New York

Monika Sosnowska, Tower, 2014, steel, paint, 10' 9“ × 105' 7” × 21' 9".

Monika Sosnowska, Tower, 2014, steel, paint, 10' 9“ × 105' 7” × 21' 9".

Monika Sosnowska

Hauser & Wirth | West 18th Street

Monika Sosnowska, Tower, 2014, steel, paint, 10' 9“ × 105' 7” × 21' 9".

Just as all fundamentally utopian propositions, whether social, political, or aesthetic, are necessarily bound to fall short of their goals, so do their remnants almost axiomatically become fodder for artistic critique and repurposing. The legacy of echt-modernist architecture and planning, for example—a creed of formal sobriety in the service of rationalized material (and social) technologies that was uniquely influential on the condition of the twentieth-century urban fabric—has long provided raw material for any number of theoretical and artifactual recapitulations. The recent appearance of the brilliantly imaginative Polish sculptor Monika Sosnowska at Hauser & Wirth was her second show with the gallery, but her first to inhabit the grand expanse of its downtown space. It featured the latest manifestation of the artist’s own continuing engagement with one aspect of the highly variable residues of architectural modernism: Tower, 2014, a colossal ruined anti-monument to the International Style, as epitomized by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s signature apartment towers at 860–880 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago.

The pair of twenty-six-story residential buildings from which the sculpture draws its form and inspiration were completed in 1951 and are set along a curving urban highway that follows the contours of the Lake Michigan shoreline at the eastern boundary of the city. Presaging both Gordon Bunshaft’s Lever House and Mies and Philip Johnson’s Seagram Building in New York, the Lake Shore Drive buildings are marked by their extraordinary interpolation of deadpan industrial muscle and an almost sacred conjuring of space and weightlessness; their calm Platonic rectilinearity and the precise oscillations of their windowed curtain walls constitute the stripped-down apotheosis of the all-glass tower the German architect had begun imaging for tall-building design some thirty years earlier. If the towers’ rigid geometries and scientistic elegance now seem emblematic of a certain kind of cool midcentury American urbanity and the placid sea of capital on which it bobbed, for Sosnowska—a resident of Warsaw who has made a decadelong project of documenting that city’s fluid, richly entropic post-Communist architectural fabric—they also stand in dialogue with the fading utilitarian Soviet-period construction familiar in her hometown. Her Tower, then, is a double form of iconoclasm: A twisted, crippled figure in black-painted steel more than ten feet high, twenty feet wide, and one hundred feet long, this is a modernism cut at its joints and listing, its disparate ideological resonances as comprehensively dedifferentiated as its silhouette.

Like her recent Window, 2013, which turned a steel Bauhaus facade into a deliquescent skein that drooped with weird menace from the ceiling, the slumped Tower is a faithful reimaging of a piece of existing architecture (right down to the window cranks), first softened and then torqued with satisfying malice. Tightly coiled at its ostensible head—the shape is clearly meant to evoke a beached leviathan—the form opens up at its tail end, empty window bays and dividing I-beam mullions (a bit of nonfunctional decoration that Mies defended as a means to “preserve and extend the rhythm” of the exterior) rolled up into a kind of thoracic expanse that snakes away from the viewer as it narrows. But while Sosnowska clearly wants audiences to grasp her explicit references to Mies’s original structure in the work, she makes the form generic enough (the actual facade mixes black steel and silver aluminum) to nod not only toward the endless architectural facsimiles that followed it, whether built to express capitalist polish or socialist functionalism, but also toward the closely related procedures and forms of sculptural Minimalism. For viewers who have admired Sosnowska’s more spatially responsive, invasive projects—her wilted staircases to nowhere or, especially, the lumbering threat of 1:1, for which she stuffed the guts of a buckled Soviet-era apartment building into the 2007 Polish pavilion in Venice—Tower may feel a bit inertial, and its unwillingness to actively confront the mammoth architectural container represented by the gallery does feel like something of a missed opportunity. But it did confirm that this is an artist with not only a project that has formal and conceptual dynamism to burn, but also an uncommon flair for distilling big things, and ideas, to their crucial essences.

Jeffrey Kastner