choice, made by Fritz Scholten, Gudrun Swoboda and Stefan Weppelmann, is the decision to entrust the exhibition design to Simone Farresin and Andrea Trimarchi, otherwise known as FormaFantasma. Counter to the Baroque density and unique nature of the works, the project draws on emptiness and repetition – there are only 70 works taking up a good 1,000 square metres. The lighting system is flat and uniform. Small objects stand in isolation on great pedestals or quite the opposite, with serried ranks of bases yielding up families of pieces. Great fabric backdrops, their colours meticulously chosen (old rose, powder blue, terracotta, straw yellow and periwinkle) hang behind every single painting. The display encourages visitors to “take their time” and examine details and particularities thoroughly, avoiding on one hand the predictable pairing of Baroque, dark tones and dramatic lighting and, on the other, the “timed visit syndrome,” a virus that is currently rampant in museums. Lastly, don’t miss the catalogue with graphic design by Irma Boom.

The beauty of the province. An exhibition of Guido Guidi’s work entitled Dalle Cose is on at the Italian Cultural Institute in Madrid until 8th May. The great but equally elusive Italian photographer is almost 80, and has photographed the plains around Cesena unceasingly – the land of his birth, the Po delta and the anonymous buildings. In so doing, he has forced to us see aesthetically invisible landscapes and “things.” Even when working on great architecture, that of his beloved Scarpa (Guidi says: “Mi son messo nelle scarpe di Carlo Scarpa”/ “I put myself in Carlo Scarpa’s shoes”) rather than concentrating on the iconic monument, he chose to focus on the amazing light on the walls, even until the moon went up, because moonlight in the province is splendid too. His captivating photos of the moon can also be seen at Linea di Confine in Rubiera (Reggio Emilia) from 18th April to 24th May, and have been gathered into a book, Lunario 1968-1999, by the London publisher Mack.

What if Rome hadn’t made it?? For almost a thousand years (between the 9th and 1st centuries Before Christ) from the Po to Campania in Italy, there was an alternative civilisation: the Etruscans. The Archaeological Museum in Bologna is hosting the exhibition The Etruscans. Journey Through the Land of the Rasna (the name by which they were actually known!). The largest exhibition to date contains 1,4000 findings from 60 different museums, but even they are not sufficient to solve the famous mystery surrounding the Etruscans. Where did they come from? Could they have been indigenous? What was their relationship to Greece? Why, if the last of the Roman kings were Etruscan, did all the Etruscans vanish, becoming absorbed into the Roman civilisation? They believed in the meaning of lightning and practised divining by the entrails of animals, so did they foresee the end of their world? These unsolved puzzles will make visitors to the Bologna exhibition want to take off straight away for the remote, enchanted border lands between Tuscany and Lazio – they wouldn’t regret it!

Grafton Street, Dublin. Grafton Street, an unremarkable street really, has become one of the most famous in the world. In 1978, when Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara were mulling over what to call their new studio, eschewing names and surnames, they decided to call it after their address. Since then they have been known simply as Grafton Architects, and now Grafton Architects has won the 2020 Pritzker Prize, basically the highest possible award in the architectural profession. The motivation of the jury included this: “pioneers in a field that has traditionally been and still is a male-dominated profession” and “beacons to others as they forge their exemplary professional path.” It is worth remembering that of the 46 architects honoured in this way, only three had been women: Zaha Hadid, Kazuyo Sejima and Carme Pigem, and now two come along at once: Yvonne and Shelley! Rigorous designers, with a predilection for heavy, contemporary materials such as stone and cement, channelling a contextual look that is always anti- gracious and anti-localist. This is borne out by the Milanese who pass the extension to the Bocconi University on a daily basis. Completed in 2008, the building is successful proof of an architectural force that might wryly but rightly be described as “100% masculine,” but also gives great pause for reflection!

Rem Koolhaas: from delirious cities to agricultural landscapes. Countryside, The Future: The Guggenheim Museum in New York (currently closed because of coronavirus) is showcasing Rem Koolhaas’s latest venture with AMO until 20th August 2020. The Dutch mega-star who, in less challenging times, taught us how to interpret a Delirious New York, now seems to have beaten a retreat and has joined the ranks of those tackling the only, vital issue in contemporary architecture, i.e. nature, in forms as varied as vertical forests, climate change and the countryside. “vertical forest”, climate change. Frank Lloyd Wright’s unforgettable spiral is thus fully covered with questions, sketches, elevations, data, outlines and graphics. A mass of information that would be hard to decipher even if it were published in book form, becomes truly impenetrable in its spatial ostentation. A Seventies graph (the older people among us will remember certain town planning theses of the time) alternates with the most recent infographic and, if one could only see the wood for the trees, could be seen as Koolhaas’s own nostalgia for certain unpolluted Swiss landscapes of the past! The thesis seems to be that in a not-so very far-off future (2050), the countryside will no longer exist, having been turned into back-offices or warehouses for the megalopolises.

Ciao, Vittorio! Vittorio Gregotti died in Milan on 15th March 2020. Born in Novara on 10th August 1927, he became one of the leading voices of post-War architectural debate. Strongly influenced by Ernesto Nathan Rogers, under whom he studied, he set up his own studio in 1974, which was more of a coterie than a professional enclave. An articulate, but extremely complex intellectual, he ran Casabella for 14 years, from 1982 to 1996. Theory and intense design activity ran side by side in Gregotti, and despite his theories about context, over time he honed an essential and easily repeated, geometric and volumetric architectural form. The resulting look was often “fortress-like” – at times successful (Belem Cultural Centre, Lisbon, 1988) and at others retaliatory (Milan Bicocca University, 1997). Once a bitter enemy of Gio Ponti, even recently he felt unable to pass up the opportunity to describe a historical and critical rehabilitation project by the great Milanese architect as pointless. His death leaves Italian intellectuals deprived of a fierce and timely dissenter and, as well we know, it’s much easier to build theories when faced with a powerful antagonist. Ciao Vittorio!

Scrivere Disegnando (Writing by Drawing). The CAC Geneva Contemporary Art Centre, in collaboration with the Lausanne-based Collection de l’Art Brut, is holding an exhibition that explores the qualities of the act of writing over and above the actual semantic meaning of a text. Curated by Andrea Bellini and Sarah Lombardi, the exhibition runs until 3rd May 2020. It shows that, while sometimes halting and sometimes incisive, script has had a crucial role to play across the ages and religions and, in modern-day life, is needed “regardless.” Alighiero Boetti, Bruno Munari and Maria Lai are just some of the great Italians whose work is on show in the exhibition, illustrating the concept much more plainly than the written word. Alfabeti Immaginari di Popoli Sconosciuti [Imaginary Alphabets of Unknown People], Libri Cuciti [Stitched Books] and Segno e Disegno [Sign and Design] spell out a different use of words, more ironic, more iconic and, unlike common language, open to each of our different interpretations.

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