SUPERSTUDIO’s Radical Architecture

Nowhere was the postwar avant-garde more radical than in architecture.  In order to shake off the “hegemonic grip” of academic classicism—and therefore bourgeois society—architecture would have to undergo a complete definitional transformation.  Instead of buildings serving functional uses for consumers’ lives and thereby reinforcing unjust social divisions, architecture would form a “single continuous environment, the world rendered uniform by technology, culture, and all the other inevitable forms of imperialism.”  And just what does that look like?  What does it look like to start over? To traverse the radical city of the mind?

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Formed in 1966 in Florence by a group of architecture students, SUPERSTUDIO was at the heart of the avant-garde for about a decade.  With Adolfo Natalini at the helm, the young firm undertook a stunning and extensive visual experimentation at the intersection of graphic design, architecture, and technology.   Florence, the bastion of Italian humanist architecture and home to the University and its attendant bourgeois attitude, proved a poignant site to reject architecture and engage the “flip side of the Italian dolce vita.”

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SUPERSTUDIO’s signature designs played with the interface between natural and artificial environments, to wit, the iconic grid, overlaid onto New York City, Niagara Falls, the desert, etc. Superstudio wrote that ultimately the grid would allow for a truly democratic human experience: because every point on the grid is identical, no place is better than any other. [images] It was a proudly utopic vision of a world un-designed and made whole by technology.

 

The aptly named French group Utopie likewise broke down barriers of form both on the ground and on the page.  Utopie’s “Inflatable Structures” offer another nod to “undesign,” where squishy inflatables fought rigid, establishment design.  One could also read them as counter-metaphor for over-inflated academicism, just about to burst.  In Paris 1968 the members of Utopie were certainly aligned with the pulsating culture of anti-government protest.

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Because much of their work would never come to physical realization, SUPERSTUDIO’s presence in print remains an important legacy. Their visual experiments appeared in and gained renown through Casabella and Domus, Italy’s leading design magazines, and in self-published catalogs. Rethinking the architectural profession altogether, SUPERSTUDIO, among others, managed to shift the focus of their practice toward conceptual and theoretical cultural criticism.  Symbolic, poetic content not only took precedence in their work, but was SUPERcharged. This campaign of images they created initiated an entirely new and to this day, enduring, way to explore and share ideas. And the world took notice: in 1972 they were included in MoMA’s show Italy: The New Domestic Landscape while still in their twenties.

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Beinecke has recently acquired Natalini’s personal archive on SUPERSTUDIO, featuring original catalogs, periodicals, and ephemera.  Don’t miss several issues of Utopie, as well as various archival material relating to their work, too.   

Dutch PUNK!

In cities around the world the late 1970s/early 1980s marked high unemployment, housing shortages, and general political discontent.  Coming off the regenerative hippie movement and generation of 1968, youth culture was at a standstill.  Out of the doom, gloom, and boredom however, came the be yourself, do-it-yourself, scream-your-anger punk and graffiti lifestyle, iconic of the music of the Ramones and Sex Pistols.  Music was pared down to “no bullshit rock ‘n’ roll” and general anti-authoritarian attitudes were evident in styles of dress and demeanor.

Amsterdam was a European center for graffiti and squatter culture, epitomized in several DIY periodicals and posters new to the Beinecke in the “Punk Krakers” collection.  Krakers–”squatters” or “hackers”–dovetailed with militant punk as the housing shortage became more dire.  The center in Amsterdam on the Sarphatistraat was the “Zebra House,” was at once a gathering spot, a gallery, a punk “museum,” a barbershop, a homeless shelter, a workshop, and a publishing house.  Nurtured by artists Hugo Kaagman and Diana Ozon the graffiti scene pulsated through several DIY periodicals, the most influential of which was

“De KoeCrandt” – a pocket-size, stapled together, amateur-printed ‘zine that borrowed from such British examples as “Sniffin’ Glue.”  Literally translating to “Cow Newspaper,” De KoeCrandt was in fact derived from “the idea of a feces-stained inner edge of a toilet seat.”  It is no wonder, then, that one of the galleries housed at Zebra House was the aptly named “Gallery Anus.” (I read this in an anthology called “God Shave the Queen.”) Enough said.

“Follow No One Lead Yourself!”

Another periodical: “Zebra”
An issue titled: “Don’t Throw me in the Streets”

“Squat/Hack the Coronation!”

