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Peter Battistoni, Canwest News Service

So what’s wrong with kitsch, exactly? It’s garish, tasteless and sentimental, of course. Garden gnomes and conventions of Elvis impersonators may be its most outlandish examples, but you can find kitsch every day in every corner of the mass media. Manufacturers of movies, TV shows and best-selling novels build empires on the essence of kitsch — an imitation of human feeling wrapped in a thick layer of cuteness.

Still, if nearly everyone likes it, how bad can it be? “Kitsch is the daily art of our time, as the vase or the hymn was for earlier generations,” said Harold Rosenberg, the great art critic. Milan Kundera argued, “No matter how much we scorn it, kitsch is an integral part of the human condition.” And they were writing before the appearance of “reality” television, which repackages kitschy old conventions of popular drama as public competition, bringing to “real” people the humiliation and cruelty traditionally endured by imaginary losers in mass-culture fiction.

Kitsch has its defenders, often articulate ones. Typically, they find it endearing because full-bore kitsch can be enjoyed in two ways at the same moment, for itself and as a parody of itself. A one-size-fits-all style, it’s designed to satisfy audiences at any level of sophistication.

On the back jacket of Roger Scruton’s new book, Beauty (Oxford), you can find a tiny drawing of a garden gnome. On the front there’s a woman’s face by Sandro Botticelli. The two illustrations point us toward the sharp line that runs through the book: Thoughtful Renaissance beauty is good, brainless gnomes with pointed hats bad.

A book about beauty naturally must deal with its opposite, kitsch. This is not “just a matter of taste,” which much of the world dismisses as ethically neutral. It’s a moral issue, as Scruton goes some distance toward proving.

A British philosopher and an outspoken conservative, he holds the now marginalized view that philosophers should do what most of them long ago stopped even considering: They should try to help the rest of us think about issues that matter.

Aside from his work on philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Baruch Spinoza, he’s written two books on the aesthetics of architecture, one on the aesthetics of music, an analysis of sexual desire, a study of animal rights and now a vigorous, combative account of beauty’s meaning.

We miss the point if we think that beauty in art or literature or music has finished its job when it provides pleasure. Scruton argues, reasonably, that beauty also makes ethical demands on us. Its existence challenges us to “renounce our narcissism and look with reverence on the world.”

Kitsch encourages us to dwell on our own satisfactions and anxieties; it tells us to be pleased with what we have always felt and known. It reaches us at the level where we are easiest to please, a level requiring a minimum of mental effort.

Beauty, on the other hand, demands we consider its meaning. It implies a larger world than the one we deal with every day. Even for those with no religious belief, it suggests the possibility of transcendence. Faith has declined in much of the West, but “art bears enduring witness to the spiritual hunger and immortal longings of our species.” As one reviewer has already pointed out, Scruton’s “perspective is religious without belief.”

At the other end of the scale, kitsch (“that peculiar disease that we can instantly recognise but never precisely define, and whose Austro-German name links it to the mass movements and crowd sentiments of the 20th century”) degrades beauty through the Disneyfication of art. Kitsch trivializes human conflict and demotes feeling into bathos. It’s a mould that forms, as Scruton says, over a living culture.

The moral effect of kitsch may be obscured by sentiment but it’s there. Kitsch, Scruton correctly points out, is a heartless world. It directs emotion away from its proper target towards sugary stereotypes, permitting us to pay passing tribute to love and sorrow without truly feeling them. “It is no accident that the arrival of kitsch on the stage of history coincided with the hitherto unimaginable horrors of trench warfare, of the Holocaust and the Gulag — all of them fulfilling the prophecy that kitsch proclaims, which is the transformation of the human being into a doll, which in one moment we cover with kisses, and in the next tear to shreds.” Leni Riefenstahl’s Triumph of the Will is kitsch’s most exultant moment, its massed Nazis both adored and turned into statues.

As for beauty, the opposite of kitsch, recent decades have not treated it kindly. That’s particularly true in the visual arts. Perhaps a large public still believes in the idea of beauty, but that same public mostly ignores (and is ignored by) the highly professionalized world of art critics, professors, curators — and selfconsciously serious artists. “Beautiful” ceased to be an adjective of praise in the art world decades ago. It’s become the virtue that dares not speak its name. There are now more people writing about art than ever before; what they are not writing about is beauty.

