Christian Philipp Müller

Galerie Michelin Szwajcer

“The city is no longer an arid crust divided by the deep gutters of the streets; it is an immense park, a ’Green City.’ It is constructed along the lines of the ’Radiant City,’ that is to say, the constituent elements can now accommodate the ’spare time activities’ which are a phenomenon of the machine revolution of modern times and the subject for which urbanism must, at all prices, offer solutions.”
Le Corbusier, 1933

For Le Corbusier, the solution, at least in terms of his projected series of “Radiant Cities,” was to incorporate elements of city and country, work and leisure, into a single environment. One of the proposed sites of these utopian scenes was Antwerp. Never actually realized, the project forms the basis of Christian Philipp Müller’s recent exhibition. Müller’s work consists of three parts: a gallery installation, an artist’s book, and a guided tour of the proposed site of Le Corbusier’s Radiant City. Like an earlier piece in which he acted as a museum tour guide Müller’s project subverts the authoritative voice and takes the concept of the activeviewer to its logical conclusion; the physical presence of the guide is effaced, and the viewer is left to his/her own devices.

The gallery installation begins with a series of plaques, modeled on the photographs one finds in the city’s official tourist office presented with a list of the towns where Le Corbusier planned Radiant Cities. In the main gallery space three aluminum structures mirroring the skyscrapers that the architect envisioned are each fastened with a bow, like gifts or corsets. A slide of a donkey lounging in a back yard is projected in the area enclosed by the structure. This incongruous juxtaposition of elements is all that is left of Le Corbusier’s utopia. In a society ruled by formalist or functional imperatives, the purposeful combination of disparate elements seems antiquated and naive.

Taking the form of a child’s book, Promenade, 1990, partakes of the same tone of lost innocence. Printed on heavy spiral-bound cardboard sheets, it employs the same color scheme as Le Corbusier’s project transposing a historical incident into a kind of fairy tale. It concludes with an image of a red flower, printed against a black background, and juxtaposed with a characteristic statement from Le Corbusier to the effect that one must do away with the suburbs and bring nature itself into the interior of the cities.

Müller’s commentary in the book takes the form of a guided tour, and is his clearest reference to the failure of Le Corbusier’s project. Seen from our current vantage point, Le Corbusier’s utopias seem as ephemeral as the skyscraper models in the gallery. Though his language mimics the uncritical platitudes associated with these guided tours, the sights are interlaced with what might have been: the site where Le Corbusier imagined his Town Hall and Palace of the People, the spot where he planned a museum complex, the site of the Office Towers, etc. For Müller, urban planning exists between the visionary and the mundane. His juxtaposition of artificial spaces is a bold attempt to redefine the way we look at architecture. Finally, the exhibition is as much a critique of the utopian dreams of “Radiant Cities” as of contemporary society’s inability to realize them.

Michael Tarantino