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FEW MODERNISMS seem "later" than that of visionary Italian architect and designer CARLO SCARPA (1906-1978). In buildings, objects, and museum interiors that are as richly detailed as they are refined, as innovative as they are strange, Scarpa articulated a modernism that is constantly elegizing itself, its grand gestalts breaking down into jewel-like fragments alongside the styles and structures of the past. Yet there is no pastiche in Scarpa's work, only a devotion to material truth--a truth that is always historical as well as phenomenological, allusive as well as immanent--and this verity is perhaps one reason that Scarpa's work has proven such a fertile resource for artists now. On the occasion of the exhibition "Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venini Company. 1932-1947"--opening this month at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art--artists JOSIAH McELHENY, NICK MAUSS, CAROL BOVE, and KEN OKIISHI consider Scarpa's enterprise and its significance across myriad disciplines today.

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JOSIAH McELHENY

IN 2011, a modest space in Venice designed by the celebrated architect Carlo Scarpa was designated a public monument and museum. It was an unlikely candidate for elevation to canonical status: A street-level commercial showroom on San Marco Square, commissioned by the Italian manufacturer Olivetti in 1957, the space was filled with typewriters displayed on an assortment of custom pedestals, stairs, cantilevers, shelves, niches, and floating planes. With its lyrical square window peeking out onto a side street and an elegant storefront, displaying just three perfectly curvilinear machines, the showroom is not centered around the organization of space but on the human-scale objects contained therein.

Few architects of the postwar period were interested in small-scale ideas; at most, they designed furniture as accents to their spaces. But from his extensive work with the Venini glass factory on the island of Murano in the Venetian lagoon to the intricate metalwork and joints of his canal bridge for the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice, Scarpa was as passionate about the diminutive as he was about the spaces he created and the views they framed. His work with Venini, in particular, demonstrates his dedication to architectural ideas expressed in things: For over a decade he worked directly on the factory floor with the glassmakers and was paid only a day rate. The tabletop-size glass objects he made there comprise a diverse exploration of strange material effects and surprising historical borrowings. A number of his most famous vase forms are derived from antique Chinese porcelain, but because of the luminous effect of their batutto ("hammered") surfaces--created through a laborious engraving technique that he largely pioneered--they seem utterly twentieth century. Scarpa's ideas oscillated between the ancient and the futuristic, as in his somewhat disturbing granulare bowls, which look almost diseased--the result of his insistence on using two fundamentally incompatible glasses of very different hardness--or the corroso pieces, which have almost fleshlike, sculpted surfaces and are among the best of his works in any scale. These glass vases, bowls, and plates were typically produced in very small numbers and displayed on elaborate, architectural-sculptural constructions he made as showpieces for the factory to display at exhibitions such as the Milan Triennale; they were produced not so much to be sold as to demonstrate the capacity of the traditional factory culture to adapt to modernism.

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Scarpa might, in fact, best be understood as a vitrine architect: He not only framed objects and interior vistas, but created works that are meditations on scale and the process of looking itself, as can be seen in the 1957 Gipsoteca, which functions as a kind of vitrine-within-a-vitrine, as part of the Museo Canova in Possagno, Italy. A tour de force of both architecture and exhibition design, the museum extension contains small plaster models of sculptures by Antonio Canova, as well as some of the artist's life-size Neoclassical figures. The artworks are incorporated into a scheme of quasi-figurative display cases whose graphic framing, emphasis on dramatic reveals, and transparency are echoed in the design of the corners and windows of the building itself. In the Gipsoteca, as in many of Scarpa's best spaces, a visitor is prompted to reconsider the scale of his or her body again and again, in this case through a nested series of frames: the building, the full-scale figures, the vitrines, and the scaled figures within.

Scarpa's delicate articulation of the ways in which display can unfold our experience of objects proposes a more contingent and physical idea of architecture: contingent in that display is inherently impermanent (evinced in the current obsolescence of a typewriter showroom), and physical in its demonstration that while architecture can be scaled both up and down, the only real space is that which can be measured against our own bodies. While modernism often trafficked in the architecture of the imaginary, Scarpa's architecture of the temporary and the material is the one in which we will always live.

JOSIAH MCELHENY IS AN ARTIST BASED IN NEW YORK.

