Edward Soja, 2013. Photo courtesy of the UCLA Luskin School of Public Affairs.


ANALYSIS OF THE SOCIAL, cultural, and economic significance of space is so pervasive in many contemporary art practices and academic disciplines that it is easy to forget that the “spatial turn” has both a history and a place of origin. If the concerns once pursued in relative isolation by architects, planners, and geographers today appear omnipresent in art schools and course syllabi, book series and conferences, the ideas of geographer and urban theorist Edward Soja (1940–2015) played a key role in catalyzing this shift. Soja began his career as a specialist in Africa and by the time of his death was distinguished professor emeritus of urban planning at UCLA. In 2015 he received the Vautrin-Lud International Prize for Geography, frequently called the Nobel Prize of the field.

His book Postmodern Geographies: The Reassertion of Space in Critical Social Theory was a decisive force in establishing a robust spatial theory as an indispensable armature of postmodernism. Fusing Marxist models of urbanization with concepts developed by the French geographer Henri Lefebvre, whose work Soja introduced to an American audience, the book argued against a simplistic historicism and for a dialectical analysis of urban restructuring grounded in spatial categories.

Its publication in 1989 and the appearance of Mike Davis’s City of Quartz: Excavating the Future in Los Angeles the following year are widely regarded as prophetic of the civil disturbances that rocked urban centers across America in 1992. Together, they effectively annihilated the reigning tradition of boosterism that had characterized most writing about American cities up to that point. Acknowledging the unsavory histories of local elites and the dependence of the city on exploitative labor practices and the military-industrial complex, they leavened and deepened discussions of Los Angeles.

Indeed, few books did more to place the city on the global urban agenda and make it a valid topic for scholarly analysis. Today they appear among the most lasting contributions of the Los Angeles School of Urbanism, an informal group of scholars whose core participants (some accounts claim twenty members) also included Michael Dear, Allen Scott, Michael Storper, and Jennifer Wolch.

When the group congealed in 1986, thanks in part to an issue of the journal Society and Space devoted to the city, Los Angeles acquired a group of thinkers concerned not with its alleged uniqueness but attentive to the ways in which patterns of urban and regional growth discernible there might be understood in relation to those characteristic of other metropoles. Soja’s was a key voice in the Los Angeles School, contributing immeasurably to the intellectual maturation and self-identity of a city whose residents might never have dared to imagine that—like Chicago, Frankfurt, and London—their city, too, could generate a school.

Soja’s final book, My Los Angeles: From Urban Restructuring to Regional Urbanization (2014), was his most sustained treatment of the city, a demonstration of his famous claim that “it all comes together in Los Angeles” and a reminder that he never drank the Kool-Aid of claims that the creative economy could solve problems such as deindustrialization and homelessness. It reveals his unflinching commitment to social justice and to building alliances between the academics and labor activists. A dedicated mentor to scores of students at UCLA, he was a vital member of a community where his absence is already keenly felt.

Edward Dimendberg is a professor at the University of California, Irvine, where he teaches courses on architecture and urbanism in the school of humanities.

Claude Parent. Photo: Fonds Parent. SIAF/Cité de l'architecture et du patrimoine/Architecture Archives of the Twentieth Century.


CLAUDE PARENT IS THE ARCHITECT who, starting in the 1960s, provided another vision of French architecture, a vision oriented toward the future and toward art, going in a direction that was diametrically opposed to that of Le Corbusier.

Objecting to the vertical city, he imagined inclined sites, oblique cities where inhabitants, like mountain dwellers, essentially live on slopes, in a new organization of space based on health and the pleasure of the body in movement.

A tremendous draftsman, a true Piranesi of this century, he has left us with hundreds of poetic and utopic images.

For Claude, architecture was above all an art. Passionate about béton brut (raw concrete) and its mass, he, along with Paul Virilio, also explored military architecture and upended its vocabulary.

