RECOLLECT, IF YOU WILL, the opening shot of the 1972 BBC documentary Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles: a wondrous, fluffy, vibrant confection of a billboard that spells out the title of the film in cloud-like letters. The brilliance of this design is that it captures perfectly the giddy, celebratory effervescence of the city that spreads out in the billboard’s shadow, flying in the face of the clichéd image of Los Angeles as a polluted wasteland. It also perfectly expresses the joie de vivre, humor, and vibrancy of the designer herself, Deborah Sussman.
Magenta. Vermilion. Aqua. Chrome yellow. These are the colors that Sussman, trailblazing environmental graphic designer, used to describe the essence of her adopted city, Los Angeles. Those of us who came of age in the city in the 1970s and 1980s cannot fail to remember her larger-than-human-size neon letters spanning the exterior of the J. Magnin department stores or the mirrored, glitzy, zigzag edges of the interiors of Standard Shoes—both collaborations with Frank Gehry. These projects, too, perfectly express the exuberance and energy of their designer and of a city that embraced its billboards and wanted its architecture to be read in fast motion from the car window.
Sussman began her career in the office of Charles and Ray Eames, where she absorbed their genius for multidisciplinary practice, product design, and collaborative partnerships. This fierce woman moved beyond the strictures of high modernism with courage, forging an office that began in the 1960s to redefine graphic design. She crossed multiple boundaries, not only those of gender but also of discipline, with eye-catching work that was a mixture of graphic design, urban planning, architecture, interior architecture, and landscape design. In 1980, she and her husband, architect and planner Paul Prejza, incorporated Sussman/Prejza & Company. Together, in their numerous collaborations, they architecturalized graphic design, graphicized interiors, and colorized urban landscapes.
Sussman/Prejza’s design for the “look” of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics introduced to the world’s attention the bold style now known as supergraphics. The lively implementation of ad hoc, graphically festooned scaffolding, brilliant cardboard sonotubes, and (affordable!) visually alphabetic bits were the parts of the Olympic ephemera that we Angelenos loved.
Architects are notoriously chromophobic, and Deborah’s work was all about color. When I was a young architect working at Barton Myers on the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, I remember seeing my (male) colleague’s eyes pop as Deborah brought her design proposals to the table. And oh, how her colors sang: loudly, resonantly, dazzlingly. With breathtaking verve, she married vivid African patterns with elegant, classic shapes and a multiplicity of fonts, textures, and materials. Unapologetically colorful, the work of Sussman/Prejza was always, always a refreshing antidote to the stodgy seriousness of modern architecture. Now, as the animated optimism and historically maligned maximalism of the postmodern is finding renewed appreciation, Deborah’s work is once again crossing boundaries, this time temporal.
In 2013, architect Barbara Bestor approached me as director of WUHO to host an exhibition of Deborah’s work. Fittingly titled “Deborah Sussman Loves Los Angeles,” the exhibition was co-curated by Barbara Bestor, Catherine Gudis, Thomas Kracauer, and Shannon Starkey. The show focused on Deborah’s work from 1953 to 1984 and celebrated the radiance of her style and her ability to appropriate the energy and luminosity of her adopted city.
Can words alone describe the electric vitality of Deborah’s life and work? Banham’s come close. Picture in your mind “that great moment of plastic, fluorescent spectacle, the sun going down in man-made splendor, that really is to all us lovers of Los Angeles the greatest exit line any city could ever have.” That full, loving Technicolor splendor is Deborah.
Sam Hunter at an opening at the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1965. Photo courtesy The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.
SAM HUNTER, HISTORIAN, CURATOR, AND CRITIC of modern and contemporary art, made a swift ascent in the art world. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1923, Sam graduated from Williams College in 1943, served in the navy until 1946, and took up a post as art critic at the New York Times in 1947 at age twenty-four.
The trajectory of Sam’s career reflected his virtually elemental lust for life and unabashed ambition not only to chronicle art but also to play a potent role in its unfolding. In 1952, Hunter embarked on what would become a decades-long association with the publisher Harry N. Abrams. In 1956, Sam became associate curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he organized the first major museum exhibitions of Jackson Pollock and David Smith. He was tapped by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to become chief curator and acting director in 1958.
Sam’s intertwined roles as professor and protagonist of contemporary art aligned in his remarkable achievements as associate professor and founding director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University from 1960 to 1965. The collection he put together there is legendary. Lured back to New York to direct the Jewish Museum in 1965, Sam oversaw that museum’s blossoming as a serious context for cutting-edge art with such exhibitions as “Primary Structures,” curated by Kynaston McShine.
