Friday, July 12, 2019

Exhibit A

Exhibit A: Exhibitions That Transformed Architecture, 1948–2000
Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen
Phaidon, June 2018



Hardcover | 10 x 11-1/2 inches | 288 pages | 480 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-0714875170 | $79.95

Publisher Description:
How do you exhibit a building, a locality, a city? Exhibit A reveals how architecture has pushed the boundaries of exhibition as a medium and how, in turn, exhibitions have shaped the discipline of architecture. Focusing on 80 landmark architecture exhibitions mounted in countries around the world between 1948 and 2000, and featuring 300 images, this groundbreaking overview is both a vital reference and a visually compelling study of the way we look at built work.
dDAB Commentary:
The most famous architecture exhibition is surely Modern Architecture: International Exhibition, held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in 1932 and attended by more than 30,000 people in its six-week run. Like other exhibitions, architecture or not, Modern Architecture had an influence beyond its attendance figures, thanks to a companion catalog, reviews, and scholars later writing about the exhibition as a historical event. Other MoMA exhibitions on architecture, such as Deconstructivist Architecture in 1988, have been influential yet also controversial; the latter surely helped them to gain influence and longevity. But for various reasons most architecture exhibitions are not so widely written about and remembered, which is a shame because I'm guessing many of them are superior to those MoMA shows and deserve more attention. So I'm pleased that Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen has documented dozens of postwar, 20th century exhibitions, roping in contributions by other architectural scholars on some of the most important exhibitions.

An important aspect of Exhibit A is that it's not limited to exhibitions about architecture, such as monographic exhibitions or those like the MoMA shows mentioned above. The book also includes exhibitions where architecture played a prominent role. These include World Fair and Expos, which often featured cutting edge architecture of a temporary nature though sometimes as permanent buildings (think Expo 67 and Moshe Safdie). Also thrown in to the chronological mix are important institutions and venues, many no longer around but just as many still going strong. Entries range from just a few lines (the entry on the Louis I. Kahn exhibition "mounted in a rush" at MoMA five days after the architect died in 1974 stands out) to multiple pages, as in Léa-Catherine Szacka's six-page write-up of the 1980 Venice Architecture Biennale, which also features a couple pages excerpted from the catalog. Like many Phaidon books, Exhibit A is set up to be delved into as needed, not read cover to cover. But it departs from the strict "one-page-per" format of such titles as Drawing Architecture or Houses, opting for a more organic layout. It's a delight to flip through and learn about so many exhibitions I didn't know about or didn't know enough about.
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Author Bio:
Eeva-Liisa Pelkonen is an associate professor at Yale School of Architecture, where she teaches architectural design, history, and theory. Her award-winning books include Alvar Aalto: Architecture, Modernity and Geopolitics (2009) and Saarinen: Shaping the Future (2006).
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