“An hour until the demise”

An interview with “Jesus and the Gospelfuckers,” titled “My father is a dick”

“A cry for attention”

If you’re interested in learning more about Amsterdam’s lively graffiti scene–famous to this day–check out the documentary “Kroonjuwelen” with original footage from the time.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Paris – May 1968

The student revolts of 1968 in Paris have assumed an iconic status in modern history.  With a long tradition of popular uprising and revolution, the French sought (once again) to paralyze the government and engineer change from the ground up.  What began as student protests turned into a full-fledged global phenomenon; a conflagration of youth and fringe culture radicalizing and resisting bourgeois authority.  1968 was a turning point for social change: from sexuality, race relations, women’s rights, to hippies, drugs, music, anti-war demonstrations, entirely new sensibilities were being formed across several demographics.  It’s the stuff of socio-cultural legend.

Paris ’68 remains the most monumental and most deeply entrenched rebellion to this day in collective memory, perhaps because of the prolific output of graphic protest posters, paintings, pamphlets, and more.  These materials and images were “weapons in the service of the struggle and are an inseparable part of it,” and provide a visually striking point of entry into the event that is wholly absent in mere narrative.  Beinecke is excited to have available for study 85 posters from Johan Kugelberg’s collection of works made at “Atelier populaire.”  A group of students and teachers from the Ecole des Beaux-arts, the “Atelier” made posters to agitate the spirit of rebellion.  These posters served as primary vehicles for disseminating information among participating students and workers.  What’s more, such artifacts are rarely found in such pristine condition; most were destroyed in the course of marching and rioting.  Many pamphlets and newspapers in his collection were physically recovered from the street by Phillipe Vermès, the founder of the Atelier populaire.  They truly offer a firsthand account of this explosive moment, as well as offering “immediate visual representation of the aesthetic of revolt and grassroots rebellion.” (Statement from Atelier populaire)

Out of the 85 incredible posters I include just a few here, but be sure to check them out in Beinecke’s digital collection, and of course, in the reading room.

“He’s ready. Are you?”

“May ’68 – The Start of a Prolonged Fight”

Proper Civic Action
On shoe bottoms: students (left), workers (right)

“The cops at Flins”
“The cops in your home”
(Flins is a town near Paris. ‘Flic’ is a derogatory term for police officer)

“For those who like ‘that’”
“For everyone else: boycott the vote!”

 

Richard Neville

Beinecke has acquired the huge and hugely irreverent archive of Richard Neville, Australian publisher, writer, and counter-culturalist.  Most well-known for co-editing the outrageous Oz magazine, Neville notoriously stood trial, several times, for obscenity. His dogged fight in the censorship wars and against the establishment during the sixties is documented in full runs of his various publications and in assorted ephemera and correspondence.  For the first time, documents related to his famous trial are available for study.  He wrote about all his freewheeling grooviness in 1995 in Hippie, Hippie, Shake: The Dreams, the Trips, the Trials, the Love-ins, the Screw ups—the Sixties. 

Among other gems, the British issues of Oz (1966-1973) are particularly spectacular.  In varying styles from photography to photomontage to psychedelic art, both the covers and feature articles give an unequivocal sense of Neville’s editorial bravura, the swinging sixties, and various socio-politico-cultural protestations.  It is not hard to see why some were offended.  Still in cataloguing, the Richard Neville archive will certainly prove an invaluable resource for the study of post-war counterculture.

“Love me I’m an ugly Failure”
“What makes hippies happen on the psychedelic bus?”

An inside page.  Naked woman on a toilet, superimposed over the Houses of Parliament. Inflammatory much?

“Beautiful Freaks”

Detachable poster spread

Architecture in Dialogue: The Peter Eisenman Collection at Yale

“Dialogue is the very core of the Eisenman Collection. Architecture in dialogue: with the fine arts and graphic design; with history, philosophy, political ideology and social agendas. Dialogue across disciplines and languages, media, formats, and genres.” – Kevin Repp, Curator

Moholy-Nagy’s “Dynamics of a Big City: Sketch for a Film Script” – talk about cross-pollination!

October 8th marked the opening of Beinecke’s latest exhibit, featuring the Peter Eisenman Collection of Modernism in Architecture, Graphic Design and the Fine Arts.  Internationally renowned architect and Charles Gwathmey Professor of Practice at Yale School of Architecture, Eisenman has assembled an electric collection of thousands of books, periodicals, posters, and ephemera from Europe’s interwar avant-garde in almost 10 languages (French, Italian, Dutch, German, Czech, Hungarian, Russian…) with some copies having passed through the hands of this period’s most eminent figureheads, like Le Corbusier and Theo van Doesburg.

