Monday, April 11, 2011

Part Two: Triumphs

Before a sculpture is a sculpture it is a protruding, thrusting forth lump of matter. Before something appears as architecture it is a building. The task of an architect is to superimpose on a skeleton of a building such highly organized aesthetics that the building will largely disappear: the “architecture” will replace the “building”. That disappearance happens to various degrees. Sometimes the sense of the “building” is so dominant it does not disappear at all and the pretense of belonging to architecture is based on the emphatic, mighty being-there rather than some realized superimposition of an architectural vision, the way so many water-towers are. But let’s turn attention to the opposite possibility, when the superimposition of architecture is so complete that the building is replaced in aesthetic experience for an awe-inspiring encounter like no other in palpable, three-dimensional world.                                                                                  
            Two examples here to show how far from practicalities and functionalism art of architecture at times had gone. First is Milan Cathedral, which was under construction for 600 years. It has 135 pinnacles and 2245 exterior marble statues. To call it marble forest would be wrong because all of those forms are in motion, though stationary - in “flamboyant” motion, spiraling flame-like upward. Confronted with such sight viewer’s habitual sense of reality vanishes and is displaced by a dream.

Second example of three-dimensional dream made of stone is also gothic flamboyant, from Rouen in France: St. Maclou cathedral. Just like Milan’s Duomo is exceeding what is “reasonable”, what would seem “enough”. Passion burns brightly there and the effect is well beyond any mule-train of expressive language. Perhaps it was constructed to serve as an irremovable question-mark for those who have it all figured out regarding true nature of God. Maclou might also, perhaps be viewed as a portrait of a cell with almost endless inner workings and complexities.

            Now, after getting a glimpse of what I would hope for in architecture let’s see if XX century can satisfy such expectation. I believe Antonio Gaudi was such architect. More than that-he was first and the sole true artist-architect since the Gothic. Oh, yes- there were many architects of   all those styles in between but they were building architecture the way that haberdasher or a “modiste” is fashioning a hat- with a sound crown and a bit sassy brim and some rhetorical elements of the décor. Not really art but rather like cake-decoration, funereal ceremonies or ikebana.
               Rather than recombining existing, commonly used parts in a new structure, Gaudi worked by inventing elements of architecture. His architecture contains more creativity than all of contemporary architecture of his time. While most of architecture we see has at best a slight effort toward distinctiveness, his buildings and all the parts are  seemingly endless outpour of creativity, inventiveness, new visions and new    structural solutions. As illustration of his creativity take a look at Gaudi’s columns:



         Usually his style is considered Art Nouveau but from a longer perspective of a century one can see how much larger and more powered by vitality his style is than the fainting sinuousness of Art Nouveau. In fact Gaudi stands looming like some Mediterranean Colossus: without antecedence or progeny. Like Hieronymus Bosch or William Blake he is sui generis. His inspiration has one source – nature. Stems of plants, chalices of flowers, undulations of sand ripples on a shore, surfaces and patterns of water. The very forces animating biomorphism are reflected, portrayed everywhere in his creations: forces of gathering tightly and languidly releasing, thrusting upward and holding fast, slow strength-gathering and spiraling upward.
Gaudi’s choice and treatment of materials should serve as a great lesson to artists of all visual disciplines. His famed wrought iron pieces are glorifying metal and its properties.

        His use of stone and its surfaces are amplified, made emphatically stony. The tactile quality of these surfaces are presented to us for sensual enjoyment as if invited to a tactile glyptothek or lapidarium.

The kind of world we enter in Gaudi’s creation is intriguingly strange and at the same time intimately familiar because he follows what is so deeply natural, already recognized by our nature, by kinship of all  living forms.
I know of no other architect who created more and left a world of visions larger, more original and more beautiful than Antonio Gaudi.I encourage you to perform a bit of an experiment on your mind and picture all of occidental architecture and remove Gaudi from that picture. What a gash,what bloody hole we just made- look! Without him we are left with those endless alleys of orthogonal geometries, luxurious prisons of perpendicularity – no place for the living.

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