Daily life, in Scruton’s view, has dignity and worth only if embedded in something grand and beautiful. He’s particularly good on homey details, from the design of a door to laying a table. Scruton can acknowledge the beauty of wilderness, but seems more enthusiastic about a garden, wilderness disciplined by human hands, “an extension of the human world, mediating between the built environment and the world of nature.”

Sometimes Scruton tries too hard to reassure us. “Beauty demands to be noticed,” he says. “It speaks to us directly like the voice of an intimate friend.” (If we are listening, he forgets to add.) In any case, he grows optimistic when writing of the possibility of a “community of taste,” which he’s trying to revive. Following Kant, his master in this sphere, he sees beauty as something communally valued. In an ideal world, no one would need to argue for beauty. A consensus would support it.

Scruton takes pleasure in his status as an outsider among philosophers. He’s a conservative populist, always eager to write coherently for a large public, always hopeful that he can bring the people to his side, even when he makes what many will consider outrageously stern demands on them.

Robert Fulfor
National Post

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From a review of Anish Kapoor’s new show at Boston’s ICA:

Mr. Kapoor shouldn’t be considered merely derivative. He combines too many disparate strands of art, thought and culture, and he does it seamlessly. He is a brilliant and unpredictable if sometimes ingratiating synthesizer who has simultaneously refined, repurposed and betrayed some of the dearest beliefs and most despised bêtes noires of late-20th-century sculpture.

It has probably aided this project that Mr. Kapoor, who is 54, did not begin life in a Western culture. He was born and grew up in Mumbai when it was still called Bombay, and in 1973 moved to London, where he studied art and then took up residence. He is a decade or so older than most of the Young British Artists, who took the art world by storm in the early 1990s, and his sensibility is markedly different: he greatly prefers gentle seduction to shock tactics.

His sculpture is in many ways one long ode to the modernist monochrome and its emphasis on purity and perception, enacted in three-dimensional space. It carves, colors and complicates space in different ways, adding interactive aspects and pushing that purity back and forth between votive and technological, East and West.

Mr. Kapoor has paid homage to Minimalism’s faith in weightless volumes, abstraction, specific materials, saturated color and simplicity of form. But he has also explored different materials’ capacities for visual illusion, the biggest of Minimalism’s no-nos and a tendency that encroaches on territory pioneered by installation artists like James Turrell. Mr. Kapoor’s use of dry pigments echoes Process artists like Alan Saret and Wolfgang Laib, although it has a long history in Hindu rituals.

And despite the high degree of abstraction in his art, living form, if only the viewer’s body, is always implied. Perhaps this is why Mr. Kapoor largely bypassed the immense installations and environments favored by so many sculptors of the last 30 years. Instead he has displayed a knack for compressing his various effects into reasonably portable if not exactly domestic-scale objects, even if they are temporarily set into walls or floors. Their scale can make them seem all the more magical, focused and intimate.

Roberta Smith
New York Times

In 1959, the critic Clement Greenberg wrote that “the very best painting, the major painting, of our age is almost exclusively abstract.” It was a tune Greenberg sang early and often. He said similar things throughout the 1940s, and as late as 1967 insisted that “the very best art of this time continues to be abstract.”

Let’s leave the fraught question of whether Greenberg was correct to one side. What we can say with confidence is that the focus of much artistic energy at the time was centered around abstract art.

This has obviously not been the case for some decades. What happened? Several things. On the one hand, there was a powerful upsurge of what Greenberg elsewhere called “novelty art,” the 57 varieties of pop, op, minimalism, and neo-Dada performance art that have infested the art world like a gigantic flea market. On the other hand, there was a quieter but no less powerful return to older artistic sources and traditions — a return, that is to say, to the figure.

It is a curious irony that Andy Warhol — one of the chief perpetrators of novelty art, the man who once said “art is what you can get away with” — should also have had a hand in fomenting the counter-revolution that is now returning artists to a serious concern with traditional figurative techniques. Twenty-five years ago, Warhol helped start The New York Academy of Art, an institution “dedicated to the advancement of figurative painting, sculpture and drawing.”
Who knows? Perhaps Warhol somehow sensed that an art world in which everyone would have his 15 minutes of fame would itself be subject to that 15-minute rule, eventually returning art to the more deliberate rhythms required by technical mastery.

In any event, if large precincts of the art world are still in thrall to “novelty art,” there is also a vital and increasingly prominent current of artistic practice seeking the rehabilitation of aesthetic canons and plastic techniques that were pioneered in the Renaissance and promulgated in the studios of the Beaux Arts.

