Le Corbusier at the MoMa

Kanika Pruthi of Saffronart discusses Corbusier’s ongoing retrospective at the MoMA in New York and how it drafts an unconventional picture of the famed architect

Corbusier in Chandigarh, India

Corbusier in Chandigarh, India. Image Credit: http://theblondeambitiondaily.blogspot.com/

New York: Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes opened this month at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. A retrospective exhibition on a grand scale, it surveys the biographical development of the architect’s ideas about landscape and topography. In the words of guest curator Jean-Louis Cohen, it undertakes a restorative task by challenging his long held reputation as proponent of austere, uniform modernism and to re-skew Le Corbusier from his bad reputation of constructing generic buildings with a gaping lack of sensitivity and addressal of the site at large, by presenting to the visitor a dazzling breadth of the architect’s creative genius.

Legislative Assembly Building, Chandigarh

Legislative Assembly Building, Chandigarh. Image Credit: http://aujourdhuivalery.blogspot.com/2012/02/chandigarh-legislative-assembly.html

Encompassing his work as an architect, interior designer, artist, city planner, writer, and photographer, the exhibition transforms the sixth floor into a grand tour of the multiple facets of Le Corbuseir’s life and his many undertakings and achievements. The exhibition is accompanied by an extensively researched and impressively put together catalogue in the format of an altas, fastidiously listing the major projects the architect undertook during his lifetime.

The exhibition space displays four reconstructed interiors, models of buildings, complementing photographs by Richard Pare, Corbusier’s early purist paintings, sketches, drawings, watercolor, furniture and film, all together documenting his many travels and engagements. The exhibition’s fourth section is devoted to Corbusier’s plan and buildings in Chandigarh, India. Three plaster architectural models and 11 ink and pencil perspective drawings work in concert with Pare’s photography to reveal Corbusier distinct connection with Chandigarh, and the role that Punjab’s landscape played in (literally) shaping his grand plans for the capital city.

Palace of Assembly, Chandigarh

Palace of Assembly, Chandigarh. Image Credit: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Le_Corbusier_buildings

As noted in the opening pages of the catalogue Corbusier is one of the rare architects to have built on three continents before the advent of commercial interconnected jet service. The sheer volume- of material and discourse, produced by the exhibition is a clear indicator of the uncontested standing of the architect in the field. His major criticism has centered on the apparent disconnect between his structures and their surroundings. The validity and longevity of this critique can be ascertained by the retrospective’s herculean undertaking to establish the relationship between Corbusier and landscape- a very specific and noteworthy point of focus.

As illuminated by the catalogue essays, Corbusier approached landscape from different angles- some manifest while others latent. Contrary to popular belief, he had a keen interest in landscape, evident from his paintings, drawings, writings and travels, which are inherently attached to the appearance of landscape. He developed an understanding of the building as a type of viewing device for the landscape into an object of contemplation in ways quite distinct from the picturesque tradition.  He actually went on to develop a notion of landscape that included both the microscopic scale of a building’s immediate environment and the small landscape that it created or sustained, such as terraces, the macroscopic scale of urban ensembles and large terrains. He was attentive to both the grand landscapes of mountains and coastlines as well as the urban cityscapes. His pocket sketchbooks document this lifetime interest.

Aptly stated in the catalogue, “Le Corbusier was engaged not with the ways in which things are similar around the world but rather with the ways in which they are distinct, with layers of culture that resonate even in worlds in mutation from the forces of modernization.”

The exhibition will be on until September 23, to learn more click here.

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