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?

superstudio 5

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.”

superstudio 3

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.

IMG_0587

utopie 3

 

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.

ss 7 superpstudio4 ss 6

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.   

Paris, Bizarre

Bizarre, nos. 1-2; new series, nos. 1-46 (Paris, 1953-1968)

Siné's Cover for Bizarre, no. 11/12 (May 1959), a special issue devoted entirely to "Jocondoclastie," or the playful misappropriation (and willful defacement) of the Mona Lisa

Founded by Eric Losfeld–who went on to publish Jean-Claude’s notorious Barbarella comics in the early 1960s–Bizarre lasted for just two issues before falling off the map in 1953. The magazine was soon revived, however,  by

Special Tarzan Issue, Bizarre, no. 11/12 (1962)

Special Tarzan Issue, Bizarre, no. 11/12 (1962)

Jean-Jacques Pauvert and Michel Laclos, who kept its torrent of iconoclastic wit, cultural criticism, and artistic daredevilry running uproariously from 1955 right up to the eve of the Paris uprisings in the spring of 1968. No stranger to controversy, Pauvert made a name for himself in the immediate postwar years publishing (at times clandestine) editions of  Sade. His new bookshop on the Rue Bonaparte was quickly put under police surveillance when it opened  in 1956, just a year after he restarted Bizarre, and the besieged bookseller/ publisher   found himself at the center of the “Affaire

Special Issue on Lettrism, Bizarre no. 32/33 (1964)

Special Issue on Lettrism, Bizarre no. 32/33 (1964)

Sade,” as the French government stepped in to ban the publication and sale of such works. Clashes with authority and public controversy also hounded other contributors to the journal, including its ‘s star illustrator, Siné. An anarchist with sharply anti-capitalist, anti-colonialist, and (as many would later find) anti-semitic views, Siné felt pressured to quit his position as political cartoonist for L’Express due to his virulent opposition to the Algerian War, which provoked public outcry from many readers, and for a time in the early sixties he worked on Révolution africaine, a journal financed by the Algerian resistance organization FLN. When the uprisings came in 1968, Siné again joined with Pauvert to found the magazine L’Enragé, an important document of the rebellious spirit of the late sixties and early seventies recently acquired by Beinecke as part of the Philippe Zoummeroff Collection of May 1968 Paris Counterculture.

Channeling undercurrents of political unrest and cultural discontent, as well as a simple delight in mockery, Bizarre became an important artistic expression of the culture of protest that peaked (at

(Cosmetic?) Surgery on the Mona Lisa, Bizarre, no. 11/12 (May 1959)

(Cosmetic?) Surgery on the Mona Lisa, Bizarre, no. 11/12 (May 1959)

least initially) in the revolts of May ’68. Bizarre excelled in the scavenging techniques of détournement and bouleversement wielded by avant-garde poets, artistists, and cultural critics in the Paris of Situationism and Lettrism (one issue of the magazine is entirely devoted to a critical engagement with the latter). Siné’s cut-out design for the cover of Bizarre no. 11/12 (shown at top) cloaks the Mona Lisa (La Joconde) in the garb of a heavily

"Miss Mona Lisa 1957," shown with labels for Mona Lisa brand cheese and cigars and a pin featuring the Eiffel Tower, Bizarre, no 11/12 (May 1959)

"Miss Mona Lisa 1957," shown with labels for Mona Lisa brand cheese and cigars and a pin featuring the Eiffel Tower, Bizarre, no 11/12 (May 1959)

decorated (and heavily wounded) military officer, but inside the covers one finds a medley of playful misappropriation, commercial exploitation, disfigurement, and material destruction. There are paint-by-number Mona Lisas, Mona Lisa gag postcards, crossword puzzles, postage stamps, posters,  Mona Lisa comic strips and

Mad about MAD: "Les limitaions de Mad a l'egard de la segregation sont celles du liberalisme american dans son ensemble ... Cette hypocrisie de bonne foi qui pousse les plus honnetes a considerer que la mystique anti-negre ne constitue meme pas matiere a scandale, a l'accepter passivement sans se sentir troubles par leur propre silence, est un des elements les plus inquietants de l'ideologie americaine." Bizarre no 6 (November 1956)

Mad about MAD: "Les limitaions de Mad à l'égard de la ségrégation sont celles du libéralisme american dans son ensemble ... Cette hypocrisie de bonne foi qui pousse les plus honnêtes à considerer que la mystique anti-nègre ne constitue même pas matière à scandale, à l'accepter passivement sans se sentir troublés par leur propre silence, est un des éléments les plus inquiétants de l'idéologie américaine." Bizarre no 6 (November 1956)

measurements of her physique, “typographical” portraits of the Mona Lisa, and countless other permutations, all gathered around Jean Margat’s tongue-in-cheek theoretical treatise, “Introduction à la Jocondoclastie” (Introduction to Mona-Lisa Iconoclasm). The last dozen or so pages are devoted to “exercises” in this new art–“découpages,” “clivages,” “déformations,” “trucages photographiques,” “chirugie,” and “destructions matérielles.”

Cinema and pop culture were also popular themes. Tarzan, Boris Karloff, Bela Lagosi, Brigitte Bardot share layouts with “monsters” from circus sideshows, film noire, comic strips, and lots of American beauties pointing guns at the viewer. A jarring flux and flow strongly reminiscent of the illustrations of Internationale Situationniste that were being published in the same years. The editors of Bizarre had a penchant for revealing the dark side of American popular culture, as in this stinging critique of MAD magazine, chastized for its lily-white heros and its complete silence on the topic of racism and the civil rights movement in the United States. The rising wave of détourned political comics, which spread quickly throughout Europe in the early sixties and became a staple visual component of protest literature in the wake of 1968, certainly ripples through the 48 issues of Bizarre from first to last.