“Classical Realism” is one name many of the more ambitious new figurative artists embrace. The movement has its home in institutions like The Florence Academy of Art, founded in 1991 by Daniel Graves, which seeks “to provide the highest level of instruction in classical drawing, painting and sculpture.” The Florence Academy has been a fertile source for many other initiatives, including The Harlem Studio of Art in New York, a small but vibrant atelier school presided over by the artist Judy Pond Kudlow. Founded in 2002, it offers rigorous training in modeling, one-point perspective, cast drawing, and all the other technical aspects of art that one used to assume would be part of an artist’s training.

Is technical mastery sufficient by itself to guarantee high artistic accomplishment? The art world has been shouting “No” for decades. That judgment is correct — ultimately — but it leaves out the important codicil that an artist who lacks technical command also lacks competence.

Roger Kimball
The Wall Street Journal


Vitruvian Man, by Leonardo da Vinci

In an early chapter of his interesting new book, Symmetry: A Journey Into the Patterns of Nature, Marcus du Sautoy describes a visit to the Alhambra, the great Moorish palace in Granada, Spain. He and his young son spend an afternoon identifying 14 different types of symmetry represented in paving patterns, ornamentation, and tile work. To the layman, the patterns may look simply like pretty forms, but to du Sautoy, who teaches mathematics at Oxford University, they are expressions of deep geometries that have their own names: gyrations, *333s, miracles, double miracles.

Du Sautoy’s book is about mathematics, but his excursion to the Alhambra is a reminder that symmetry has always been an important part of architecture. Symmetry appears in small things and large: Floor tiles may be laid in symmetrical patterns; the design of door paneling can be symmetrical, and so can window panes. In frontal symmetry, the left side of a building’s facade mirrors the right (the entrance usually being in the middle); in axial-plan symmetry, the rooms on one side of the axis are a mirror image of those on the other. If the women’s restroom is on one side, chances are the men’s is on the other. Sometimes not being symmetrical is important; the fronts and backs of buildings, for example, are intentionally different.

Symmetros is a Greek word, and ancient Greek architecture used symmetry as a basic organizing principle. As did Roman, Roman-esque, and Renaissance. Indeed, it is hard to think of any architectural tradition, Western or non-Western, that does not include symmetry. Symmetry is something that Islamic mosques, Chinese pagodas, Hindu temples, Shinto shrines, and Gothic cathedrals have in common.

Architectural Modernism thumbed its nose at tradition and firmly avoided symmetry. Being symmetrical was considered as retrograde as being, well, decorated. All exemplary Modernist buildings celebrated asymmetry: The wings of Walter Gropius’ Bauhaus shoot off in different directions; the columns of Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona Pavilion are symmetrical, but you can hardly tell, thanks to the randomly spaced walls; nothing in Frank Lloyd Wright’s pinwheeling Fallingwater mirrors anything else; and Le Corbusier’s Ronchamps dispenses with traditional church geometry altogether. The facades of Philip Johnson’s Glass House are rare instances of Modernist symmetry, although all the elements of the interior—kitchen counter, storage wall, and brick cylinder containing the bathroom—are carefully located off-center.

Yet some Modernist pioneers did eventually recognize the evocative power of symmetry. After 1950, for example, Mies’s designs are increasingly symmetrical, both in plan and elevation. The Seagram Building is rigidly axial in plan—and has a front and a back—just like McKim, Mead, and White’s Racquet and Tennis Club across the street. Louis Kahn is a late Modernist who eschewed all architectural traditions except one; he returned to the symmetry of his Beaux-Arts education in the planning of his buildings. Eero Saarinen’s Ingalls Rink at Yale is axially symmetrical, but then hockey, like basketball or football, is played within symmetrical bounds.

Yet today’s expressionist fashion demands architectural asymmetry at any cost. That’s a shame, since architects sacrifice one of their art’s most powerful tools (not all architects—Norman Foster and Renzo Piano often use symmetry to great effect). Without occasional symmetry, all those angles and squiggles start to look the same. The hyperactive geometry of Daniel Libeskind’s addition to the Denver Art Museum, for example, can quickly become tiresome. The fey asymmetry of SANAA’s much-heralded New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York loses its impact after several viewings. A welcome exception is Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. While the exterior and the lobby are whimsically composed in standard Gehry fashion, the hall itself, like most concert halls, is perfectly symmetrical about its longitudinal axis. I don’t know if this was done for acoustical reasons or because the architect recognized the inherent calmness that axial symmetry affords.