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NICK MAUSS

CARLO SCARPA'S WORKS are permeated by a certain attentive empathy toward objects, materials, and artworks. This feeling materializes in real but irrational apertures, thought vectors, and processional spaces gauzily layered in the mind--so that architecture becomes a garland unraveling, rather than a discipline governed by exigencies of production or consumption. With its Venn-diagram display windows, the pressed-concrete facade of the former Gavina furniture showroom in Bologna, Italy, for example, breaks radically with the centuries-old house it invades, while paying homage through difference. Ground down to softness by four hundred years of friction, the original stairs of the Querini Stampalia in Venice are sectionally clad in new marble slabs that appear to have been simply laid over and against the worn-out treads and rises. Strangely delicate, even halting, this alteration seems to want as much to protect the original form as to draw attention, through open margins and slits in the slabs, to the accumulated traces of past ascensions. Feeling the tension of both upward motion and declension, you realize that Scarpa has invented an apparatus that coaxes out both diachronic and synchronic experience, rendering the transition between them nearly painful.

Scarpa's work is a text structured by the intricacies of its combinatory units and internal links, drawing the eye (and its body) toward points of contact and giving rise to spiraling thoughts about how the whole thing holds together. As the incomprehensible system opens up--this synthesizing of fragments from the future with fragments from the past--you are suddenly flowered by the question of whether a particular element is functional or ornamental, or whether a separation between these modes even matters. Indeed, I often find it difficult to give names to the things Scarpa has designed, as if he had drawn them into a new sense and invented them for a purpose beyond practicality or knowledge. Walking through Scarpa's sensitive interventions at the Museo Correr or the Accademia in Venice has its parallel in the experience of reading Murasaki Shikibu's Tale of Genji: extraordinary slowness, partiality, flicker, and the constant surprise of poetry, strung through the sense of transience or mono no aware, the pathos of objects.

Passages of emptiness--but there is no such thing as emptiness in Scarpa's work--constitute another aspect of his alienation techniques. The emptiness suggests breathing, digression, and new sensorial knowledge. In his display ensembles for artworks, he stubbornly pursued the perfection of each object as a dialogic fragment. Every work and artifact was intended to be encountered as a continually unfolding discovery with aesthetic conditions, demands, inclinations. Scarpa silently brushed aside dull, equivocal assumptions about audience and pedagogy and inherited museum constructs, wondering instead how a picture by, say, Antonello da Messina should be tilted away from the wall if it were to be approached through a long enfilade with a view of a piazza.

What kind of public did Scarpa imagine? With all of his work, you have to answer this question backward, or through inversion. Drawings for some of his museum designs--in addition to the specific presentation conceptualized for each artwork via devices designed directly for, to, or against it--also feature a stylized fantasy figure. This wispy Felliniesque proxy stands in for the observer but is so wildly out of sync with the devotional rigor of the rest of the plan that one is left to wonder how Scarpa imagined the body of the viewer in relation to these scrupulously articulated correspondences among objects, planes, patina, scale, color, and pose. In that sense, Scarpa's project is akin to that of a jeweler, whose work is a process of translation that relates a precious stone to a fantasized body--and to gravity, to motion, to time. The work of interpretation in Scarpa's displays is so nautilus-like, spiraling, and complex that the events he creates can be inexplicably jarring. It is almost as if the spaces and objects are thrown into empathetic interrelationships--and the viewer moves among these scenes as an interpolator. The welded armature that holds a bronze bust of a man aloft shocks in its intimate revelation of the cognitive struggle as inchoate thought brought to a point of clarity. Scarpa asks, What is required to make the thing visible, sensible? What are the right clamps, poles, and easels to dynamize, isolate, cradle, and understand the work, to thrust it into new thoughts? Scarpa's display devices are site-specific, but, more important, they are neces-sitated--even commanded--by the objects they raise, tilt, pivot, suspend in a volume of air, dreaming backward from the object, upside down.

NICK MAUSS IS AN ARTIST WHO LIVES IN NEW YORK.

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CAROL BOVE

"DO WHAT THOU WILT SHALL BE THE WHOLE OF THE LAW." I just figured out what British occultist Aleister Crowley meant by that: It's a twentieth-century, Western definition of dharma. Crowley doesn't mean "Do whatever you want"--he's telling you to discover what he termed true will, a kind of purpose that transcends the ego and brings the individual into harmony with nature and the universe.

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The discovery about Crowley and dharma eventually led me to wonder, What is the true will of an I beam? I found important clues in Guido Beltramini and Italo Zannier's 2007 book Carlo Scarpa: Architecture and Design, where there's an image of a Scarpa-designed apartment building in Vicenza, Italy, completed posthumously in 1979. The horizontall beams running between the main volume of the building and the concrete pillars beneath are used as both decorative accents and structural elements. Of course, an I beam is strong, and strength is a property that Scarpa emphasizes. He also discloses the hidden forms of the I beam--welding some beams together flange-to-flange, cutting through them, capping them, situating them so that they form a compound construction that echoes the nesting motif visible in the concrete components of the building. The revealed forms are not simply what an I beam can be coaxed into doing. These forms already exist in the implicate order of I beams.

