Friday, December 06, 2019

Almost Nothing

Almost Nothing: 100 Artists Comment on the Work of Mies van der Rohe
Christian Bjone
Park Books, June 2019

Hardcover | 8-1/2 x 11 inches | 226 pages | 215 illustrations | English | ISBN: 978-3038600800 | $49.00

Publisher's Description:
Ludwig Mies van der Rohe (1886–1969) was one of the most significant and influential architects in history. His designs and buildings—to say nothing of his thought and writing—continue to this day to spark heated debates on achievement and failure in modern architecture. And he’s the rare architect whose influence and reputation spread beyond the field—which this book demonstrates powerfully.

Almost Nothing collects work by one hundred painters, sculptors, photographers, film directors, designers, cartoonists, and architects that comment on or appropriate buildings, designs, and statements by or images of the legendary architect. New York–based architect and writer Christian Bjone amplifies the selections with a commentary offering rich background information on the individual artists and the depicted art works, and the result is a striking celebration of Mies van der Rohe’s lasting influence.
dDAB Commentary:
Easily the most iconic artwork with a building by Mies van der Rohe as a subject is Stanley Tigerman's The Titanic, which depicts IIT's Crown Hall partly submerged in the waters of Lake Michigan. Is that 1978 collage one of the "comments on the work of Mies van der Rohe" collected by Christian Bjone? Yes, and it's easy to find; even though the 100 artists/works aren't numbered as in other 100 this-or-that books, they're organized by Mies's output. There's Portraits, Furniture, Buildings, and Toys, with the Buildings category listing his masterpieces in chronological order. There sits The Titanic on page 192, though I'm surprised to see that Tigerman is the only artist who tackled Crown Hall; perhaps his image was the final word on the building, not just a nail in the coffin of Modernism.

But what about Daniel Libeskind's City Edge project that graces the cover? That one's harder to find since Almost Nothing lacks an index, a means of finding artists who were inspired by Mies or addressed his work in some manner. Turns out Libeskind's three-dimensional collage is one of many artworks presented in Bjone's lengthy introduction. It's alongside many other pieces that help the author explicate certain themes in his book but that are therefore not presented alongside the other artworks in the book's chapters. A couple of these intro artworks include Mark Pimlott's Puck & Pip Restaurant in the Hague (incorrectly labeled Pip and Puck in the book), which features a column wrapped in glass mosaic whose shape echoes the plan of Mies's famous Glass Skyscraper, and Thomas Ruff's more recognizable photograph of the Barcelona Pavilion.

Of all the buildings by Mies, the one that has elicited the most artistic responses is the Barcelona Pavilion, aka the German Pavilion in Barcelona, built for the 1929 Barcelona International Exposition, disassembled, and then rebuilt on the same spot in 1986. That same year, Rem Koolhaas and OMA paid homage to it with a curving installation at the Milan Triennale, while ten years later Paul Rudolph analyzed the pavilion's plan in diagrams notating movement through its fluid indoor and outdoor spaces. Beyond these famous names, the Barcelona Pavilion rises to the top because the Fundació Mies van der Rohe annually invites artists and architects to intervene there. SANAA installed acrylic walls in 2008, Ai Weiwei tossed coffee in the one pool and pumped milk in the other pool one year later, and a few years later Andrés Jaque put all the cleaning equipment usually hidden in the basement on display. Bjone gathers these and other direct responses to Mies's architecture as well as artworks whose relationships to the master Modern architect are more tenuous. One things for sure: artists and architects will be grappling with Mies van der Rohe's legacy and influence for a long time.

Author Bio:
Christian Bjone graduated in architecture from University of Illinois at Chicago and Princeton University. Living and working in New York, he is the author of a number of books on architectural history.
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