Why is architectural symmetry so satisfying? As Leonardo da Vinci’s famous drawing demonstrated, it reflects the human body, which has a right side and a left, a back and a front, the navel in the very center. Du Sautoy writes that the human mind seems constantly drawn to anything that embodies some aspect of symmetry. He observes that “[a]rtwork, architecture and music from ancient times to the present day play on the idea of things which mirror each other in interesting ways.” When we walk around a Baroque church, we experience many changing views, but when we walk down the main aisle—the line along which the mirror images of the left and right sides meet—we know that we are in a special relationship to our surroundings. And when we stand below the dome of the crossing, at the confluence of four symmetries, we know we have arrived.

Witold Rybczynski
Slate

Olafur Eliasson, the Danish-Icelandic inventor and engineer of minimalist spectacle, is so much better than anyone else in today’s ranks of crowd-pleasing installational artists that there should be a nice, clean, special word other than “art” for what he does, to set him apart. There won’t be. “Art” has become the promiscuous catchall for anything artificial that meets no practical need but which we like, or are presumed or supposed to like. Still, play with the thought at “Take Your Time,” the Eliasson retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art and at MOMA’s affiliate, P.S. 1. By the way, please make the P.S. 1 trek—three stops on the No. 7 train from Grand Central. That part of the show details and deepens a sense of Eliasson’s creative integrity, which may remain slightly in question amid his stunts on West Fifty-third Street: an electric fan swaying on a cord from the ceiling of the atrium, rooms awash in different kinds of peculiarly colored light, a wall of exotic (and odorous) moss, a curtain of falling water optically immobilized by stroboscopic flashes. I had a little epiphany in Queens while looking at Eliasson’s contemplative suites of photographs of Icelandic landscapes, seascapes, glaciers, icebergs, and caves: here’s someone for whom beauty is normal. His character suggests both the mental discipline of a scientist and the emotional responsibility of a poet. If leadership in public-spirited art extravaganzas were a political office—and it sometimes feels as if it were—he’d have my vote.

Peter Schjeldahl
New Yorker

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Zhu Pei worked with a manufacturer of fiberglass-reinforced plastic to develop a translucent fiberglass block for his Blur Hotel in Beijing. The architect wanted the building, which will sit near the East Gate of the Forbidden City, to glow like a Chinese lantern. (Courtesy of Architectural Record)

Say the words “new Chinese architecture” and what springs to mind? Ambitious skyscrapers, soaring apartment blocks, Olympian designs in central Beijing by celebrated international architects, and the unbridled kitsch of suburban estates like Thames Town, a bizarre mock-English development near Shanghai.

But even while great – and likable – tracts of old Chinese cities continue to come tumbling down in the names of change and modernisation, the country’s up-and-coming practices are developing intelligent new forms of specifically Chinese design, even if they do draw from the west from time to time. Whatever other glamorous projects these talented young architects are beginning to scoop up, it is mostly housing for ordinary people that concerns them – that, and a desire to change the direction of Chinese architectural development, all too often a soulless juggernaut ripping the hearts from old towns and cities.

Zhu Pei is one architect at the forefront of this new wave. In his busy Beijing studio, Zhu shows me ideas for the redevelopment of one of the city’s “hutongs”. Made up of tangling alleys brimming with workaday life, Beijing’s hutongs are fast disappearing. “This is the type of district most people lived in before the towerblocks arrived,” says Zhu. “Naturally, many people were happy to move out to new apartments because the hutongs were old, poor and often unsanitary. But the hutongs are built on a human scale and can be very beautiful. What we propose is reconstruction: adding gentle modern buildings where necessary, to improve them and make ordinary people like them again. We want the present to connect with the past – we want to perform an urban acupuncture on Chinese cities.”

This isn’t easy. As Zhu knows, it is far easier to design ambitious new museums and sporting venues than it is to construct modest, modern homes in age-old city courtyards and alleys, especially when such sites are being hungrily eyed up by state-sponsored property developers. Educated at Tsinghua University and the University of California, Zhu – who set up Studio Zhu Pei in 2005 with architects Wu Tong – was the man behind Digital Beijing, the all-but-completed control centre for the 2008 Olympics, as well an origami-like art pavilion in Abu Dhabi that will stand alongside monuments by Zaha Hadid, Jean Nouvel and Frank Gehry. He is also working on designs for the Guggenheim Beijing and created the city’s Kapok hotel, with its translucent screens and shimmering courtyards.

