Even though we’re on the verge of discussions regarding whether postmodernism as a historical period has reached an end or we’ve been living in a modern world of transformation all along; postmodernism has already become a part of our cultural terminology and even its ending has been announced.
Hal Foster’s “The Art Architecture Complex”, a significant publication about the interchanging positions of artistic and architectural applications, has been translated to Turkish. Released as a part of the “Sanat Hayat” (Art Life) series of İletişim Publishing, the book –just like the other books in this series– provides new perspectives on important conceptual discussions. For more than fifty years, the relationship between art and architecture has resulted in an interesting encounter in the cultural field, with regard to the way artistic practices relate to architecture, and architectural applications relate to art. This encounter not only affects art institutions, but also on a larger perspective involves cities and cultural politics, making it possible for us to think about and question many parameters concerning economics, politics and technology in the context of artistic production. Even though we’re on the verge of discussions regarding whether postmodernism as a historical period has reached an end or we’ve been living in a modern world of transformation all along; postmodernism has already become a part of our cultural terminology and even its ending has been announced. Architects such as Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, Charles Jenks have made considerable contributions in the acceptance of the definition of “postmodern“ in the fields of art and social sciences as a cultural term and/or a historical period. Unlike modernism, postmodernism is an era in which architectural applications are more decisive. It could be that architects regained their decisive positions in artistic practices just as the engineers of modernism retreated a little. The line between art and architecture became more tangled in the 1970s, especially with the emergence of Minimalism.
The relationship between sculpture, painting and architecture –which were distinguished from one another by the dominant High Modernism of twentieth century– began to change after the 1970s, bringing artistic applications and architectural applications closer. This new interdisciplinary relationship carries with it various questions and new cultural contexts. Hal Foster’s “The Art Architecture Complex” discusses these new cultural contexts and problematics with respect to the concept of modernity.
Even though it talks about newer applications in architecture while focusing on older work regarding artistic practices; Foster’s “The Art Architecture Complex” provides new perspectives in rethinking about the politics of neoliberal economics and the effects of the global spectacle culture.
As Foster points out in the introduction of the book, the title “Art Architecture Complex” –which reminds one of Dwight Eisenhower’s definition of Military-Industrial Complex– has many references. Foster states that there are three reasons that he chose to use the word “complex” in the title. The first reason is that he thinks “sometimes art crosses over to the space that was once thought to belong to architecture, and sometimes architecture crosses over to the space that was once thought to belong to art”. Second; making culture a part of economics resulted in the union of art-architecture, which resembles definitions such as military-industrial complex or military-entertainment complex. Finally, the word complex denotes congestion as a sign, and the activities it prevents as much as the ones it makes possible.
In the light of discussions concerning the creation of images and the forming of space, Foster questions the relationship between artistic and architectural applications. In particular; image and surface, superficiality and spectacle are subjects that interest him. Foster evaluates the applications and the effects of Pop and Minimalism within the frame of artistic, architectural and critical movements. He discusses the relation of Pop to image in the context of a direct physical relationship with materials and space, mentioning its intertwining with Minimalism despite their contradiction, and the way the two approaches support one another. He explains the development of this relationship –which is a result of the dominant language attained by image after the 1960s– with various examples.
The introductory chapter talks about the reflections of political, technological relations in the cultural field, with the help of the formal language of application and its various activities. It emphasizes the discussions regarding the current relationship between artistic and architectural applications; and points out the convincing aspects of the validity of this complex combination and its roots. The three main titles of the first chapter comprises the practices of Richard Rogers, Norman Foster and Renzo Piano through “global styles”. Foster comments on iconography, transparency and architectural statement by mentioning a series of projects from these architects.
In the second chapter, which analyzes the works of more recent architects Zaha Hadid, Diller Scofidio+Renfro and Herzog & de Meuron; the insights of Diller Scofidio+Renfro that blur the relationship between the fields are particularly interesting. In the works of DS+R which combine architecture, visual arts and performing arts; the strategy of postmodern “hybridity” plays a significant role. The interdisciplinary approach in DS+R’s architectural designs, installations and performing works turns into a creative partnership in which the elements support one another.
The best connection that Foster makes in the book is about the design of art museums. He makes a notable statement about turning old industrial buildings into museums, for which he analyzes Tate Modern in London and Dia:Beacon in New York; and calls them the monuments of post-industrial economics of entertainment and culture, sports and service. He harshly criticizes the consumer culture and spectacle dynamics in the part where he connects the opening of MOMA’s new gallery in 2004 and the expenses thereof with the concepts of lightness and banal cosmopolitan. The following sections also provide important insights in understanding today’s art: the relationship between Dia Art Foundation and Minimalist artistic applications (discussed in the chapter titled “Minimalist Museums”) ; the difficulties in exhibiting and preserving installations; and ideas regarding works that transform the architecture, and the architectural spaces that transform the work. In another chapter, Foster discusses the sculpture, film and painting applications of Richard Serra, Anthony McCall and Dan Flavin. Because this chapter is based on Foster’s analysis of art practices that he had deepened in his previous texts, it’s particularly rich in detail. But it looks as though the connection between these works and architecture isn’t sufficiently analyzed. Some things appear to have changed concerning contemporary architecture. For most of the twentieth century, architecture has taken advantage of philosophy, science and theory, which influenced its avant-garde designs. And presently it’s art that increasingly becomes the starting point of architectural applications. Zaha Hadid who became famous as the architect of Guangzhou Opera House is influenced by the Russian painter Malevich; and Diller Scofidio+Renfro who are the architects of High Line (a New York park) created a work influenced by Marcel Duchamp. According to Foster, this mutual relationship between art and architecture has resulted in many artists creating works at an architectural scale. In this regard, Foster focuses on the applications of the artists of a previous era such as Richard Serra, James Turrel and Dan Flavin; instead of a newer generation of artists such as Christoph Büchel or Olafur Eliasson. Even though it talks about newer applications in architecture while focusing on older work regarding artistic practices; Foster’s “The Art Architecture Complex” provides new perspectives in rethinking about the politics of neoliberal economics and the effects of the global spectacle culture.