Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Tadao Ando (and Franz West) @ Centre Pompidou

Tadao Ando,  Hill of the Buddha, 2015

I was surprised not to like the Franz West exhibition at the Centre Pompidou. It’s no fault of the exhibition, but West’s trash aesthetic and anti-art intentions left me feeling cold and uninspired. I can imagine that it must have been very radical in Austria in the 1970s to experience West’s interactive sculptures and autonomous performances. But without West present to help me have that experience, I felt very much the intellectual snob.

I felt even more guilty as I walked into the Tadao Ando exhibition in one of the small first floor galleries and breathed a sigh of relief to be looking at modernist plans and buildings. The intellectual brilliance of Ando’s architectural conceptions, the challenging aesthetic that is simultaneously, strangely beautiful, was far more comfortable than West’s playful, apparently revolutionary works. My cultural tastes are apparently more bourgeoise than I would care to admit.

Tadao Ando, Wrightwood 659 Chicago, 2018
I am no architectural expert, so I don’t know how easy or difficult it is to exhibit architecture, given the point of this art form is to walking inside and experience a three dimensional space. Moreover, I would have thought that the discerning architectural critic needs to have the experience of living with the design over time, through different seasons, even at different times of the day and night. With those caveat’s in mind, I did think that the Pompidou exhibition showed the wonder of Ando’s creations from their conception through to three-dimensional video representations of their execution and finished state.
Tadao Ando, Church of the Light, 1989
I have always wanted to go to Osaka to visit Ando’s neighborhood Church of the Light built in Ibaraki. I don’t have the language with which to describe this structure, not only because I am not an architecture critical, but because I find it mind boggling that anyone could ever imagine, let alone conceive of, the mechanics of the building. To have a shaft of light enter through scissions in the wall and not only form a crucifix in light at the altar (somehow this is the easy part), but to invite light to flood into the space of the church through an opening that also functions as the entrance is mesmerizing. And then, to ensure that the congregation sitting in the intense light of the sun when inside what is in fact a simple concrete box, is sheer magic.
Tadao Ando, Church of the Light, 1989
Ando has made lots of art galleries and I can see how art museums and libraries are especially suited to his aesthetic. The choice of a brutalist concrete allowed to breath and to come alive through the events that take place within its walls, provides the perfect blank slate for art and books. Although it is a little difficult to know how comfortable these spaces are, I am looking forward to seeing and experiencing the Bourse de Commerce at Les Halles transformed into a museum.
Tadao Ando, Hill of the Buddha, 2015
Perhaps the most extraordinary of Ando’s work was the Hill of the Buddha in Sapporo that he built to surround a stone statue of the Buddha. Buddha had been erected in the middle of a flat plain fifteen years prior to Ando’s construction. He built a hill, but only up to the shoulders of the Buddha, allowing his face be seen from a distance and from above, contemplating. The hill was then covered in lavender, and the accompanying video showed the hill change colour with the seasons: green in spring, purple in summer, white in the snow. Ando built a pathway to the Buddha that could not be seen from above, in order not to interrupt the field of green, purple or white. The design is the perfect demonstration of Ando’s integration of the most functional and, ultimately unaesthetic, manmade material of concrete, and in turn, how concrete becomes transformed by the natural environment. In addition, Ando’s aesthetic and philosophy suggests that the spirit of the visitors to his sites immersed in the natural world would enliven the brutalist concrete forms. Humans transform these spaces, not simply through using them, but also through our very being, in interaction with them.
Tadao Ando, Studio in Osaka
At the end of the exhibition, there is a video of Ando’s studio and we see people walking up and down the four flights of (again concrete) stairs. I wondered how comfortable it is to work inside these concrete walls. This is the question that must be answered by all architecture – it looks nice, but is it functional and is it a design for a space I want to be and to live with? As Ando’s transformation of Paris’s 19th century Bourse de Commerce into a museum is underway, I guess, I will find out the answer to my question very soon.

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