In 1969, Sam joined the faculty at Princeton and became curator of modern art at the university’s art museum. Over the next decades he authored dozens of books and scores of exhibition catalogues, essays, and articles, including definitive survey texts and crucial monographs on Isamu Noguchi, Larry Rivers, Alex Katz, Tom Wesselmann. In many instances he was the first chronicler of artists who have proved over time to be the pivotal figures in art of the past half century.
Sam was shrewd and incisive but decidedly not doctrinaire. Students regularly joined Sam in New York and further afield for studio visits with artists—Larry Rivers, Robert Indiana, George Segal, Tony Smith, Josef Albers, Alexander Liberman, Christo, and Jeanne-Claude. These exhilarating forays usually concluded with a good meal and a lot of laughter.
Sam stayed close to the object and the artist. It seems no surprise that both of us, as Sam’s students in the 1970s, wrote dissertations on then-living artists (Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning). Here, Sam’s links throughout the art world were matched by his even more crucial knowledge and uncanny insight. A letter to Bacon opened the door. And it was Sam’s early research, published in a 1952 article, which set the course for subsequent Bacon scholarship. Alert to the importance of second-hand imagery in Bacon’s paintings, Sam assembled the disparate photos and visual sources strewn about the studio, documenting this raw material in a series of revelatory photographs. As for de Kooning, Sam advised an unannounced knock on the door in Springs, East Hampton, which, startlingly, opened the way for a series of interviews across many years. The mention of Sam’s name unlocked troves of de Kooning material—from the recollections of Annalee Newman and Thomas B. Hess to the files and back rooms of Allan Stone and Xavier Fourcade.
It would not be unusual, after an arduous afternoon of Sam’s probing—and unquestionably improving—one’s dissertation, to follow up with a vigorous, hard-fought game of tennis—where Sam’s tenacity, competitiveness, and sheer enthusiasm came to the fore—leading at last to a gin and tonic and a raucous dinner with conversation ranging all over the art world. Sam made work fun.
Determined to play a powerful part in the dynamics of emerging as well as established art, Sam was pragmatic and dauntless. As a scholar, curator, collections adviser, and editor, he anticipated the ways that universities, museums, collectors, and publications would intertwine.
Sally Yard is a professor of art history at the University of San Diego.
Hugh M. Davies is the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.
IN 1974, A SMALL GROUP OF ARTISTS CAME TOGETHER. We named ourselves Women Artist Filmmakers. We were each painters dedicated to various materials, images. Our paintings had been consistently marginalized in the New York City world of heroic male traditions. Would presenting ourselves as both artists and filmmakers lead to a double marginalization?
Martie Edelheit’s shaping energy organized our film programs, helped us find printing labs, and brought to focus our shared editing processes. Within the feminist energies of the 1970s, Women Artist Filmmakers carried determination, distinction, and pleasurable associations of our work and daily life. Unexpectedly our collaborations entered a transformative history in which women’s rigorous visual work would become influential among generations.
Maria, in New York City from Vienna by way of Paris, joined our group. Uniquely cheerful, she had a goofy smile that was always encouraging. Her films were charming, ironic, shifting between static images and density in motion—always colorful with a subtle, brutal gender appetite towards erotic happiness.
It was with her death that the powerful dark undertow of her self-portrait paintings became celebrated, shifting away from any interpretation of self-deprecation or essentialism!
Carolee Schneemann is an artist based in New York.
More reflections on Maria Lassnig can be found in the October print issue of Artforum.
“EVERYTHING IS ARCHITECTURE.” We are starting to understand the author of this powerful and enigmatic statement anew. His complex thought and the holistic approach with which he made his debut in the 1960s as artist, publicist, designer, and activist—before he designed his first proper building, the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach—have a great timeliness today. Two exhibitions in Mönchengladbach and Vienna were to honor him on his eightieth birthday and initiate the public rediscovering him on this occasion—sadly, they became retrospectives which he never saw before his death on April 24th.
Hans Hollein called for a fundamental discussion about the meaning of architecture. As he observed the realization of modernity in the 1950s and ’60s, he recognized the necessity for an interdisciplinary form of work (“Architects have to stop thinking in terms of buildings only,” as he put it), for a highly technological and mediatized understanding of the future environment (as envisioned in his work on the “non-physical environment,” the “mobile office,” and the extension of the University of Vienna through cable and TV in the photomontage Extension of the University of Vienna, 1966) as well as for a humane and social form of building that referred back to the origins of architecture: First, the retention of body heat; second providing a setting for cult and ritual.
