New York

Susana Torre, Allan Wexler

While this exhibition did not have the breadth necessary to describe architecture at mid decade, it was a significant show which led to more understanding of the field than newspapers and architectural publications usually convey. Many artist architects work quietly, teaching prospective designers, building small projects (or not building at all), and investigating new and old questions. From these individual and collective energies interesting work is emerging, and an imaginative future is being invented. Susana Torre and Allan Wexler have both amassed bodies of such work.

The inspiration for Torre’s installation, which continued onto the front sidewalk, was an unbuilt project of hers for the Ivory Coast Consulate in New York. She reinterpreted and assembled certain elements of the project to set up a dialogue between the tenets of Modernism and the revisionisms of post-Modern space. On the floor, Torre put down a grid of strips of black roofing paper; over each of the grid’s intersections lay a square of mirrored glass surrounded by vertical wood columns, their sides split to leave the mirror visible. Over this grid were constructed a diagonal wood partition and a section of a cylinder created by a double curtain of brilliant red silk. The stasis and order of the grid—which has shaped cities throughout time, and continues to manage office floor plans—was violated by the diagonal and by the fluttering movements of the curtain, its presence theatrical and substantial. This dialectical spirit was reiterated by two wooden chairs whose raked backs would push anyone who sat down into an awkward posture. I suspect that Torre’s shorthand recapitulation of the disjunction between symbolic and formal space might have been lost on all but the most ardent believers in the mysteries of architecture; the fact that the debate continues for architects is no indication that it remains interesting more generally. And yet the installation was eloquent, and constituted a braver move than to bring out models and drawings of recent projects for the show.

In contrast to Torre’s monument-sized inquisition, Allan Wexler’s installation was a mostly miniaturized exercise in progression and collage. Whereas Torre looks to grand issues, Wexler’s work is intimate, immediate, and primal; he searches for the intrinsic details that unite architecture of every age and place. This installation included photographs of full sized projects, small notebook sketches, many small wooden models, and Weller’s project from the Art on the Beach program organized last summer at the Battery Park Landfill.

These small buildings make historical references, but, in contradistinction to most post-Modern architects, Wexler chooses to simplify form while complicating and layering function. His deceptively simple structures do and are many things: a chair is also a building, walls sliding on tracks transform a protective enclosure into an open shelter, and an exterior stairway wraps around a two room, two-story office building to create an inclining porch and an element of sculpture. Wexler is an inventor architect, a tinkerer and alchemist fascinated by how buildings can be transformed and manipulated and ultimately can become more flexible, evolving forms responsive to both lasting requirements and impulsive needs.

In the center of the room stood the four cabanas from the open spaces of Art on the Beach. These little buildings can stand separately, or the open doors can be lashed together to form a private enclosure. On three sides of the gallery, shelves were filled with several series of small models, each series framing a particular question through a sequence of permutations. Wexler is fascinated by indigenous and vernacular architecture, by the relationship of construction and conceptualization, and by the tradition of the builder artist. After years of drawing architecture and of building only models and small projects, he and Ellen Wexler are now building a house for clients in Accord, New York. A spacious, elevated porch surrounds a simple frame house with grand T-shaped entrances. On the outer edges of the wooden porch sit small outbuildings serving particular functions. On a compressed scale, Wexler has reinterpreted the additive construction of the rural family homestead. With this project he has demonstrated that his driving curiosities do not result in unbuildable ephemeralities.

Patricia C. Phillips