New York

Frederick Kiesler

Having contributed to Dada, Surrealism, and later De Stijl, Ukraine-born, Viennese-American architect Frederick Kiesler offered a biomorphic conception of space that became a counterpoint to the rectilinear forms of architectural high modernism. Kiesler is perhaps best known for his interest in the “correlations” between artwork, individual, and environment, a theory he termed “Correalism,” and for his oft-revisited, yet never-built, Endless House, 1947–61. To look at this work now is not only to encounter a playful psychedelic consideration of architecture’s bearing on perception but also to find a key to the post-Minimalist experimentations of Dan Graham, Robert Morris, and Sol LeWitt; the media-utopias of Raindance Corporation, Ant Farm, and Radical Software; and even the more recent spatially dispersed works of Rirkrit Tiravanija, Martin Beck, and Christian Philipp Müller.

At the Drawing Center, curators Dieter Bogner and Joao Ribas called on Eric Bunge and Mimi Hoang of nArchitects, known for their interest in “responsive and flexible” architecture, to design an exhibition of the work that itself revolutionized exhibition design. In contrast to Kiesler’s sensationalism, their approach was strikingly understated. Honoring the elder architect’s aversion to confinement—which, presumably, the viewer would experience when standing within an exhibition surrounded by works—nArchitects left the walls bare and displayed the seventy-some sketches and studies in freestanding, modular vitrines that together formed a waist-high loop, around which visitors could circulate.

Most of Kiesler’s drawings were laid flat within the cases, while eight framed larger pieces and a notebook were lifted from the x-axis at oblique angles to meet the viewer at various approximations of eye-level—or, as Dan Graham might put it in order to underscore the subjectivity of individual perception, the “I” level. To view the front of one part of the installation was, given the vitrines’ roughly circular plan, to take in the rear and sides of the others, making it possible to experience the work from all angles. Incidentally, this privileged vantage point allowed one to see other visitors almost as part of the exhibition—at least to a greater degree than if attention were focused on the wall at close range. In conceiving of space as relational and shifting, nArchitects’ installation reflected Kiesler’s own thinking, which was conveyed in several of his studies here—in particular, those for Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century Surrealist art gallery, which depict figures as fractured, suspended, projected, and even lit as though actors onstage, and the Vision Machine sketches, 1937–41, in which, illustrating the eye as liberated from the body, Kiesler diagrams his fantasy of limitless sight. One need only view the concurrent presentation of Kiesler’s sculpture uptown at Michael Werner Gallery to get a sense of the architect’s interest in this “polydimensional” body as it relates to space.

Kiesler left his drawings—often sprawling washes or fluid hand-drawn ellipses—unfinished and his structures “endless,” so that they would remain open to the future. Although the lover of Kiesler would be excused for wanting a messier presentation than nArchitects’—something more open to the flow of everyday life—it was perhaps fitting that such a desire was unmet. After all, the duo’s job was not to reproduce Kiesler’s theater, but only to clear a passageway that would reveal another line of sight, this one retrospective.

Caroline Busta