The Guardian

From a review of the show, “Michelangelo, Vasari and Their Contemporaries: Drawings From the Uffizi” which runs through April 20 at the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City.

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The Punishment of Titius by Poppi

Michelangelo was a terrible kvetch. His back forever ached; popes were slow with the paychecks; the local food was always an insult, a disgrace. No one worked half as hard as he did, and slacker artists made him nuts. “Draw, Antonio; draw, Antonio; draw and don’t waste time,” he scrawled on a sketch he gave to a lackadaisical young pupil and studio assistant, Antonio Mini, in 1524…

For Michelangelo drawing was the most practical and personal medium; it was a laboratory, a diary, an end in itself. If you could do a perfect drawing, he came to think, why bother to turn it into a painting or sculpture? Perfection in any form was the goal…

The matter of influence is important. It is one reason that 16th-century Florence is usually cast in art history books as something like the Age of Michelangelo and the Michelangelettes, or Michelangelini if you prefer, referring to the many students and emulators who toiled in his shadow. The title of the Morgan show seems to echo this interpretation, though the curator, Annamaria Petrioli Tofani, a former director of the Uffizi in Florence, has done something more interesting. Through her selection of artists she has drawn a picture of Florentine art not as a heroic, strictly top-down hierarchy but as a collective endeavor.

Holland Cotter
New York Times

This post is in honor of my daughter Kellin, now a resident of Florence and in the process of becoming an expert on all things Mannerist.

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“All my work is related to trying to recreate spontaneous feeling of plants in nature. The idea is not to copy nature, but to give a feeling of nature,” said Piet Oudolf.

On a cold January afternoon in this tiny village near the German border, the garden designer Piet Oudolf put on a heavy coat and led the way out of the 1850s farmhouse he shares with his wife, Anja, and into his garden. After a few steps he stopped and pointed with pride at a stalk of dead fennel standing in a bed of moribund, wheat-colored joe-pye weed. “Normally, people who garden would have cut this back by now,” he said. “The skeletons of the plants are for me as important as the flowers.”

For Mr. Oudolf, in fact, the real test of a well-composed garden is not how nicely it blooms but how beautifully it decomposes. “It’s not about life or death,” he said, admiring the dark, twisting lines of the fennel. “It’s about looking good.”

Over three decades, Mr. Oudolf’s sometimes unconventional ideas about what looks good have helped make him a star in Europe —where his work has inspired an “ecology meets design” gardening movement called New Wave Planting by its followers — and have also begun to win him fans and jobs in the United States. He has done the planting design for important new gardens in Millennium Park in Chicago and the Battery in New York, and for the park that will cover the elevated High Line rail bed in Lower Manhattan when it opens in September. These landscapes, like all his projects, embody and advertise his fundamental aesthetic doctrine: that a plant’s structure and form are more important than its color.

“He’s gotten away from the soft pornography of the flower,” said Charles Waldheim, the director of the landscape architecture program at the University of Toronto. “He’s interested in the life cycle, how plant material ages over the course of the year,” and how it relates to the plants around it. Like a good marriage, his compositions must work well together as its members age.

“Most people think in a formal way: if you put A and B with C, it will look like this — but only at a certain moment in time,” said James Corner, chairman of the department of landscape architecture at the University of Pennsylvania and director of Field Operations, the New York landscape design firm working on the High Line with Mr. Oudolf and the architecture office of Diller Scofidio & Renfro. Mr. Corner said that one reason he asked Mr. Oudolf to do the project’s planting design is that the way he selects and composes plants “is thought through not only in terms of summer, but also in terms of winter — all 12 months are interesting.”

Sally McGrane
New York Times

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Ladder for Booker T. Washington, by Martin Puryear

On Sunday, when the Museum of Modern Art’s 30-year retrospective of the sculptor Martin Puryear opens, the New York art world will find itself in what may be an unprecedented situation. For the first time in recent memory — maybe ever — two of the city’s most prominent museums will be presenting large, well-done exhibitions of living African-American artists. The Whitney Museum’s 15-year survey of Kara Walker’s work has been searing hearts, minds and eyes since it opened early last month. Now it is Mr. Puryear’s turn to weave his finely nuanced yet insistent spell…

Mr. Puryear is a formalist in a time when that is something of a dirty word, although his formalism, like most of the 1970s variety, is messed with, irreverent and personal. His formalism taps into a legacy even larger than race: the history of objects, both utilitarian and not, and their making. From this all else follows, namely human history, race included, along with issues of craft, ritual, approaches to nature and all kinds of ethnic traditions and identities.