He conceived of architecture as an anthropological, psychological, and sociological phenomenon, as cultural existence. In this lay a fascinating proximity to the artists of his generation, particularly to Pop, Minimal, and Conceptual art, with which he was acquainted very early on and partly received, partly anticipated. He was friends with Claes Oldenburg but was also interested in Robert Morris, whose works he published in 1968 in the legendary Austrian architecture journal BAU. Crucial questions in the visual arts provided parallels and points of reference for his thesis “Everything is Architecture.”
Hans Hollein’s thought had a close connection to the fundamentally emancipatory social thought of the 1960s and ’70s that was the true beginning of the so-called postmodern. The major cultural figures at that time raised questions concerning art and architecture equally. They wanted to redefine both disciplines entirely and, in their collective thinking, called for new self-reflection. In particular, they wanted to see museums take on new roles as public institutions and wanted to see them occupy new buildings accordingly. In the fall of 1967, Joseph Beuys brought Hollein—who had then only designed a fourteen-square-meter candle store (although it had been recognized by the prestigious R. S. Reynolds Memorial Award from the US)—to the Düsseldorf Art Academy as a professor of architecture. Three years later, in the midst of the early exhibitions of Beuys, Carl Andre, Daniel Buren, Marcel Broodthaers, Hanne Darboven, and Gerhard Richter, Hollein had his own exhibition in the old Städtisches Museum in Mönchengladbach right next door: “TOD (Death).” In 1976, he created the exhibition “Man Transforms: Aspects of Design” for the Cooper-Hewitt Museum in New York, another legendary, and all-too-forgotten, cultural-historical exhibition. Here, in order to interpret important advances in the history of design, he presented an astonishingly wide range of artifacts, including a large collection of hammers that began with hand axes from the Neolithic era. Hollein’s later exhibitions attracted more attention at the time, although they, too, are almost forgotten today: “The Turks before Vienna” at the Künstlerhaus (Vienna) and the Museum of Vienna in 1983, and “Dream and Reality Vienna from 1870 to 1930,” at the same venues from 1984-85.
Hollein’s design for the Museum Abteiberg, which he began in 1972 although the building was not completed until 1982, was the result of a commission from the director, Johannes Cladders—a choice that perfectly captured the brilliance and ambition of their generation. It was the fulfillment of an institutional dream and a parallel (or alternative) model to the Centre Pompidou in Paris by Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano. Hollein’s design certainly did not intend the dissolution of the museum in favor of a culture factory, an usine or raffinerie. The Museum Abteiberg was conceived almost exclusively for the presentation of its collection. Within the context of that period’s utopianism, it became a manifesto for an entirely new art museum that was meant to represent the new artistic ideals of the time: Art should be relocated from the pedestal to the floor and from the wall into real space. And it was meant to emancipate viewers, who would no longer follow the didactics of the writers of art history but rather their own eyes and conclusions. It was a museum of spaces like labyrinths, no longer structured according to historical dates, -isms, schools, or epochs. Today’s young artists and art historians understand Hans Hollein without knowing anything about him. And they fill the Museum Abteiberg with an urgent discussion concerning the role of art and museums today, forty years after Beuys, Broodthaers, Darboven, Buren, Richter, and all the others.
Hans Hollein’s architecture for Mönchengladbach, but also for the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt (1983–91) or Vulcania, a museum and park focusing on volcanos, in Auvergne, France (1994–2002), represent architectonic ideals which, strangely enough, form no school: If one overlooks Frank O. Gehry’s Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (opened in 1997) and just a few other buildings, global museum culture has evolved backwards to the cubically ordered, the straight and supposedly neutral, giving the highest priority to the big white cube and the aura that comes from having five meters of empty space around every exhibited object. One could call it reactionary, or at the very least conservative, because it has led back to the experience of the sublime, which today also the financially erotic object.
It’s sad that Hans Hollein only experienced his new resonance for a short time. His “walk-on buildings,” his substantive, sociocultural, and anthropological arguments for a specific kind of architecture are being rediscovered by a new generation of artists and students of architecture today. Even those who may have previously held a critical opinion of works such as the Museum Abteiberg, the Museum für Moderne Kunst in Frankfurt—or Hollein’s whole oeuvre—look at it now in a completely new light. One notices how topical Hollein’s thoughts could become right now, as substantive questions about institutions and their architecture are so seldom discussed. One big question: Did Hollein—the Viennese universal artist and curmudgeon, who in recent years fell into the shadows and would happily charge us latecomers with epigonism when we stepped to close to him—notice that we are now building him a pedestal? I personally hope that he did.