Many of his built architectural projects are now protected as historic monuments: in Paris, at the Cité Universitaire, the Pavilion d’Iran; in Antibes, the Villa André Bloc; in Nevers, the Eglise Sainte Bernadette; in Sens, a shopping center…

In the context of France today, where architecture and architects are less and less respected, we will miss the man, his humanity, his elegance, and his humor, which always served conscience and resistance. But it is also because this loss is so immense and cruel that Claude’s unforgettable spirit will be the soul of our future battles about the prospects of architecture.

Jean Nouvel is the founder of Ateliers Jean Nouvel, based in Paris.

Translated from French by Molly Stevens

Jean-Christophe Ammann and Harald Szeemann. Photo: Till Spiro, Kassel.


WITH THE PASSING of Jean-Christophe Ammann, a great, pathbreaking curator has left us. He participated in the vanguard of new departures in art, especially in the late 1970s and ’80s, and he breathed a welcome liveliness into the landscape of German museums—once fussy structures—during his leadership of the Museum für Moderne Kunst (MMK) in Frankfurt, the first museum for modern art in the country, from 1989–2001. Why has there been such silence surrounding his death?

A moody, collegial photo from 1972 captures Ammann and Harald Szeemann during the period in which they conceived the mythical Documenta 5 together. At that point, Ammann already had an impressive résumé: Since 1968 he had been at the Kunstmuseum Lucerne as one of Europe’s youngest museum directors, and before that he had been an assistant at the Kunsthalle Bern. This image conveys something of the fighting spirit of the two Swiss “generals” who worked relentlessly for the recognition of contemporary art in postwar Europe.

Together, they built on the early work of art educators and museum directors such as Arnold Rüdlinger, Arnold Bode, Willem Sandberg, and others, as well as on the work of daring gallerists and dealers on both sides of the Atlantic, in New York, Düsseldorf, Kassel, and Amsterdam, but also especially in Italy, in Turin, Rome, and Milan.

After that historic Documenta, Szeemann withdrew from contemporary art for more than ten years to prepare his famous exhibitions in the history of ideas (such as “Machines célibataires,” “Monte verità,” “Der Hang zum Gesamtkunstwerk”) and Ammann focused on communicating new ideas about contemporary art to the public for the next twenty years, first continuing his role in Lucerne and then, after 1978, at the Kunsthalle Basel. Only later, and hesitantly, did his practice expand into museums, Kunsthalles, and, yes, biennials.

Importantly, Ammann also stimulated the exchange between the art scenes in Europe and the US, and he did this at a time when the two worlds were still very separate, solipsistically turned in upon themselves. He also knew, as no other, how to bring the zeitgeist—the most advanced and cosmopolitan developments in art—to the provinces, and by doing so, to bring local artists into top form. First Lucerne and then Basel, indeed Switzerland at large, suddenly became luminous places on the art-world map.

His influence can be seen even in the history of Artforum. When, in 1981, Ingrid Sischy opened many new eyes to young European art production, this had much to do with Ammann’s work and charisma. Indeed, encounters with him were often formative. For generations of artists, educators, and ordinary art audiences he was an unforgettable instigator and a passionate conversation partner. Franz Gertsch captured the atmosphere around Ammann in many large-format Photorealist paintings, such as Medici from 1971, which presents the players in Lucerne’s scene in front of “their” museum.

Franz Gertsch, Medici, 1971, oil on linen, 13 x 20'. Photo: Franz Gertsch, Medici.


Several of Ammann’s exhibitions were milestones, as were the accompanying catalogues, for example “Transformer” from 1974, the first and for a long time only gender-themed exhibition in a museum, with Luciano Castelli, Jürgen Klauke, Urs Lüthi, Pierre Molinier, Tony Morgan, Luigi Ontani, Walter Pfeiffer, Andrew Sherwood, Alex Silber, the Cockettes, Andy Warhol—and, as the only woman, Katharina Sieverding.

