"What If: Art on the Verge of Architecture and Design"

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After centuries of experimentation, it might have seemed that there was nothing new under the sun where that glamorous fetish object non plus ultra, the woman's shoe, was concerned. Then along came NikeTown, with its mutant materials and space technologies, and haute couture joined this revolution from below. Of all "the stuff that surrounds us," footwear has perhaps taken the biggest design leap.

Spring Summer 2000, 2000, Sylvie Fleury's display of shoes from the Paris season, testifies to a deep fascination with luxury goods and their "magical qualities," as Karl Marx would have it. Such a fascination, verging on the obsessive, has been a part of art since Surrealism, but Fleury's elegant installation, included in the Moderna Museet's "What If: Art on the Verge of Architecture and Design," takes commodity fetishism to a whole new level. Her shoes really are magic.

With "What If," curator Maria Lind endeavors to take "the temperature of contemporary art" by looking at its relationship to two neighboring fields. "Artists cannibalize these kindred disciplines for formalistic purposes and in order to reflect and question the concrete, designed reality that surrounds us," Lind writes in the catalogue. The show, which was laid out (or, as the Moderna Museet puts it, "filtered") by artist Liam Gillick, comprises works by thirty-odd individuals or creative teams who arrived on the scene during the '90s. The past decade has been characterized by an increasing hybridization of genres, a tendency that has a long history. In the early 20s, Malevich designed tableware and maquettes of buildings, and his mother decorated textiles with Suprematist geometries. The Bauhaus and De Still made similar transgressions. Looking back further, the Baroque period achieved, in the words of Gilles Deleuze, "a unity of the arts"; it was an era when masters created paintings in concert with the sc ulpture and architecture surrounding them. "From one end of the chain to the other, the painter has become an urban designer," Deleuze observed in The Fold (1988).

The codes and conventions of architecture, fashion, and city planning preoccupy the contemporary artists in "What If," but unlike the crossover artists of earlier periods, few seem to want to escape the boundaries of the art world altogether. Tobias Rehberger and Rirkrit Tiravanija have constructed small houses, made from wood and other materials, that will be disassembled after the exhibition closes and transported to northern Thailand, where Tiravanija is establishing a new community. The huts are less about achieving the dream of becoming an architect than they are steps in Tiravanija's ongoing exploration of social situations and Rehberger's observation of the vicissitudes of style. …


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