27 June - 08 November 2015

Demented Architecture

An exhibition that brings together work by contemporary artists that satirises the relationship between art and architecture, and the mythology of the architect.

City Gallery has a long history of presenting architecture exhibitions. We have shown surveys of national and international architects, installations by architects, architectural interventions by artists, and collaborations between artists and architects. However, we have never before staged an exhibition like Demented Architecture. This exhibition brings together works by contemporary artists that, for the most part, take on architecture and the architect mythology as a subject—often as a subject of parody. 

Art and architecture have always existed in a kind of mutually beneficial standoff," says curator Aaron Lister, "Entirely dependent on each other, they are also in a constant state of one upmanship and battle for cultural supremacy. Artists despair when architects exhibit inside galleries, architects rise up when artists design buildings. ‘I blame the Greeks!’ says Vinko Glanz, just one of the architects who features as a character in this exhibition."

Olafur Eliasson’s The Cubic Structural Evolution Project sits at the centre of this exhibition. Visitors are invited to start building with the thousands of pieces of gleaming white Lego scattered across a gleaming white table. In empowering his participants to ‘become’ architects and contribute to his work’s construction, destruction and reconstruction, Eliasson raises issues around the relationship between art and architecture that echo around the whole exhibition.  

Jasmina Cibic’s highly stylised videos that restage historical debates concerning art, architecture and power represented Slovenia at the 2013 Venice Biennale. One film contains an interview with Slovenian State architect Vinko Glanz who outlines his philosophy of architecture, and reiterates his truth that art and artists must submit to architectural form. The opposite scenario is played out in Scottish artist Henry Coombes’s darkly mesmerising video I am the Architect, this is not Happening, this is Unacceptable. The video is set inside the attic and the confused mind of retired architect Clive who slowly surrenders the order and rationality of his profession to the impulsive and chaotic values of art. 

Wellington artist Kirsty Lillico’s soft sculptures similarly undermine the promise of modernist architecture. In cutting floor plans from iconic modernist buildings into pieces of carpet salvaged from local building sites, she renders the utopian visions of architects like Le Corbusier dirty, flaccid, and redundant. 

The space between an architecture of the imagination and real-world architectural solutions is regularly crossed in this exhibition, exemplified by Edgar Roy Brewster’s Norian House, built in New Plymouth in the early 1950s. Inspired by the beehive as a model for harmonious existence, all of its architectural features, fittings and furniture took hexagonal form. In this exhibition, Brewster’s hand-drawn plans for the house, along with one of its many six-sided windows, are necessarily—and arguably, unsympathetically—displayed in square frames hung on a rectangular wall in an equally rectangular gallery. His model for a hexagonal skyscraper of the future sits on a square plinth. The gallery, and the world it sits in, is not ready to become hexagonal—not yet.