When Ammann arrived in Lucerne, he immediately created one sensation after the other. In 1969 he presented the “Düsseldorf Szene” (Düsseldorf Scene) with, among others, Joseph Beuys, Blinky Palermo, Sigmar Polke, Jörg Immendorff, Gerhard Richter, and Reiner Ruthenbeck. He followed this with the “Visualisierten Denkprozesse” (Visualized Thought Processes), in which the new practices with international ambitions were skillfully juxtaposed with inspired local works. That’s how he presented the “Young Italian Avant-Garde,” a reference to his inclusion of Arte Povera, with Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, and others, together with two local women artists, Irma Ineichen and Josephine Troller. In 1972, he carried out the magnificent exhibition “Oh, the Grand Old Duke of York,” with drawings and performances from Gilbert & George.

In 1973, he showed Paul Thek’s ruminant Gesamtkunstwerk installation and also exhibited the work of Michael Heizer, Hanne Darboven, and Urs Lüthi, as well David Weiss, some time before the latter would team up with the younger Peter Fischli. Ammann presented the two of them in tandem in their first comprehensive institutional exhibition in 1985.

He celebrated his shift to the Kunsthalle Basel with magnificent solo shows of Alighiero Boetti, in 1978, and Giovanni Anselmo and Dennis Oppenheim, both in 1979. In 1980, Ammann became one of the first champions and interpreters of painting’s great departure into the postmodern (everything Deleuzian and body related), by showing the punk painter Martin Disler, the Italian Transavantguardia, and also Julian Schnabel, the “Mühlheimer Freiheit” (Mühlheimer Freedom), with Georg Dokoupil, Walter Dahn, Werner Büttner, and Albert Oehlen. He simultaneously also showed the “in-between” generation of Americans little known in Europe at that time, in large, monographic exhibitions: Neil Jenney in 1982; Richard Artschwager and Bruce Nauman both in 1985. And he was pursuing historical reappraisal, too; thus Ammann introduced Malcolm Morley and the late Philip Guston to Basel with spectacular exhibitions that were organized in cooperation with Nicholas Serota when he was still director at the Whitechapel Gallery in London.

Ammann’s interest in photography was very keen, and in Basel he offered detailed solo presentations of Peter Hujar, Robert Mapplethorpe, Dino Pedriali, and Dennis Hopper. And he helped a young generation of women finally pushed into the art world, giving Rosemarie Trockel, Hannah Villiger, and Vivian Suter their first big presentations. In 1988, Katharina Fritsch showed her hypnotic Tischgesellschaft (Dinner Party), which later evolved into a public favorite at the MMK.

I remember how often Ammann’s fans, including myself, ate with him in the restaurant at the Kunsthalle, where he orchestrated so many exciting gatherings with artists and other open, subtle souls. Jean-Christophe’s gusto for the confrontational, his courage to resist, inspired and challenged. Jean-Christophe had a way of drawing one directly into his high-flying and deeply penetrating reflections; he gave, gave away, and went for broke—he was the embodiment of potlatch.

In 1984 in Zurich, we founded the bilingual art publication Parkett as a bridge between the continents. We focused on slowness and depth, but the most important elements—which could be traced back to Ammann’s schooling—were our proximity to artists and our resolute rejection of the appearance of objectivity. In its place we referenced a background of collective experience. This subjectively objectifying approach to art could sum up the Ammannian motto: authentic expertise instead of academic role-playing and pomposity. His favorite mantra was that rather than succumbing to indoctrination from on high, one should remain at eye level and “look over the artist’s shoulder.”


In 1986, Ammann organized a private conversation that took place over several sessions between Joseph Beuys, Enzo Cucchi, Anselm Kiefer, and Jannis Kounellis in the library at the Kunsthalle. The rules of the game were as follows: Europe, not art, was to be the subject discussed, but it would be examined from the perspective of the artist. The conversation was published in book form in a number of languages by Parkett Publishers. How topical and important a new roundtable with today’s artists on this volatile subject would be!

