Frist Art Museum Presents 'Image Building: How Photography Transforms Architecture'
The Frist Art Museum presents Image Building: How Photography Transforms Architecture, an exhibition that examines the complex and dynamic interactions among spectators, images, buildings, and time through the lens of architectural photography in America and Europe from the 1930s to the present. On view in the museum's Upper-Level Galleries from July 20 through October 28, 2018, Image Building features 57 photographs that explore the social, psychological, and conceptual implications of architecture through the subjective interpretation of those who portrayed it in both film and digital media.
Organized by guest curator Therese Lichtenstein, PhD, Image Building brings together works by 21 artists and commercial photographers, ranging from classic modern masters such as Berenice Abbott, Samuel H. Gottscho, and Julius Shulman to a later generation known for its more vernacular images, with Robert Adams, Lewis Baltz, Luigi Ghirri, and Stephen Shore among its members. The exhibition also features contemporary works by Iwan Baan, Hélène Binet, James Casebere, Thomas Demand, Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, Thomas Ruff, Thomas Struth, and Hiroshi Sugimoto, among others.
"Buildings and the way they are photographed are visible projections of a society's self-image, conveying the social, economic, and aesthetic concerns of an era," says Frist Art Museum Chief Curator Mark Scala. "Articulating meaning and function through the representation of an existing or possible structure is a vital part of architectural practice-a way to show both clients and the public how buildings fulfill their function and interact with their environments."
Organized thematically into Cityscapes, Domestic Spaces, and Public Places, the exhibition examines the relationship between contemporary and historical approaches to photographing buildings in urban, suburban, and rural environments, looking at influences, similarities and differences. By juxtaposing these photographs, Image Building creates a dialogue between the past and present, revealing the ways photography shapes and frames the perception of architecture, and how that perception is transformed over time.
In the first section, Cityscapes, the essence of New York City is explored by Berenice Abbott and Iwan Baan in two photographs separated by nearly 80 years. Shot from the vantage point of the Empire State Building, Abbott's The Night View (1934) is a modernist depiction of a thriving metropolis packed with skyscrapers and shimmering lights. Made during the Great Depression, the photograph shows no hint of the poverty or struggles that many were experiencing at ground level. Contrasting with this message of power and confidence, Iwan Baan's The City and the Storm (2012) portrays a vulnerable New York after electrical outages and flooding caused by Hurricane Sandy left vast swaths of darkness from lower Manhattan to Midtown.
From the mid-century until now, domestic spaces have presented an irresistible subject to many photographers, who create voyeuristic windows into everyday life, showing elegant modern homes as the beautiful dream of consumerist society, or rundown towns and apartment buildings as loci for alienation and melancholia. The second section, Domestic Spaces, includes photographs of buildings meant for the practical use of individuals and families. People are rarely included in the shots, however. In Julius Schulman's photographs of show-homes of the post-World War II era, for example, this lack of human presence suggests modern architecture is very much like formalist sculpture-"meant to be looked at in terms of angles, light, planes, but not to be touched, entered, or used," says Scala. For Shore and others, this human absence tells of a postwar alienation experienced by many in the lower and middle classes who did not benefit from the economic recovery of the 1950s and beyond.
The artists featured in the final section, Public Places, create digital photographs to interpret buildings and sites meant for public use. Monumental works by Andreas Gursky, Candida Höfer, and Thomas Struth show that public places can signify communal aspirations and cultural identity. This extends to architecture that does not actually exist, as seen in the works of James Casebere and Thomas Demand, who photograph models of building types to focus more fully on their symbolic meaning, which is as often unsettling as it is positive.
As with any exhibition that reflects changes wrought through time, Image Building has particular relevance to contemporary culture. Scala hopes that the exhibition will inspire visitors to the Frist Art Museum to consider Nashville's own evolving cityscape in terms of its symbolic resonance, for us and future generations.
Image: Iwan Baan (Dutch, b. 1975). Torre David #2, 2011. Chromogenic print,
48 x 72 in. Courtesy the artist and Moskowitz Bayse, Los Angeles