Retinal (St)architecture and tomorrow’s kitsch

The Louisiana Museum of Modern Art near Copenhagen is one of those standalone reminders of a derailed ideal. Designed by two almost unknown Swedish architects, Vilhelm Wohlert and Jørgen Bo, in the 50s, it is a conversion of a farm, donated by the owner to become a public gallery, and hosts several works from the 20th Century avant-garde mostly, such as Picasso, Max Ernst, Juan Miro, Giacometti, and others. One will search in vain to find a photograph of the building. In fact, even as you walk towards it, you see nothing that indicates the existence of a public space, let alone of one of the most prestigious art spaces in Scandinavia.

But once inside, one is transported to a place where indoors and outdoors become one, rooms, corridors, and stairs all follow the geometry of the landscape, you rarely step on a level which is above the ground, and glass walls provide natural light – at least in the Spring and Summer months – as well as beautiful views of the garden, the lake, the sea and the exhibits that are positioned outside. Viewing art is like a stroll in nature. What is experienced is a well-designed space for humans and nature to feel comfortable and safe.

Compare this to the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, to take just one example from many: A sculptural structure standing alone, insulated from the surrounding like an alien castle, the titanium plates work as a parody of the dark light of Eduardo Chillida and his profound steel works, with an equally imposing, if not oppressive, interior. Walking through art works is not light and easy. The abundance of images of the sculptural form of the building in the internet and elsewhere reveals that the eye alone is the target, not the body, the sensation, the movement in space and the minute changes of moods and perceptions that come with it. How it looks from outside is more important than how it feels when inside. Once again, we are back to the domination of sight over all other senses.

Bad design, or bad art, is not a catastrophe. You just unhang it, or paint over it. But bad architecture is a terrible thing, it stays and affects our environment for centuries. In tomorrow’s necessary shift towards a more harmonic relationship with nature, we will be left with these megalomaniac, unmovable, cement dinosaurs, and future generations will view them with a mixture of fascination and disproval. Hopefully we are the last generation that nurtures growing egos and not growing plans.

PS The architect Stavros Economou, who designed the house where I grew up, as well as the house that I live now, was part of the simple down to earth architectural movement. It was through him that that I understood what it is to design spaces as opposed to forms when he asked me once to photograph my parents house, expressing his frustration with photographers who naturally chose to take shots of the most photogenic forms of the site but failed to depict the space. And in the case of interiors designers this frustration turned into despair, as they changed colours, textures and positioned objects in total dissonance with the original intention. As for my photographs to be honest I don’t think that I succeeded.

Yiannos economou 2022