Blog post

Mixed forms, mixed feelings: Stephen Walker reviews The Art-Architecture Complex

Decca Muldowney25 January 2012

Writing in  Times Higher Education, Stephan Walker, a Senior Lecture in the Architecture Department at the University of Sheffield, praises Hal Foster's The Art-Architecture Complex for addressing itself to a 'wide audience', but criticises its tendency to perpetuate a 'highly institutional and geographically delimited discourse, with New York the implicit centre,' and failing to include detailed discussion of artists currently working collaboratively.

Describing Foster's overall project, Walker writes that, 'The shifts in artistic and architectural practice he traces serve as a broad barometer of cultural change.' While the mid 20th Century remained dominated by the legacy of High Modernism, which, as Walker puts it, 'actively policed the separation between sculpture, painting and architecture,' more recent years have seen a flowering of 'inter-relationships and possible collaborations between artists and architects.' Foster draws attention to the fact that, 'the cultural conditions and questions that such inter-relationships raise are currently undergoing significant change.' Foster's primary concern, he notes,

 is with the image, with surface, superficiality and spectacle, and throughout the book he makes use of Pop and Minimalism (as artistic, architectural and critical movements) to frame his discussions. Pop's concern with the image can provide a contrast with Minimalism's direct physical engagement with material or space, although Foster is at pains to contest this easy opposition, arguing that they cross over into and inform each other. His lament is that while they fuelled and checked each other in the years following their emergence during the 1960s, this balance has recently been lost as the image has become dominant.

Walker argues that Foster's most 'important contribution' to this ongoing debate is his ability to 'follow the trajectory of this awkward relationship through links to technology, politics, and various moments and forms of practice.'

 Although Walker finds Foster's account of the lineage and currency of the complex mixing between art and architecture 'persuasive,' and his discussion of the links between the two disciplines 'nuanced,' he deems the book as a whole 'disappointing.' While he finds sections on the arts practices of Richard Serra, Anthony McCall and Dan Flavin 'engaging,' Walker nonetheless feels there is not enough 'express examination of how these might inform the main questions of the book.' Walker ends his review by asserting that,

There are many collaborative practices where artists and architects (and others) do now work together, but who approach Foster's concerns regarding superficiality, identity and human agency from different and more political positions, who work with different tools, and who produce projects that are harder to recognise as either art or architecture: they, however, don't feature here.

Visit  Times Higher Education to read the full review.


Filed under: reviews