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MoMA exhibition highlights how artists have used the house as a means to explore universal topics
Preston Scott Cohen. Torus House, Old Chatham, New York. 1999–2003. Model: laser-cut paper laminate, epoxy resin, paint, and wood laminate, 10 x 36 x 31″ (25.4 x 91.4 x 78.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. David Childs and Tracy Gardner Purchase Funds. © 2015 Preston Scott Cohen.

NEW YORK, NY.- In the 1920s, Frederick Kiesler started to sketch designs for an “endless architecture” that would collapse the boundaries between art and architecture. His investigations led him in the late 1940s to the Endless House, a single-family residence that was both a never-ending design process and a manifesto for a new approach to dwelling. The first model for the project, on view here, is streamlined and egg-shaped, with gently curving interiors that blur distinctions between floor, ceiling, and walls so as to provide a flexible layout. By 1960, Kiesler conceived the Endless House as an organic arrangement of cave-like spaces, as seen in an eightfoot-long model built for The Museum of Modern Art’s influential Visionary Architecture exhibition. The house’s sensuous interiors were illustrated in enormous photo murals, represented here in archival photographs. The spaces were meant to combine different textures, bathing pools, and a prismatic color lighting technology in order to address both the spiritual and the physical needs of the inhabitants. Radically re-envisioning the possibilities of dwelling, Kiesler wrote that “the house must be a cosmos in itself, a transformer of life-forces.”

For Frederick Kiesler, the architectural model was a creative tool in its own right, independently of the built project. Following this idea, groundbreaking single-family houses by modern and contemporary architects are presented here through their models. Drawn from MoMA’s collection, these designs demonstrate a particular willingness to push the discipline of architecture in new directions. The earliest example here, and one contemporaneous with the Endless House, is Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Farnsworth House (1945–51). Mies shared Kiesler’s interest in an architecture that is unified with nature, but differed in his ideas about the materials and design strategies appropriate to a modern expression of such unity. Other innovative projects include a house engineered as a visionary structural shell and another that is a hybrid collection of sculptural forms. There are houses that blur divisions between public and private, houses that embrace contemporary live-work habits, and houses that invite new construction methods that incorporate digital technologies. Together, these designs reveal the degree to which the single-family dwelling has been an unexpected and fertile laboratory for architectural experimentation.

As a familiar presence in our everyday lives, tied to the experience of belonging, the house plays a large role in the popular imagination. In the works displayed along these walls, artists emphasize the complex social, political, and cultural meanings the house embodies as an archetypal space that mediates our relationship to the world. In doing so, they often turn to recognizable architectural types— the pitched roof, the suburban lawn, the Victorian terraced house—so as to address shared values. Martha Rosler and Sigmar Polke draw on popular media to explore the house as a symbol of a middle-class, consumer-driven lifestyle. Works by Louise Bourgeois, Sandile Goje, and Laurie Simmons mine the cultural and gender roles that characterize domestic life. Performance acts by Gordon Matta-Clark, Rachel Whiteread, and Alex Schweder and Ward Shelley publicly invert and make visible private interiors. Thomas Schütte and Kevin Appel borrow existing architectural elements and styles to imagine houses for new kinds of purposes. Wearable, portable, and inflatable shelters by Lucy Orta, Andrea Zittel, and Michael Rakowitz, respectively, highlight the precariousness of a fixed definition of home given today’s conditions of global migration and urban instability.

Recent acquisitions by the Museum’s Department of Architecture and Design present contemporary approaches to ideas of dwelling. New York-based practice Asymptote Architecture is inspired by mathematical models and the seamless geometries of yachts, cars, and airplanes. Similarly to Kiesler’s Endless House, their proposal for a single-family house near Helsinki culminated a design process in which organic forms evolved through film sets and furniture designs into an experimental architectural expression. Chilean architect Smiljan Radic ´ designed Casa para el Poema del Ángulo Recto through a process of bricolage, using forms drawn from different artistic practices. The house combines a reinforced concrete vault inspired by a print by Le Corbusier with a fragrant cedar-lined interior that Radic ´ tested in an earlier installation. In contrast, German artist and architect Annett Zinsmeister creates environments using images of the facades of Plattenbau— housing made in the former German Democratic Republic with inexpensive, prefabricated concrete panels. Not unlike SITE, whose work is also displayed here, she employs the visual logic of massproduced housing systems to create a disturbing spatial experience that comments on the utopian vision of a home for everyone.

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