Let’s start in Stuttgart, with the new ‘Weissenhof Museum’, devoted to the architecture of the father of the International Style, Le Corbusier. The Weissenhof Museum is actually two recently renovated semi-detached houses designed by the modernist master. They were built in 1927 as part of an exhibition showing the very latest in modernist domestic design:
The Weissenhofsiedlung is one of the most significant landmarks left by the movement known as “Neues Bauen”. The development was erected in 1927 as a residential building exhibition arranged by the City of Stuttgart and the Deutscher Werkbund. Working under the artistic direction of Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, seventeen architects created an exemplary residential scheme for modern urban residents.
The architects participating in the exhibition – including Le Corbusier, Gropius, Mies van der Rohe, Scharoun and others – were known at that time only in those circles devoted to the international avantgarde. Today they are amongst the most notable masters of modern architecture. To be found at the Weissenhof development are numerous homes built by these architects, all in close proximity one to another. And that’s what makes this residential development unique around the world. The Weissenhof houses allow us to see Le Corbusier’s vision of a ‘machine for living in’, and his modernist aesthetic up close – with white walls, straight lines, rational domestic space, and plenty of light and air.
Le Corbusier was an influence on just about all of his modernist contemporaries, and the Finnish architect and designer, Alvar Aalto, was no exception. The Barbican ArtGallery in London has a fine Aalto exhibition on display, curated ‘through the eyes of Shigeru Ban’, the innovative Japanese architect whose own work is indebted to Aalto. The exhibition focuses on sixteen of Aalto’s projects, including such masterpieces as the Villa Mairea, the Paimio Tuberculosis Sanatorium, and his Helsinki House of Culture. Aalto shared Le Corbusier’s love of a clean, healthy aesthetic, but Aalto’s evocative use of serpentine curved lines distinguishes his more undulating forms from his contemporaries. In addition to models, architectural drawings and photographs, the exhibition displays a fine selection of Aalto’s furniture designs that will have you heading directly to your nearest modernist furniture retailer. The exhibition continues until 13th May.
For a very different take on modern life, New York’s Metropolitan Museum gives us the sweeping, brilliant exhibition, ‘Barcelona and Modernity: Gaudi to Dali’. This combines painting, architecture and design, and forces us to remember that Modernism wasn’t all about clean lines and white walls and that its origins are firmly in late 19th century aesthetic movements. The colours in this exhibition are striking, capturing the energy and excitement of Barcelona at a time when the art world was thriving. In addition to Gaudi and Dali, there’s plenty of Miro and early Picasso. But more interesting are the many modernists that aren’t household names in the same way, people like Ramon Casas for whom the bohemian cafes of the city were essential intellectual haunts. (See his portrait of fellow modernist Erik Satie, to the right).
If you’re in New York, go see it. If you’re not in New York, this is a good reason to go. You’ve only got until June.