HANS HOLLEIN WAS A UNIVERSALIST. He was an architect, designer, artist, publicist, theoretician, teacher, curator, general director, and maker of exhibitions. Even before Joseph Beuys said “Everyone is an artist,” Hollein wrote: “Everything is architecture.” As a universalist, Hollein is a consummator of modernity, in particular of Viennese modernity from Josef Hoffmann, Adolf Loos, Friedrich Kiesler, and Rudolph Michael Schindler to Richard Neutra. Like them, he developed a universal visual vocabulary that he could apply to shops, furniture, objects of everyday use, jewelry, spaces, and buildings. Yet with his architecture of metaphors, metamorphoses, and transformations—his exhibition at the Centre Pompidou was called “Métaphores et Métamorphoses” (1987)—and with his recourse to and appropriation of historical citations, he was also an architect of the postmodern. Hollein was futurologist and archaeologist in one. His vision of architecture was dialectical, shaped by oppositions: visions of space travel and funerary monuments, Apollo 13 rockets and pueblo buildings, aircraft carriers and Gothic architecture were his references. His architecture consists of the dialectic of three vectors: digging, piling up, and forming. Architecture spreads out in all directions, all the way to weightless floating in space like a cloud. His pneumatic sculptures served as a mobile office (1969).
For a long time, Hollein built little and was better known for his manifestos and utopian collages (which can be found today, for example, in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York). But the little that he built caused a furor: The Retti candle shop in Vienna (1965–66) and the Museum Abteiberg in Mönchengladbach (1972–82) were both trendsetting projects. By the end of his life, he was building on all continents simultaneously, skyscrapers and cultural buildings from Peru to China. Hollein started with visual collages because he recognized the importance of visuality for architecture just as did Le Corbusier. Since the historical moment at which architecture was represented in magazines—since Le Corbusier, in other words—the importance of visuality and its history for architecture can no longer be denied. In the age of mass media, architecture inevitably operates in the realm of historical references. Hollein found an autonomous answer to the problem this presents culture: namely, the method of the allusion. The allusive technique allows the architect to regulate the degree of narration or abstraction and control the shift between reference and innovation, between reality and utopia. Hollein’s architecture is a lexicon of the history of the built environment. At the same time, even in his beginnings, he was showing the way to the future of architecture.
His first act of worship was architecture: on the one hand, cult and ritual, on the other, technology and outer space. His next act was the avowal of media. Already in 1963, he designated the city as communication interchange. “Architecture is a medium of communication,” he wrote in 1967. For this reason, for the Olympic village in Munich in 1972, he built Media linien (Media lines), a comprehensive communications network. As early as 1968, he voiced the demand: “Architects have to stop thinking in terms of buildings only.” A building can become pure information, and its message could just as well be experienced solely through information media. With Hollein, architecture becomes immaterial and virtual. Therefore he distinguishes between three categories of architecture: built architecture, physical architecture, and non-physical architecture, as in Neue Medien der Architektur (New Media of Architecture), 1967. “Today our efforts in the environment are considered to form a totality together with all of the media which define them. The television as well as air conditioning, transportation as well as clothes, the telephone as well as housing. Among the most divergent media which define our behavior and our surroundings today, architecture forms one of these media.” Architecture must redefine itself as medium and thereby also expand the range of its means. Architecture must seize the media for itself. Therefore Hollein was interested in the unbuilt, the not-physical. With his turn towards media-based architecture after 1966, he was a pioneer of the digital revolution.
Hollein grasped the transformation of the experience of space through technical media as few other architects did. Because of this, he was a master of scale: Miniatures turn into monuments, sculptures into houses, battleships turn into coffee sets and aircraft carriers into metropolises, radiators into skyscrapers. Scale in the technical age has “no direct relationship to the human being anymore,”—unlike Le Corbusier’s proportions-system Modulor (1943-45)—he argued in his manifesto of 1960, Plastic Space. Hollein was always close to contemporary art, or more precisely, he was a part of contemporary art. For example, in his utopian and visionary architecture-collages, he was one of the best Pop artists in the tradition from Richard Hamilton to Claes Oldenburg.