There is still so much more to mention—for instance the fact that the Kunsthalle Basel was a crucial venue for the first generation of performance artists emerging in the ’80s. But above all there are Ammann’s achievements in Frankfurt at the MMK. In 1991, for the institution’s opening, he installed Siah Armajani’s vast reading sculpture Sacco and Vanzetti Reading Room, making an explicit connection to his much-discussed essay, “Pladoyer für eine neue Kunst im öffentlichen Raum” (Plea for a New Art in Public Space), published five years earlier. With his cyclical “Szenewechsel” (Scene Change), he introduced the dynamic principle of the presentation of a collection.

He came to be called the “most gifted beggar in Frankfurt,” because, as soon as he arrived, he had to make do with dramatic budget cuts. In response, he actively searched for sponsors, an approach for which he was strongly attacked, although today it has become a naturalized practice in European museums. His decision to present Oliviero Toscani and the Benetton ads on a large scale in the museum in 1992 was controversial. When Gerhard Richter’s fifteen-part painting cycle “18. Oktober 1977” was withdrawn from exhibition at the museum by the lender and sold to MoMA, Ammann found himself at the center of another polemical debate, this one about keeping the politically explosive images in Germany.

Ammann is now gone, but what remains is that he was the first to introduce—with great conviction and such talent for innovation—so much that has slowly, slowly been adopted in the practice of museum professionals. In contrast to other great curators, he had no affectations, undertook no self-mythologization, preferring to devote himself with a tireless attention to the works he showed. In his last years, he published a great deal, and he taught. He, who had written so much that pointed the way ahead, did not tire of declaring that we should all “trust the art, not the discourses generating the art.” And again and again, he would enthusiastically embrace young artists. But at the same time he dedicated his time to an artist he had known for years, who connected with his precise, wild thought so very well: Alighiero Boetti, whose catalogue raisonné Ammann was overseeing until the very end of his life.

Bice Curiger is artistic director of the Fondation Vincent van Gogh Arles and editor of Parkett. From 1993–2013 she was curator at the Kunsthaus Zürich.

Translated from German by Diana Reese.

Cover of the catalogue for Transformer: Aspects of Travesty, 1974. Photo: Bice Curiger.


WALKING THROUGH the extraordinary first large US retrospective of Peter Fischli & David Weiss currently at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, I remembered how I initially encountered the work as a teenager in 1985, in the artists’ inaugural major solo show in a European institution. Curated by Jean-Christophe Ammann, that exhibition, “Ein ruheloses universum” (A Restless Universe) at the Kunsthalle Basel, was one of the biggest epiphanies of my life, prompting me to visit Fischli & Weiss, which in turn launched a conversation that never ended and has since strongly influenced and informed my own thinking and practice.

After that Fischli & Weiss encounter, I never missed one of Ammann’s exhibitions at the Kunsthalle, where he was director from 1978 until 1988. In 1988 alone, Ammann showed Richard Serra’s wall drawings, Dennis Hopper’s photographs, Anselm Stalder, and the first institutional exhibitions of Rosemarie Trockel and Katharina Fritsch. Fritsch created her iconic piece Tischgesellschaft —a breakthrough moment—for that exhibition, and Ammann arranged for it to be acquired by the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt. Ammann’s program in Basel was truly a tour de force. Thanks to him, I experienced groundbreaking artists and was confronted with challenging ideas from an early age, which fostered my interest and curiosity to meet and work with artists.

After studying art history, Christian archaeology, and German literature at the Universität Fribourg, Ammann went to work at the Kunsthalle Bern, under the directorship of Harald Szeemann, in 1967. A year later, Ammann took over the Kunstmuseum Luzern at the young age of twenty-nine and ran the institution until 1977, using the museum as a laboratory for contemporary art and ideas. His experimental and rigorous program was staggering and highly influential: He created an energy field that allowed for the formation of new ideas and concepts. In his nearly decade-long leadership there, Ammann showed myriad exceptional artists such as Niki de Saint Phalle (1969), Gerhard Richter (1973), and Alighiero Boetti (1974). Fischli told me how he traveled there on his motorcycle to experience the living sculptures of Gilbert & George in their 1972 exhibition.

