Posted July 30, 2002 New York
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The prestigious Whitney Museum of American Art this fall will exhibit two, large-scale architectural sculptures originally constructed and displayed by students from the Georgia Institute of Technology.
The sculptures, House of the Suicide and House of the Mother of the Suicide, were the result of student collaboration with acclaimed architect and designer John Hejduk in the late 1980s. They will be reconstructed in the Whitney's outdoor Sculpture Court as part of a retrospective exhibition, Sanctuaries: The Last Works of John Hejduk, beginning Sept. 15 and running through Jan. 5, 2003.
The curator for the exhibition is K. Michael Hays, a graduate of Georgia Tech's College of Architecture and today the Eliot Noyes Professor of Architecture Theory at Harvard University. Hays recently became the first adjunct curator of architecture at the Whitney Museum, and the Hejduk retrospective is to be his first show.
The late John Hejduk (1929-2000) remains one of the most original figures in American architecture and design, best known for his visionary works and his influence upon graduates of Cooper Union, where he was dean for 25 years. Hejduk largely abstained from conventional practice, focusing instead on theoretical projects, Hays said. These usually took the form of drawings that were combined into poetic, highly personal narratives.
"During the last twenty years of his life, John Hejduk made successive attempts to shift his architecture away from the more mathematical concerns of his earlier work-which owed much to Mies van der Rohe and Piet Mondrian-toward an allegorical, 'carnivalesque' mode that he called architectural masques," Hays said.
"In these works, Hejduk presented his architecture in a more lyrical, painterly, and narrative way, and in the last of the works returned architecture to an overtly spiritual function," he said. "The destiny of all Hejduk's famous early experiments, the horizon to which both the Wall Houses and the Masques are pulled, are these last works. They present a reduction of form and an intensity of emotion beyond which architecture cannot go."
During the last 15 years of his life, some of Hejduk's architectural works moved from paper and models to built reality. His constructions appeared at sites around the world, including Berlin, Milan, Boston, Oslo, Philadelphia, London, Buenos Aires and Prague. Many of these projects came about when students, teachers and others fascinated by Hejduk's work came together to build. This included architecture students from Georgia Tech.
Beginning in 1986, a group of Tech students, led by project coordinator and studio critic James Williamson, began collaborating with Hejduk on the construction of House of the Suicide and House of the Mother of the Suicide. The process took four years and resulted in the two pieces that measure 20 feet high. While many students worked on the project, a core group of about a dozen stayed with it throughout its course.
That group consisted of Jack Ames (MArch 1990), Paul Bauer (BS 1985, MArch 1988), Rick Blanchard (BS 1988, MArch 1997), Nancy Caster (MArch 1990), Paige Cosby (BS 1988, MArch 1990), Jeff Cramer (BS 1986, MArch 1988), Jorge de la Cova (BS 1988, MArch 1990), Lyle Green (BS 1983, MArch 1988), Marshall Levy (MArch 1989), Kirk Marchisen (BS 1981, MArch 1986), Frank Pollacia (MArch 1989) and David Shonk (MArch 1990).
The first construction, House of the Suicide, was inspired by the story of Jan Palach, a college student who died in Prague after setting himself on fire in January 1969 to protest the Soviet occupation of Czechoslovakia. Later, a friend of Hejduk, David Shapiro, wrote a poem about the event and its aftermath, The Funeral of Jan Palach. It provided a new context for Hejduk to design House of the Mother of the Suicide.
Work on the project was intermittent, but Georgia Tech students explored Hejduk's concept for the two sculptures via drawings, models, and full-scale mock-ups. Periodically, Williamson consulted Hejduk on design details, material selections and color for the two structures. The construction details were divined by students, who referred to the body of Hejduk's work in determining how a joint should come together, the design of a steel angle, the heft of a timber framing, or the fabrication of slender steel spikes.
Once completed, the two structures occupied the main lobby of Georgia Tech's College of Architecture. They later were disassembled and put into storage in Atlanta. However, in July, Institute officials completed a loan agreement with the Whitney Museum to include the important pieces in the upcoming Hejduk retrospective.
The Whitney exhibition includes selections from the John Hejduk Archive at the Canadian Centre for Architecture in Montreal and The Menil Collection in Houston. Among them are about 110 small works on paper and four architectural models, in addition to the two large-scale architectural sculptures from Georgia Tech. A book, with an essay by Hays and a preface by architect Toshiko Mori, will accompany the exhibition.
About the Whitney
The Whitney Museum of American Art is the leading advocate of 20th and 21st-century American art. Founded in 1930, the Museum’s holdings have grown to include nearly 13,000 works of art representing more than 2,000 artists. The Permanent Collection is the preeminent collection of 20th-century American art and includes the entire artistic estate of Edward Hopper, the largest public collection of works by Alexander Calder, Louise Nevelson, and Lucas Samaras, as well as significant works by Arshile Gorky, Marsden Hartley, Jasper Johns, Reginald Marsh, Agnes Martin, Georgia O'Keeffe, Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Ad Reinhardt, among other artists.