Critics’ Picks

Denise Scott Brown, La Concha Motel, Las Vegas, ca.1966, giclée pigment print on Hahnemuhle archival paper, 17 x 21."

New York

Denise Scott Brown

carriage trade
277 Grand Street 2nd Floor
October 25–December 22

Vegas was her idea. In 1968, architects Denise Scott Brown and her husband, the late Robert Venturi, chaperoned thirteen Yale students—nine of them studying architecture—to the city for a field trip. Four years later came Learning from Las Vegas—their landmark, somewhat trollish retort to the fusty grade of International Style then ascendant. That treatise’s so-called populist championing of vernacular modes and classical allusions remains relevant and divisive, though Scott Brown’s immense legacy still often serves as a footnote to Venturi’s. This small exhibition of research photographs—and her first US solo show—offers a subtle corrective, reminding us how her curiosity and nimble, voracious observations spurred one of contemporary architecture’s most contentious movements.

Shot with a touristy casualness, Scott Brown’s pictures recall the banal, deadpan vistas of Stephen Shore’s and Ed Ruscha’s photographs (viewers immediately encounter a panoramic collage of casinos modeled after Ruscha’s Every Building on the Sunset Strip, 1966). But the pleasures lie in seeing how Scott Brown sees: how the bronze, bikinied odalisque in a suntan-lotion ad becomes an extension of the mountainous horizon behind it (Tanya Billboard, 1968, which later graced the dust jacket of Learning from Las Vegas). Or how lushly sculptural the gimcrackery of overlapping motel and wedding chapel signage can be (as in Architettura Minore on the Strip, Las Vegas, 1966), or La Concha Motel, Las Vegas, ca. 1966, a nocturnal snapshot involving a floating neon onion dome and electric seashells (“no sense of space at all,” says Scott Brown of the scene, in the catalogue for the show). Two videos, filmed by a camera mounted to the prow of a Ford, take us down the Strip, whose excess now feels quaint. Indeed, despite this show’s diagrams, cerebral wall text, and intuitive arrangement, the images appear mostly evacuated of their polemical charge. And yet from Scott Brown’s tendency to notice those places that force us to gawk, there is still much to learn.