Bold colors and even bolder typefaces: a sampling of periodicals from France, Italy, Holland, Hungary

With almost 200 items on display here through December, the Eisenman collection ecstatically tells the story of a changing and dynamic visual language, born out of a broken Europe seeking to rebuild itself after the devastation of World War One.  While architecture provides the point of entry, this collection is really about entirely novel modes of social, cultural, and political expression in a fascinating modernist moment.

The exhibit begins, naturally enough, with the birth of his collection.  As a graduate student touring Europe, Eisenman searched high and low–like a “dog to a hydrant”– for mentions of Giuseppe Terragni’s Casa del Fascio and that time in Italian architectural history (1933-36).  He quickly realized how much he could learn about Terragni–a fascist architect–and the architecture of the period through design periodicals, like Casabella, and so widened his search for any journal published before the war.  Inside these pages raged a Europe-wide conversation about and between the avant-garde that would forever change his relationship to architecture: “These magazines are as much of who I am, and how I define myself, as any essay I have written or building I have designed.”  As Eisenman himself describes it, the collection represents a certain “attitude toward to the printed word,” which Beinecke is uniquely suited to showcase.  (Eisenman Letter to Director)

Casabellas from the 1970s

Curator Kevin Repp has organized the exhibit loosely chronologically, though the focus throughout is on the deeply forged networks of transnational communication and conversation.  At stake, of course, was the reconstruction of Europe and determining what role the arts and architecture would play in its new image. It was this dialogue that spurred unprecedented leaps in avant-garde production.  The collaboration between Paris, Amsterdam, the Bauhaus, and Soviet Constructivists not only allowed for blended styles and -isms, but bespoke a general hopefulness.  Several pieces show postmarks and addresses–an El Lissitzky futurist poster moves west, an Italian newspaper arrives in Paris for a Dutchman–signaling their physical movement through the mail and through these networks. Bauhaus professor and photographer/graphic designer Laszlo Moholy-Nagy, in a typed letter to these magazines calling for continued support for the Bauhaus, points to the essential power of the transnational creative mode: “Art is a direct emanation of society in movement, more and more it evades regionalist milieus to assume an attitude that is not just international, but universal: ideas cross frontiers with the rapidity of the vehicles that transport them.” (Typed Bauhaus letter)

Alta Tensione, periodical from Milan, bearing postmark to Theo van Doesburg in Paris

A natural outgrowth of such lively exchange was a parallel mélange of graphic styles.  In periodicals architecture lends itself to varied interpretation as it finds form on paper.  The exhibit illustrates strikingly “architecture’s floating position in the rough-and-tumble interplay of modernists on the field of cultural production between the wars.” (Repp)   In other words, the centuries-old stark, academic divisions between mediums—painting, printing, photography, architecture, film—swiftly faded.

Lajos Kassak’s “Picture-Architecture” in MA

Polish revue “Blok” features the photo-montage-architecture of Mieczyslaw Szczuka

What’s more, artists played upon journalistic information and artistic expression in the periodical format.  No longer did the responsibility for meaning fall on words alone; visual groundlessness was as central to the message as the message itself.  Such innovations in “typefaces, spatial relations, color, line, and vector” made for an ambitious campaign to rethink perception, in posters, pamphlets, manifestos, exhibition catalogs as well as periodicals and books.  Bauhaus, for example, launched an enormously wide-reaching publicity campaign with fascinating results.

Two issues of Bauhausbücher – new revue for media blitz

“Parole in Liberta” or “Words set free”
Futurist pamphlet

An important current running through this exhibit is the avant-garde’s concurrent participation in political extremism.  Between Soviet Russia and Fascist Italy, such artistic and ideological output in the media was no idle dalliance.  For example, in the early years of Lenin’s Revolution, Soviet constructivist innovation boomed, neatly and powerfully embodying communist ideas.  As Stalin’s star rose, and with it Socialist Realism, such bold experimentation became less prevalent.  Mussolini and the fasciscts likewise made use of avant-gardist expression for political leverage.  See my previous post for more on that. In light of the future devastation of World War Two, one cannot help but ponder the political repercussions of building the world anew.

“Duce” – nickname for Mussolini in striking layout with photomontage, advertising the monumental “Exhibit for the Fascist Revolution”

Stalin appearing in “URSS en construction”

More than anything, the Eisenman collection begs to be looked at.  Just imagine the sets of eyes that passed over these issues, from Brussels to Vitebsk, architects of a new world.  What may seem old-hat by now—the black square, photomontage, Dada—held within it all the promise of novelty and liberty. Avant-garde visual experimentation is meant to be playful, to get a rise out of the viewer; and there is certainly no shortage of fun to be had here.