I beams and steel construction, late-nineteenth-century innovations, were too new to have accumulated significant stylistic or tectonic traditions by the time Scarpa began designing with them. That didn't prejudice him against them (he cared about the past but wasn't in thrall to it); it merely limited his handling of these structures to a shallow frame of reference: the roughly one hundred years from decadent Jugendstil to high International Style. He had a modern outlook that was retrospective at the same time.

Historical layering is one of the most obvious features of Scarpa's renovations of historical buildings and of his exhibition designs, but such layering is visible in buildings he designed from scratch as well. Consider the bronze hardware he used for the Brion Tomb and Sanctuary, commissioned in 1969 for a cemetery in the hamlet of San Vito d'Altivole, Italy. Here as elsewhere, Scarpa's application of materials is satisfying in its precision. The keyholes, the articulated frames around the open doorways, the window hinges, and the fittings for a small exquisite alabaster container, to name a few examples, beg for close inspection. Bronze has a certain color, texture, hardness, and workability, and you can sense his nuanced responsiveness to each of these qualities. His designs developed out of a dialogue with craftsmen who were recipients of knowledge passed down for centuries--his choices were informed by their practical experience.

The modernist ethos of "truth to materials" was a kind of aesthetic empiricism and a corollary of the scientific method. Scarpa's attunement to the true will of glass, concrete, or metal was different. Venice, his childhood home, protected him from the illusion that any aesthetic or structure, no matter how innovative or progressive or functional, could be wholly determined by material alone or could extract itself from history: The past was too ever-present and the craft traditions were too deep. The mastery of procedural knowledge, the savoir faire that's transmitted by every link in a chain of experts and apprentices stretching back through the Renaissance and into antiquity, is part of Scarpa's bronze. There is no overt reference to the past, none of the lugubrious historicism that one might expect in a grand mausoleum. But at the same time, when you look at the Brion monument's metallurgy, you understand that bronze has been in our hands for thousands of years and has developed innumerable sympathies: Design is the manifestation of ideology, and bronze has taken innumerable shapes over the millennia and has been invested with innumerable systems of belief.

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As you make your way among the tomb's pavilions and monuments, the details (fittings, trims, a wide range of inlays), many of them at the scale of jewelry, are so seductive, so freely available to the touch. When I visited, I was moved by the fact that the ceremony of passage into the monument is free of any interference from ticket takers or guards, or even signage--the transition takes place internally, as you psychologically adjust to the environment. Brion shocked me with its effulgence. It has so many motifs, many of them unique rather than repeated. Where are the refrains? Where is the restraint? lam wary of needless invention--yet here the effect was so intelligent. Brion said to me, so convincingly: To be disciplined does not necessarily mean to be parsimonious.

CAROL BOVE IS AN ARTIST BASED IN NEW YORK.

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KEN OKIISHI

A STRANGE TECHNOLOGICAL RUPTURE occurs as one proceeds through the Museo di Castelvecchio in Verona, Italy. In line with contemporary educational efforts, the museum has installed a computer screen that, prompted by an awkward touchscreen mounted below it, displays images of Carlo Scarpa's ravishing, intensely overlaid drawings of the design for the building compound's 1958-75 renovation and newly conceived and realized exhibition display. This, in itself, wouldn't be particularly jarring, but the ad hoc placement of a surveillance monitor next to the first screen, showing deliriously oversaturated live feeds from throughout the museum, provokes a sudden sense of confusion as to why this ghastly thing has happened so visibly in one of the world's most thoughtfully executed museum architectures, interrupting the invigoratingly complex flows through these buildings. A completely unexpected series of thoughts follows--it feels a bit like when an Internet signal suddenly appears and your phone beeps in the middle of a forest.

I'm guessing the awkward proximity of these two monitors has to do with the practicalities of minimizing the intrusion of network cables within the original building structure. But its effect on the viewer--here, marvelously sensitized to the interactions of color, form, weight, diagram, space, and artworks, all simultaneously suspended in multiple discursive and formal fields--is to throw the basic physical experience of walking and seeing into crisis.

