PRINT May 2013

Summer Exhibitions

“Le Corbusier: An Atlas of Modern Landscapes”

Museum of Modern Art, New York
June 15–September 23
Curated by Jean-Louis Cohen and Barry Bergdoll

I DECIDED I WANTED TO WORK FOR LE CORBUSIER in 1957, after I graduated from Cornell University, where his work had been a major part of the curriculum. I traveled to Paris, found his studio at 35, rue de Sèvres, and knocked on the door, carrying my student portfolio under my arm. But as soon as they heard my American accent, they shut the door in my face. The next day, I went to the Cité Internationale Universitaire de Paris to see his buildings there, and I happened upon the inauguration of the Maison du Brésil, Le Corbusier’s new residence hall for Brazilian researchers and students. I was sitting on a bench inside when Le Corbusier happened to come in and sit down next to me—he had arrived early for the ceremony. In my rustic French I explained to him that I wanted to work as an intern in his office but that no one would give me an interview. He told me that he didn’t want to have an American in his office; he felt there had been a series of situations in which American interest groups were working against him. The League of Nations Assembly building in Geneva, the headquarters of the United Nations in New York and those of unesco in Paris—all were projects he thought should have been his. And in fact he only ever built one building in North America—the Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts—but of course that did not in any way lessen his impact here.

A few years later, in 1963, Arthur Drexler organized a small show of his work at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, “Le Corbusier: Buildings in Europe and India.” I was a young architect just starting my own studio in New York, and that show was enormously influential for me at the time. The upcoming MoMA exhibition, organized by architectural historian Jean-Louis Cohen and MoMA curator Barry Bergdoll, is, incredibly, the first major survey of his work in New York City since then—perhaps testifying to some lingering transatlantic tension regarding his work. The show’s premise is to present the entire range of Le Corbusier’s output, from drawings and paintings to writings and photographs. Both the quantity and quality of material assembled by the curators is impressive. Among more than three hundred objects, there will be at least two hundred drawings, sketches, and watercolors and twenty paintings, in addition to original models of two dozen projects. This expansive range will help us see even familiar projects in new ways. The show’s organizing theme is landscape, and although I have not looked at many of his projects from this perspective before, Le Corbusier certainly engages landscape through the scale of some of his urban projects (such as his work for the city of Chandigarh, India) or the siting of his villas (the Maison Blanche in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland, completed in 1912, comes to mind).

But I think the biggest benefit of the show will be to reintroduce Le Corbusier to a younger generation, which has not had the same exposure to his work that my contemporaries and I did. A big part of that is learning about how physical and material his approach to architecture was: Almost all the things in this show are very much products of Le Corbusier’s hand. The sheer volume of sketches is unbelievable—the guy was always thinking with a pencil.

Travels to CaixaForum Madrid, Apr. 1–June 29, 2014; CaixaForum Barcelona, July 15–Oct. 19, 2014.

Richard Meier