Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Technologizing with Warp Speed

I once had the privilege to interview world-renown architect Cesar Pelli, whose firm designed the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lampur Malaysia, which at the time of their completion in 1998, were the tallest buildings in the world. If you’ve ever seen the movie "Entrapment," a fast paced action-adventure movie starring Sean Connery and Catherine Zeta Jones, then you have been exposed to its innovative design, but because the towers are in Malaysia and not the U.S. you might even be unaware of them, but being self-absorbed Americans is another topic altogether.

Before my telephone interview with Mr. Pelli, he graciously sent me a book he had written on architecture titled, “Observations for Young Architects.” It is a wonderful book filled with his ideas and knowledge of architecture, which is extensive. Pelli is not only an architect, but an educator. He was appointed Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale University in 1977, and served in that capacity until 1984. He started his venerable career in the offices of the great Eero Saarinen and also designed the World Financial Center complex in downtown Manhattan, those surrounding buildings around the now fallen World Trade Center.

I still pick up his book from time to time and review it, mostly scanning the highlights I made in preparation for our phone interview. Recently while I was perusing it there were several salient items that I remembered and was glad to become reacquainted with. First, Pelli talks about the temporal age of a city, or “the period when the structures that give it its character were built.” His examples are Paris with a temporal center created in the early 19th century; New York, early 20th Century and places like Los Angeles or Hong Kong with their temporal centers in the future because they are perceived by their citizens as still being made and moving toward their futures.

Pelli also talks a great deal about the relationship between art and architecture, and his ruminations on Post Modernism, finally pointed me to a more complete understanding of the term for the first time. Not to oversimplify, but to make a certain point: “This disconnection (with the history of architecture) was harmful in itself, cutting off our own roots, but it also sanctioned an attitude of ignoring precedents, a reluctance to learn from experience.”

Wow, suddenly a light bulb went off in my brain! A reluctance to learn from experience had not only permeated art and architecture, but our society as a whole, especially in that time period when I was a budding human being. Technology including the invention of: television, the computer, the microwave, and even birth control were wreaking havoc on our collective psyche. With so much to absorb so fast, we were reluctant to learn from experience because we had so many new and exciting gadgets to master.

While it is too recent to determine if we are still in Post Modernism or not, I’m thinking that we are still technologizing with warp speed, and it is like riding a wave with no prior knowledge of how to balance a surf board. It is both exhilarating and without definition or parameters. Despite this, I have to keep in mind the many artists I have interviewed over the years, who have told me in one way or another, each work builds upon the last. The best work they have ever created is the next one. They are not talking about the collective train of thought of all artists however, and speak in purely individual terms. That is the difference in today’s art, the artist paints his own vision and owns the work, selling it to a collector that appreciates his image for what it is; while in the days of the Old Masters, typically the patron commissioned a work often a religious scene with a particular aesthetic purpose in mind, the artist was just the person who brought the vision of others to life.

For an example of a personal and distinctive style of art that has been refined through the years I’d like to share with you the work of Alberto D’Assumpção, a Portuguese artist exhibiting since 1989, and now available on
(c) 2006 - Ruth Mitchell - all rights reserved

Antagonism - Alberto D'Assumpcao

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