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The genius of Corb in its many manifestations comes to Liverpool.

'My friend M. Le Corbusier is an amateur architect and professional painter,' Fernand Leger once remarked. Indeed Paris discovered Le Corbusier, or Charles-Edouard Jeanneret, as he was in 1917, as a painter, when he and Amedee Ozenfant launched an art movement, Purism, in their manifesto Apres Le Cubisme and journal L'Espril Nouveau. That Corbusier was an artist in every pictorial, plastic and tectonic field, is abundantly conveyed in this exhibition. Its three sections Contexts, Privacy and Publicity, and Built Art display a panorama of dazzling achievement in craftwork, drawing, painting, sculpture, furniture. polemics, interiors, architecture, and the design of cities, Le Corbusier was a prodigy who made everything look insouciant and effortless, leaving you wondering 'Why can't it always DC like this?' Too easy? Certainly, too easily assumed lobe easily repeated in a compromising world of trimmers and dimwits. Or rather, too difficult? Too heroic or too reckless) to relate to real cities, too much theorems of cities, "pure creations of mind?


This exhibit ion attempts no such interrogations; it is pure celebration of genius and as such, a joy to explore. There are models, drawings and photographs. Minis with vanguard friends in Paris and by the sea: there are page-by-page videos of sketchbooks, and digital simulations of unbuilt cities and interiors: but also real artifacts watches from his studentship in Switzerland with L'Eplattenier, lively folk pottery, tables and chairs co-designed with Charlotte Perriand: and his paintings: nature-studies. Purist still-lifes of type-objects', to (after the example of Surrealism: those erotic metamorphoses of bodies and 'objets a reaction poetique from which emerged motifs for Corbusier's restlessly evolving architecture. His astonishing knack for swerve and chutzpah is seen here in a page from Precisions, where, after his Might over Brazilian rivers, he extols 'the law of meander' (hailed again in The Poem Of The Right-Angle). Yet that was in 1931, only two years after he deplored the erratic 'pack-donkey's way' in 7 he City Of Tomorrow and Its Planning.

Corbusier's dialectical chutzpah is the star here. For while the first part displays his ardour for rationalism for machines, type objects, his concrete 'Dom-ino' frame, and his Apollonian vision of a Ville Radieuse-the second opens onto those extraordinary Dionysian vegetal/anatomic hybrids which he and Joseph Savina sculpted in painted wood in the '40s and '50s. Beyond them rises the strange hyperbolic tent of his 1958 Philips Pavilion-a synthesis of numerical series and acute expressivity in a spatial analogue of Xenakis' music Metastasis. Shown alongside is the phantom-show that was projected within the pavilion. With no commentary but Varese's electronic sounds, a sequence of images, from savage masks to atom bombs, flicker through an enigmatic allegory. Minatory, even apocalyptic, they question the liberal optimism of 'the family of man' (a UNESCO theme of the time from the 1955 photography exhibition curated at MoMA by Edward Steichen), and cast a shadow on postwar technology, an inward glance from 'the age of anxiety".

This exhibition comes to London in January; but there is good reason to view it in Liverpool; for it affords a chance to visit Lutyens'crypt for the Catholic cathedral. Indeed, beneath Lutyens' austere vaults of brick and stone, Corbusier's works provoke ironic reflections. For whereas the model of the Maison Dom-ino states a concrete theorem of cantilevers to refute everything orated by the arch, the model of the Maisons Jaoul, with its Catalan (albeit concrete) vaults, makes remarkable accord with Lutyens' mighty masonry, which looms over the exhibits with surprising resonance as they culminate in Ronchamp and Chandigarh. Al the end, the RIBA displays photographs lo show Corbusier s influence in Britain. Yet, what is 'influence', if merely among epigones? Moreover, they miss a local point. For, in 1950, nowhere in Britain was Corbusier more understood than in the circle around Colin Rowe at Liverpool University, Mom among whom would emerge the critic Robert Maxwell and the architect James Stirling II Liverpool wants to maintain the momentum of this exhibition, its next show should be Stirling.

Le Corbusier The Art of Architecture. The Crypt, Liverpool Metropolitan Cathedral. Liverpool until 18 January 2009. Also at the Barbrian Art Gallery London, from 18 February until 24 May 2009.
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Title Annotation:Le Corbusier
Author:Hatton, Brian
Publication:The Architectural Review
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 1, 2008
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