Hollein was an artist who built spaces that oscillate between Minimal art and Arte Povera, archaic objects such as biers and sickbeds, but also produced postmodern variations on columns such as Strada novissima, 1980. He participated as an artist in the Venice Biennale in 1972 and in Documenta 8 in 1987. He participated as an architect in the Architecture Biennale in 2000 and 2006 in Venice and became its general director in 1996. In 1985 he received the Pritzker Prize. He was the curator of numerous exhibitions from Vienna to Milan, from New York to Venice. His retrospective as artist-architect moved from the Centre Pompidou in Paris to the National Gallery in Berlin (1987–88). In 2011 and ’12, the Neue Galerie Graz presented the first comprehensive show of his work accompanied by an extensive publication, and in 2014 there was an exhibition at the Museum Abteiberg Mönchengladbach and in the MAK Vienna.
He was a world-class architect like Le Corbusier, Frank Lloyd Wright, and Richard Buckminster Fuller, who gathered together all of the art practices of his time. With his new spatial vocabulary, Hollein liberated architecture from the prison of horizontal and vertical coordinates and erected buildings that liberate human beings from the prison of space, which is to say, he made the planet Earth habitable for humankind.
Peter Weibel is an artist, curator, and theorist as well as Chairman and CEO of the ZKM | Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe.
We became family.
We became a family through art and the circle of deep friendships Marilena drew around us. Her gallery was not simply a place to exhibit art. As well, it was a continuing art event in itself, conducted with love, tremendous insight, and always with grace. The event went from gallery to her home to her family, and to the family of artists, creating a huge circle of art and intimate friendships. It was wonderful to visit Marilena. Her elegant and at once familiar atmosphere informed and encouraged so many of us. It was uncanny how she produced beautiful meals, and then at dinner discussed art, philosophy, and made plans for the next exhibition together.
Over the years, so many artist friends from Italy and abroad passed by the Eremo in Spoleto and the Bari gallery to say hello. Sol and Carol LeWitt lived for a time in a small farmhouse near the Eremo on Monteluco, an hermitage that was the Bonomo summer residence. Alighiero Boetti was a beloved friend. Richard Tuttle, Mel Bochner, Nicola De Maria, Jannis Kounellis, Laurie Anderson and Lou Reed, and countless others visited the Bonomo family at the Eremo. Some left their art behind on the walls, traces of presence and friendship.
One winter, I was young and poor and between an exhibition in Paris and one at her gallery in Bari, and I moved into the Eremo without telling Marilena, same as I would move into my sister’s home. Marilena had become my sister. I shared a birthday (April 10th) with Marilena; we spoke or visited every birthday, Christmas, and Easter. Once we had a birthday show at her gallery in Bari. Our families merged with Marilena’s family and with the families of other of her artists, a huge circle of connections. Over the years her daughter Valentina lived in my home in Amsterdam. I live with her daughter Alessandra when I’m in Rome. Alessandra’s son Nicola lived with my husband and me in New York. Art was the life in the Bonomo household. Alessandra and Valentina opened individual galleries in Rome. The middle daughter, Gogo, studied archaeology, then went into science like her doctor father.
While spending a year in Dallas with her husband Lorenzo, Marilena became familiar with emerging American artists. She became a docent at the museum. Marilena and Lorenzo began collecting art. Back in Bari, she returned to school and studied philosophy.
With tremendous intuition, insight, and love, Marilena fully, whole-heartedly supported art and artists. Above all, she was drawn to, and exhibited, the unknown and unfamiliar in art, the breakthrough art of her time. In doing so she placed the city of Bari, in Puglia, on the international art-world map. Marilena was a daring pioneer, exhibiting lesser-known (at the time) contemporary art. She opened her gallery in 1971 with a breakthrough exhibition of barely known artists, many of them American, including Robert Barry, Bochner, Boetti, Buren, Darboven, Dibbits, Fabro, Huebler, LeWitt, Paolini, Ryman, and Weiner. Through the years, Galleria Marilena Bonomo exhibited many Italian artists and international artists from Europe, the US, and Japan.
Marilena Bonomo is all heart for me, all feeling.
Already in failing health, this past April she took her first visit out of Bari in two years. She came to see me during my installation of a wall painting at Alessandra’s gallery in Rome. I was thrilled and honored. Still beautiful, she sat in a chair, cane in hand, watching me paint. “A little more white,” she called. “A little more black on the left… No! More over there!”
Just like in the old days.
We all laughed.
Pat Steir is an artist based in New York.