These references seep out of his highly allusive, often poetic forms in waves, evoking the earlier Modernism of Brancusi, Arp, Noguchi and Duchamp, but also carpentry, basket weaving, African sculpture and the building of shelter and ships. His work slows you down and makes you consider its every detail as physical fact, artistic choice and purveyor of meaning…

The MoMA show, which has been organized by John Elderfield, the museum’s chief curator of painting and sculpture, is quite beautiful and conveys Mr. Puryear’s achievement persuasively. With 40 works on the sixth floor and 5 more on the second-floor atrium level, it displays a lack of repetition unusual in these product-oriented times. Of the five in the atrium, two are attenuated sculptures that reach upward several stories, making new use of that tall, awkward space. “Ladder for Booker T. Washington” from 1996 is a wobbly ladder whose drastic foreshortening makes it seem to stretch to infinity.

It suggests that the climb to success is deceptively long — and perhaps longer for blacks than whites. But its limitless vista also has a comedic joy worthy of Miró.

Mr. Puryear once said of Minimalism, “I looked at it, I tasted it, and I spat it out.” But he has taken a lot from it, and used it better and more variously than many of his contemporaries.

While rejecting Minimalism’s ideal of being completely nonreferential, he said yes to its wholeness, stasis and hollowness, to sculpture as an optical, imagistic presence that nonetheless can’t be known completely without walking around it. Above all he applied the Minimalist embrace of new materials in a retroactive manner: using wood in so many different ways that it feels like a new material, both physically and poetically.

Roberta Smith
New York Times

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Paul Klee Museum in Berne, by Renzo Piano

The notion of a ‘light modernity’ is suggestive. ‘There is one theme that is very important for me,’ Piano remarks: ‘Lightness (and obviously not in reference only to the physical mass of objects).’ He traces this preoccupation from his early experiments with ‘weightless structures’ to his continued investigations of ‘immaterial elements’ like wind and light. Lightness is also the message of his primal scene as a designer, a childhood memory of sheets billowing in the breeze on a Genoese rooftop, a vision that conjures up the shapely beauty of classical drapery as well as contemporary sailing boats as architectural ideals. For Piano lightness is thus a value that bears on the human as well as on the architectural – it concerns graceful comportment in both realms. As a practical imperative, however, lightness confirms the drive, already strong in modern architecture, toward the refinement of materials and techniques, and yet now this refinement seems pledged less to healthy, open spaces and transparent, rational structures, as in modern design, than to aesthetic effects and decorous touches. A light architecture, then, is a sublimated architecture, one that is particularly fitting (that word again) for art museums and the like.

Such lightness is also pronounced in the Museum of Modern Art in New York as renovated by Yoshio Taniguchi in 2004. Its importance to contemporary design was also first signalled at MoMA in a 1995 show called ‘Light Construction’ in which Piano was represented by his Kansai terminal. The curator, Terence Riley, took his cue for the show from another Italian, Italo Calvino, who in his last book, Six Memos for the Next Millennium (1988), proclaimed the special virtues of lightness for the new age: ‘I look to science,’ Calvino wrote, ‘to nourish my visions in which all heaviness disappears.’ The attraction of this dream is clear: it is part of the promise of modernity that free movement will lead to freedom. Viewed suspiciously, however, it is little more than the old fantasy of dematerialisation and disembodiment retooled for a cyber era, and it has become a familiar ideologeme to us all – though it still seems odd that architecture, long deemed the most material and bodily of the arts, would wish to advance it. Viewed even more suspiciously, this lightness is bound up not only with the fantasy of human disembodiment but with the fact of social derealisation: the lightness of the unreal under Communist regimes for Milan Kundera, who proposed this sense of the term before the fall of the Wall, yet under capitalist regimes for the rest of us. This kind of lightness is no ideal at all; it is ‘unbearable’. Perhaps in the end the two notions of lightness must be thought together, dialectically – that is, if dialectics has not suffered its own final lightening, as many people now seem to think.

Hal Foster
London Review of Books