Exiting the room after this screenal breach, I stood at the threshold of the outdoor passageway that connects the two main museum buildings. (By chance, I happened to visit during Verona's Bacanal del Gnoco, when the entire city is thrown into a wildly transhistorical costumed frenzy. The sounds of reveling teenagers, who looked like a thousand different castings of a neorave Romeo and Juliet, ricocheted through the museum's palimpsest of materials and surfaces.) Standing at that point, where the castle complex is punctured by the grand arch bridge (the longest in the world at the time of its completion in the 1350s, it was destroyed in World War II and reconstructed directly after), you are confronted with a literally folded space. As you descend through substructures of the bridge onto various stairways and landings, any sense of the horizon or street level in relation to the rest of the city is multiplied beyond recognition. Gazing out onto the equestrian statue of Cangrande I della Scala for the second time (the first having been from below), I was struck by how perfectly bizarre its placement seemed--horse and rider half looking away, hovering above garden courtyard, bridge, and other irrational concrete precipices. As the river started to become visible through the original castle archways, and as I glided across the suspended walkways amid more crisscrossing, floating walkways of inscrutable origin and destination, I realized how absolutely primitive digital screens can look when set in the same material field as Scarpa's remarkably advanced display apparatuses and used, no less, as vehicles for his plans for these very structures.

Institutional buildings today (and I hesitate to use the term architecture here, since most of what we live with is not) could be said to present a similarly strange fission of materials and technological interfaces. As has been the case for the past twenty or so years, these structures are designed almost exclusively on computer screens--deemed more efficient platforms for the mediation of construction and code. But as this digitization has mixed with increasing financialization, "architecture" is now commonly seen as the whittled-down sum of grossly general components: the building's "skin," its atrium, and the general path of circulation dictated by its plan--nothing more. Beyond that framework, detailing is frequently outsourced, and spaces of use are often conceived according to a hierarchy of access to "views" and "naming opportunities." Not surprisingly, the first question most "end users" ask upon entering any structure, public or private, is: "Do you have WiFi?"

The primary network for Scarpa--both as metaphor and as material--is water. As he would have said, in his peculiarly flat-footed and practical way, this is probably because he was Venetian. But thirty-five years after Scarpa's death, the meaning of "being Venetian" in an era when increases in sea level carry apocalyptic portent pierces the core of urgent ideological and formal questions as to how we build in the world. Scarpa's approach to water, if it can be generalized, was to open the built structure to the unpredictable forces of nature, and then to make that porosity into the basis of decoration--a kind of ornament that seems to emerge naturally, but also by surprise, like a barnacle. Unlike Frank Lloyd Wright, whom the Italian architect glossed in his own work and discussed in detail in idiosyncratic lectures to his students, Scarpa designed his structures not for the tops of waterfalls but for the bottoms of canals.

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Scarpa sought to explore "the way" or "the path"--as in traditional Chinese and Japanese landscape painting, and specifically, given the Venetian architect's particular fascinations, in the movement of the mind/body through Shinto temple shrine complexes--and invited such forces to invade the Cartesian space of Western architecture. In his complicated and often tortured relationship to traditional Japanese architecture, he fermented gaps of not-knowing into ornate and often cryptically irrational adornments and structural elements. It can sometimes be difficult, for example, to figure out how to open a door designed by Scarpa: The hinge is given so much manufactural intensity that the eye/hand misses the subdued, frequently recessed apparatus that actually opens the portal.

And this zany quality to Scarpa's work always hits in the middle of a total bliss-out. The poetry that emerges in his built structures, like that of his drawings, cuts many ways at once. But now, in an age of flat buildings and overly pedagogical exhibition design, it is Scarpa's wild sense of humor that speaks most critically. Architecture, in the twenty-first century--at a time when space in institutional buildings is overwhelmingly determined by xXxtreme branding opportunities and by the bodies that fill these structures as props for half-baked, neo-Taylorist ideas--is once again in an ideological and technological stranglehold (google "skip-stop elevator" if you don't know what I'm talking about). Our hypercapitalist cathedrals of wanting produce even more coldness and cruelty than the state socialist architecture against which (however unwittingly) Scarpa's vision emerged as a counter-force. And yet, in that special way in which architecture can skip across time, Scarpa's forms and material processes have the potential to shatter all of this.

KEN OKIISHI IS AN ARTIST BASED IN NEW YORK.

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"Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venlizi Company, 1932-1947," curated by Nicholas Cullinan, is on view at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, from Nov. 4,2013-March 2,2014; the exhibition is an adaptation of "Carlo Scarpa: Venini 1932-1947," curated by Marino Barovier for the Fondazione Giorgio Cini and Pentagram Stiftung, on view at Le Stanze del Vetro, Venice, last year.

JOSIAH MCELHENY, NICK MAUSS, CAROL BOVE, AND KEN OKIISHI ON THE WORK OF CARLO SCARPA
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Title Annotation:Venetian Glass by Carlo Scarpa: The Venlizi Company, 1932-1947
Author:McElheny, Josiah; Mauss, Nick; Bove, Carol; Okiishi, Ken
Publication:Artforum International
Geographic Code:1U2NY
Date:Nov 1, 2013
Words:3553
Previous Article:Building complex.
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