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Carpenter Center presents an exhibition and critical engagement with its iconic modernist building
Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Harvard University. Exhibition model + photo by Andrew Ferentinos and Timothy Cooke.
CAMBRIDGE, MASS.- The Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University is architect Le Corbusier’s only building in North America, and one of the last to be completed during his lifetime. In 2013, the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts celebrates its 50th anniversary.

On this occasion, artists Katarina Burin and Amie Siegel, both faculty members of the Department of Visual and Environmental Studies, conceived of the exhibition Brute. Engaging with the Carpenter Center building, Brute encompasses a set of new commissions by six international artists, a speculative exhibition model deploying objects and artworks from the Harvard University collections, as well as a series of events and performances. Burin and Siegel use the exhibition form itself as non-hierarchical process of discovery, inquiry, and collaboration. The exhibition is on view at the Carpenter Center, in the Main and Sert galleries, and throughout the building, from February 14–April 7, 2013.

The focus of the exhibition is on a set of specially-conceived works by internationally acclaimed artists Nairy Baghramian, Anna Barriball, Barbara Bloom, Katarina Burin, Alexandra Leykauf, and Amie Siegel. These artists cross generations and represent diverse practices that reinterpret design and architectural history in playful and ambiguous ways, often subtly undermining predisposed ideas of genius and historical importance. The circulation and visibility of design reverberates throughout the exhibition, as do concerns of gender, collections, archives, (heroic) architecture, and cinematic space—the here and elsewhere of modernism. The role of the document as “fact” versus fiction, and the formal gestures of remaking, re-printing, and repurposing become an analogue to the building’s varied use over time. Several participating artists have worked collaboratively and often involve cross-disciplinary practices — from sculpture, drawing, and photography to film projection, video, and modes of display. An audio recording of “Clairvoyance,” a short story by J.A. Gibson, playing simultaneously in the Carpenter Center and on Alvar Aalto’s 1960s “Listening Station” in Harvard’s Woodberry Poetry Room, doubles the real and imagined space of a fictional architect.

Drawing on the tremendous yet often hidden wealth of the Harvard University collections, the exhibition sets artworks in dialogue with objects and images. A custom-designed architectural model of the Carpenter Center serves as a fictional double of the exhibition itself. Since early 2013, the Harvard Art Museums placed a moratorium on loans of artworks from HAM collections due to the ongoing renovation of the Fogg Museum, the Carpenter Center’s closest neighbor. The fictional exhibition presented in the model is populated by scale reproductions of artworks in the actual show as well as absent, desired works from the Harvard Art Museum collections. Simultaneously architectural model, abstraction of the building, and conjectural scaled-down exhibition (contained in the show that it reproduces), this Carpenter Center replica is a lateral unveiling of the exhibition’s oblique, democratic approach.

performances—which further the exhibition’s propositional discourse with the building. An evening series of “film happenings” will take place in the Main Lecture Hall, where Le Corbusier’s long unused series of parallel projection windows will be reactivated in a multiple projection event. The program will also include events relating to the Bauhaus-inspired curricular history of the Carpenter Center as the department of “Light and Communication”—“re-staging” events that in fact never occurred, further blurring boundaries between fiction, fact, anecdote, gossip and the tall tales of history.

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