Blog post

Hal Foster's The Art-Architecture Complex: Reviews and Interviews

Kishani Widyaratna21 October 2011

The Art-Architecture Complex by Hal Foster has been reviewed in the Art Review, Icon and Financial Times.

In a thoughtful review for Art Review, Martin Herbert was impressed by the scope of Foster's aims in the book:

The American writer now evidently has a worldview expansive enough to see dominant tendencies in contemporary architecture and (fairly) recent art as flipside of the same coin, and both as reflective of the contemporary political order. This, then, is criticism with vaulting ambitions.

Critically engaging with Foster's argument, Herbert pin-pointed what he considered a weakness in an otherwise strong critique: "Foster's problem, one he never quite resolve, is of temporal disjunction: he wants the approaches of Serra et al, which are initiated in the 1960s and early 70s, to critique and counterbalance contemporary starchitecture." While conceding that this "pretty much works", he felt that "it leads to certain amount of special pleading". All in all, Herbert concluded positively, finishing with "The Art-Architecture Complex posits a paradigm; one completes it as a believer."

Kieran Long, reviewing for Icon, is an admirer of Foster's work but came away from the book wishing that a broader perspective had been employed as he felt the book "turns a spotlight on famous buildings, but pays no heed to their contexts". In a measured review, Long enjoyed the project of the book, stating "it's always good to have an establishment figure having a go at these powerful, universally celebrated architects" and in particular praised Foster's critique of Renzo Piano, in which "he deftly demolishes the architect's claims of an "organic" architecture". However, the difference of theoretical perspective between Long and Foster remains divisive:

The problem is that in bringing a linear, author-focused attitude to architecture, his critique is stranded in abstract, art history. I didn't find a single mention of the city, of public life, of the street or of any of the things that surround the buildings he looks at...

The Art-Architecture Complex gently debunks the reputations of a series of ageing architects who probably don't give a damn what anybody thinks anymore, while offering little to the rest of us."

Edwin Heathcote has reviewed The Art-Architecture Complex for the Financial Times, and found it "an intriguing proposition". Heathcote admitted to being slightly disappointed that what he felt was a promising book was not more radical in it's criticism, arguing that:

The reason for any disappointment is that Foster has chosen exactly the right theme. For the early modernists, social housing was the holy grail; for the mid-century modernists it was the private house and the corporate office (equally political statements in their own way). But from the post-modern era onwards, most attention has been lavished on the museum... in concentrating on the cultural world, these global architects are shying away from their traditional social role; they are making themselves marginal whilst enjoying an enviable lifestyle of adulation and fame. As the glamour of culture rubs off on to architects, their real responsibilities for making the cities that will need to absorb hundreds of millions of new inhabitants each year fall by the wayside. Architecture has been depoliticised and architects are in danger of becoming mere decorators of minimalism - slowly diminishing their own justification for existing at all.

Heathcote, however, found other merits to the text and concluded:

None of this is to say this is a bad book. Foster writes well and, if the ground is unfamiliar to you, there is much to learn here. But what could have been an excoriating examination of the contemporary avant-garde instead becomes a friendly guide to an art and architecture phenomenon that now appears rather last century.

Foster has also been interviewed by Thomas Wensing for Architecture Today.In an engaging discussion, Foster considered the limitations and aims of work as a designer:

We are all confined by the limits of our own practice, but if you are able to work with your own means in a way that can show other possibilities- socially, culturally, economically- then that's an important achievement.

Visit the Financial Times to read the review in full. The Art Review and Icon reviews and Architecture Today interview are only available in full in their print editions. 

Filed under: interviews, reviews