Cascading issues of “Pasmo” – in homage to the film strip

Classic El Lissitzky on the cover of “Wendingen”

Fascist Spectacle

Interesting events–both real and imagined–you may not have known about Fascist Rome. 

Mussolini famously had a flair for the dramatic.  As the leader of the powerful Fascist party in an Italy on the verge of civil war, he came to power by threatening a violent coup, the “March on Rome.”  Supported by some 30,000 Fascist supporters waiting just outside Rome, some armed with farm tools, Mussolini was confidently, if naively prepared to face the Italian armed forces.  His gamble worked: King Victor Emmanuel folded under pressure and appointed Mussolini Prime Minister on October 30th, 1922.  In a pompous display, the march triumphantly paraded through Rome anyway. (Though the Duce himself took the express train, save for a few photo opportunities.)  This symbolic spectacle that heralded Mussolini’s inauguration became one in a series of mass-media events that both popularized and legitimized the Fascist party itself.

Front facade of Palazzo at the Mostra

Ten years later, the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista or “Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution,” told the story of Fascism’s rise to greatness, bringing together items and relics–newspapers, letters, albums, manifestos–from all over Italy.  It was a wildly popular propaganda machine, attracting 3 million visitors. Making use of contemporary styles in graphic arts and architecture, the Mostra both modernized and monumentalized the Fascist aesthetic experience.  Teams of artists and historians meticulously designed 23 exhibition rooms at the Palazzo delle Espozione to affect an emotional, even spiritual response.  Depicting a “cycle of crisis, redemption, and resolution,” (Maria Stone) and frequent references to martyrdom, the viewer is led to worship at the altar of Fascism.  Beyond solidifying political support, the Mostra–which offered travel discounts and other perks to incentivize visitors–also became a nationalist celebration, a registering of what it meant to be Italian.  Italiani e stranieri alla Mostra della Rivoluzione at Beinecke is a huge volume which recounts the 2 year exhibit in detail, illustrated by large-scale photomontages.  It is fascinating to see this account of the Mostra by Franceso Gargano: as carefully curated as the show itself, Italiani e stranieri manages to legitimize Fascist aims in recognizable avant-garde fashion.

In another gigantic volume at Beinecke we learn of the elaborately imagined and haflway realized Espozione Universale Roma, or World’s Fair, of 1942.  Designed by Mussolini to celebrate 20 years of Fascism and stymied by the war, the EUR was also a project to expand Rome to the southwest, toward the sea.  The plans for a grandiose Fascist wonderland are fun to look through; talk about hubris.

Plans for the EUR pavillion

The EUR was slowly completed, though not entirely in the Fascist style, almost entirely for the 1960 Olympics.  The planned archway instead became a Sports stadium. Nowadays, it is a business and government district.  The NYTimes gave a great overview of it in 1999.

A-I-Z

Arbeiters-Illustrierte Zeitung, or The Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper, was an Anti-Fascist, Communist newspaper between 1924 and 1933 in Berlin, then later exiled by the Nazis to Prague until about 1938.  First published as Sichel und Hammer, and later as simply A-I-Z, it featured quite striking photographs.  It covered global events relating to the Worker’s plight, as well as fiction, poetry, satire, and sports.  AIZ’s covers famously featured the political photomontages of John Heartfield. Kevin Repp, Beinecke’s Curator of Modern European Books and Manuscripts, has written on Heartfield’s work and Beinecke’s fantastic collection: “Yet much of the dark humor residing in this brilliant series of photomontages resides in allusions to the surrounding texts in this near-complete run of The Workers’ Illustrated Newspaper. Printed on poor quality paper from originals that were nearly all lost in the subsequent devastation [of WW2], these finely executed copperplate photogravures rarely survive in their intended context. Beinecke is proud to have acquired the most complete set known anywhere outside the Heartfield Archive in Berlin.” 

1934, All Fists Clenched into One

September 14, 1933
Goering: Executioner of the Third Reich

Adolf, The Superman: Swallows Gold and Spouts Tin

Beinecke also has this original tin sign, advertising that A-I-Z is sold on the premises for 20 cents.  Come check it out!

8:27, 1929: Women Workers’ Sports

“Want a price cut? Vote Communist.”

December 1925, Colonial people’s struggle for freedom

July 1924, 5th Congress of the Communist International
Opening of Lenin’s Mausoleum at the Kremlin

Publisher’s page advertising new works

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