Johns and Wright, A Weekend Pairing

My interest in architecture generally begins and ends with George Costanza’s many failed and fraudulent attempts on Seinfeld. Of course, I interact with architecture on a daily basis, but all those angular lines and mathematical equations always kept me at arms distance.

Despite my lack of interest, I remember first hearing of Frank Lloyd Wright after visiting a museum with my Girl Scouts troop at some point in my relatively distant past. If my memory isn’t lying to me, I remember being struck by the way in which his buildings blended in with the natural atmosphere around them: a wooden and sunny house surrounded by a wooden and sunny forest.

Over the weekend, the fellow and I went to the MOMA’s Frank Lloyd Wright and The City: Density versus Dispersal. The exhibit focused on his work in the 1920’s and 30’s, with a particular look at works representative of his philosophies on cities and the rise of the American suburbs. Wright believed that cars would have a massive impact on American culture — he’s on the money there — and foresaw more sprawled, community centers where each family lived in its own housing unit within a somewhat planned community of farms, community spaces, schools, and highways.

At the same time, Wright was experimenting with skyscrapers and pushing the physical construction of buildings as far as he could imagine. Paradoxically, skyscrapers are, of course, the ultimate symbol of the urban skyline.

My favorite urban-centric work on display in this exhibit was his St. Marks On the Bouwerie plan. (Yes, there’s an extremely high chance that the reason I like this work so much in particular is because I still envision myself living on St. Mark’s in some other time.) The concept of this building was akin to a pinwheel. Each apartment had spiraling levels, starting with the kitchen and balcony on the first floor to a loft-like bedroom on the second floor. Clearly a surprisingly efficient use of space, the towers were to circle upwards into the sky.

Next door was Jasper Johns‘ RegretsIf you do go to this exhibit, be sure to turn right after entering the room. We made the mistake of wandering left, which, turns out, is not the ideal way to view this show.

Jasper Johns, Regrets
Jasper Johns, Regrets

The exhibit is a strong look at experimentation and process. Beginning with a degraded photograph of the artist Lucian Freud, Johns created a series of reproductions across a variety of mediums, experimenting with the forms and permutations of his original inspiration.

On each print, stamp, or painting, there is the message, Regrets, Jasper Johns, words from a stamp created for when he needed to turn down engagements. The repetition of the phrase conjures the other meaning of regrets, as in:

verb (used with object), re·gret·ted, re·gret·ting.
1. to feel sorrow or remorse for (an act, fault, disappointment, etc.): He no sooner spoke than he regretted it.
2. to think of with a sense of loss: to regret one’s vanished youth.

The original image Johns worked from shows Freud sitting on a bed with his head in his hands, a standard depiction of sorrow or loss. However, throughout his process of working with this image, Johns flips and reproduces it horizontally, causing the bed posts to double and become a dark, overlying force that shrouds the rest of the image. The center of the painting then takes on a personified form of, what looks to be, the shadow of regret itself.

Albeit very different, both were really interesting shows. Frank Lloyd Wright and The City is on view until June 1, 2014; Regrets is on display on September 1, 2014.

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