“Vision and Reality”

The aim of “Vision and Reality: Conceptions of the 20th Century,” curated by the Louisiana Museum's Kjeld Kjeldsen, was to investigate real and visionary space in art and architecture. To show the theme’s historical basis in early avant-garde movements, the exhibition brought together seminal works of Futurism, De Stijl, Bauhaus, and Russian Constructivism and set them amid a range of later modernist and contemporary positions. Two very different highlights, at the beginning and at the end of the show, were Oskar Schlemmer’s Triadic Ballet costumes, 1922–26, and a reconstruction of Verner Panton’s Visiona II, 1970/2000. Schlemmer’s costumes, which were suggestively orchestrated on the background of Sol LeWitt’s Lines to Points of Six Inch Grid, 1976, are a symbolization and typification of the utopian body; Panton’s enormous piece of furniture is what, exactly? A utopian lounge environment, like a blissful meditation inside a lava lamp, or maybe the ecstasy of Sigmund Freud and Johannes Itten meeting on an acid trip. However, somewhere between Schlemmer and Panton, the avant-garde as political ambition and sociohistorical correlate dropped off the radar screen, appearing instead as a field of aesthetic pleasure.

An established canon of modernist works and schools was juxtaposed with a selection of more recent works seemingly chosen according to formal and often illustrative relationships to the theme, which made it &cult to understand just what claims were being made. Why show fine but extraneous works by, for example, Ross Bleckner and Pipilotti Rist (not to mention Mariko Mori), while leaving out an artist like Dan Graham? Why didn't Dada, Situationism, or Institutional Critique fit in—artistic movements that in different ways focused on the negative or critical work of the avant-garde? “Vision and Reality” sauntered through the century with a pictorialist and transhistorical air. Putting works by Umberta Boccioni and Erich Mendelsohn next to digital animation from 2000 (by Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture) was a sexy—maybe even necessary—collocation of ideas, styles, and conceptions of space, but the proposition at least called for some elucidation. Models of buildings by the architects Richard Rogers and Bernard Tschumi were juxtaposed with Iakov Chernikov’s architectural fragments—documents of Constructivism’s specific historical and political involvement being used as an extension of postmodernist architecture’s very different intentionality. On the other hand most other architecture represented in the show functioned well in sober model or photo displays, where visionary 1960s projects such as Walter Jonas and Archigram proved especially vital.

In the end, “Vision and Reality” was like the opening of a new shopping center: With ticker tape, sideshows, and lots of goods on offer, your kicks were guaranteed. Plus—and saying this doesn’t strain the shopping center analogy—the kids (and their parents) at the exhibition looked happy, which is something for an art show with more than 200 works. But when the comedown after the shopping spree hit you, you weren't entirely sure what you’d bought. The bottom line is ambivalence. Yes, the show offered a fair, entertaining, and well-choreographed representation of each artist and each work, and the reconstructions of historical projects—by El Lissitzky, Tatlin, Malevich, Rodchenko—were potent reminders of modernism’s groundwork. And yet “Vision and Reality” posited historical space as a frictionless and illustrative protocol, where the mental offensive that could have been attached to the avant-garde tradition as an engagement in our pedestrian historical reality right here, right now, outside of the museum walls, was discreetly evaded.

Lars Bang Larsen