One of the most important shows Ammann curated in Lucerne was the groundbreaking group exhibition “Transformer: Aspects of Travesty” in 1974, which dealt with transvestism, drag performance, and sexual self-reflection through gender-blurring artworks. Artists included Luciano Castelli, Jürgen Klauke, Urs Lüthi, Pierre Molinier, Tony Morgan, Luigi Ontani, Walter Pfeiffer, Andrew Sherwood, Katharina Sieverding, Werner Alex Meyer (alias Alex Silber), the Cockettes, and Andy Warhol. Mick Jagger, David Bowie, Brian Eno, and the New York Dolls contributed to the catalogue; the exhibition title was inspired by Lou Reed’s 1972 LP of the same name. “Transformer” traveled to Germany and Austria, and Swiss TV documented the opening, which indicates the wide dissemination of its ideas.

Hilmar Hoffmann, the cultural commissioner for Frankfurt in the late 1980s, was the driving force in the city’s museum boom in the ’70s through the early ’90s. He convinced Ammann to move to Frankfurt to become director of the MMK in 1989. Though I’d met Ammann as a teenager in Basel, I saw him regularly in Frankfurt, when I collaborated with Kasper König in the early ’90s at the Städelschule, as he and Kasper lived in the same building. (It was a remarkable time. Hoffmann brought so many people to Frankfurt, including William Forsythe and Rainer Werner Fassbinder; he embodied an ambition for cultural politics that often feels missing today in Europe.) Two years later, the new institution designed by Austrian architect Hans Hollein was opened to the public. After two decades of leading institutions with no collections, Ammann was keen to build a repository for contemporary art to be shown to audiences on a permanent basis.

Nevertheless, for Ammann, permanent did not mean stagnant. In Frankfurt, he created the format of Szenenwechsel or “change of scene,” in which the museum’s collection display would rotate several times during the year through reordering and adding new acquisitions or loaned works. A collection display in constant flux triggers a continuous dialogue with the present and a questioning of the past, allowing the museum to negotiate histories and to make new connections between artists and art practices. The initiative highlights Ammann’s commitment to creating different ways of seeing and approaching art in an institutional context. In Lucerne, Basel, and Frankfurt, he exemplified the ways in which a museum can become a catalyst for new ideas, discussions, and inspirations for an entire region.

In 2001, at the age of sixty-two, Ammann left the MMK to continue working as a curator, critic, writer, and advisor. During this time, he published numerous books in German, including Bei näherer Betrachtung: Zeitgenössische Kunst verstehen und deuten (A Closer Look: Understanding and Interpreting Contemporary Art) in 2007, and Kunst? Ja, Kunst: Die Sehnsucht der Bilder (Art? Yes, Art: The Longing of Images) in 2014. One of his major undertakings was Boetti’s catalogue raisonné.

The last text that I know of by Ammann is on Boetti—the preface to the book Il gioco dell’arte (The Game of Art), written by the artist’s daughter Agata Boetti. It will be published this spring. Ammann recounts Boetti’s obsession with photocopying everything that could possibly be photocopied. One day, the artist proposed to Agata that they photocopy raindrops, so she helped him drag the photocopier outside in the rain. The machine was destroyed, but the raindrops created beautiful images. In telling this intimate story of the stunning piece made by Boetti and his daughter, Ammann hints at his dedication to, and passion for, working with artists. In an interview with ART Position in 1989, Ammann notes: “Personally, everything I learned in my life, I learned from artists. An artist, who paints a picture or creates a work, always creates a world.”

Hans Ulrich Obrist is a curator and director of the Serpentine Galleries in London.