By Rothkopf, Scott
Artforum International , Vol. 41, No. 10
For all the recent talk of blurred boundaries between architecture and the visual arts, nobody's made much of a splash in both fields since Michelangelo hit Saint Peter's. The twentieth century spawned its share of architect/artists, such as Le Corbusier, Theo van Doesburg, and Tony Smith, but all were more renowned for their work on one side of the disciplinary divide than the other. Recently, artists as diverse as Vito Acconci, Pierre Huyghe, and Jorge Pardo have tried their hand at some form of architecture, while numerous architects have submitted their drawings and even sculptures to the glare of gallery lights. Today the architects Diller + Scofidio are our most fashionable fence-sitters, known less for buildings than for their work in performance and video, as well as their much-acclaimed exhibition designs. Yet the team's recent retrospective at the Whitney Museum, "Scanning: The Aberrant Architectures of Diller + Scofidio," unwittingly demonstrated the gulf between the art of installation and install ation art.
Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio formed their partnership in 1979, when a sour economy offered architects few opportunities to build. Rather than pursuing "paper architecture" like some of their colleagues, they chose to design sets for experimental theater and dance, public artworks, and sculptural installations, many of which address social issues, including our contemporary culture of surveillance, and "everyday rituals and gender prejudices," in the words of the exhibition's cocurators, Aaron Betsky and K. Michael Hays. At the Whitney, Diller + Scofidlo's investigation into domestic codes and gender roles is represented by a group of white dress shirts ironed into origami-like constructions, as well as by household objects, including a bar of soap and his-and-hers towels inscribed with punchy slogans. Like much of their work, these objects have visual flair, but their overdetermined critical take on "domestic habits" and propriety seems anachronistic--a better comment on the era when June Cleaver sta rched Ward's shirts than our own age of domestic partnerships and business-casual attire.
This sense of belatedness extends in more troubling ways to Diller + Scofidio's relationship to recent art history, since their practice often seems to involve dressing the once threatening wolf of Conceptual art in chic clothing. Take, for example, their retrospective's centerpiece, Mural, 2003, a snazzy robotic drill that navigates the galleries on a track and perforates the exhibition's walls. A label describes the piece as a comment on the "so-called neutrality of museum walls," but the "white cube" hasn't been seen as neutral for more than thirty years (one wonders if the architects are aware of the work of Michael Asher, Daniel Buren, or the numerous artists who have painted, scratched, buffed, or chipped away at museums and galleries alike). Mural, along with much of the writing on Duller + Scofidio, suggests the architects suffer from a bad case of Duchamp envy: They want to do for architecture what Duchamp did for art. …