This is the last week to see Extended Collapse, an installation at the Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art by the architects Annie Han and Daniel Mihalyo, who together are partners in Seattle's Lead Pencil Studio. It's a shame they're not better known for their extraordinary work, which brings an artistic sensitivity to subject matter that is convetionally architectural. Their recent appearance on the cover of Architect magazine, seated in Daniel's vintage pickup, was at least a step in the right direction. (Disclosure: they are friends.) It doesn't help that they tend to work outside of the media spotlight, far from the East Coast. Their largest work to date, Maryhill Double, was in rural Oregon.
The idea for Extended Collapse was to return markers of the museum's original life as a movie theater into the gallery context. The effect is jarring, conjuring thoughts about the nature of history, preservation, and reuse. The ghostly remnants—a marquee, orchestra seating—suggest a sense of poetic loss, a kind of wistfulness that has always been a characteristic of their work.
I wish there were more major institutions that took chances on this kind of work. As Han noted in an interview about the project, "museums generally treat architecture as a didactic subject rather than an idea or medium." That's accurate. Monographic and thematic surveys have always served as the backbone of museum schedules. More recently, with the global economy and environment in crisis, there has been a welcome new focus on projects that promote the social impact of design.
Educating the public should remain a critical function of our leading institutions, but it shouldn't preclude the exploration of artistic projects that illuminate and enrich our lives in less programatic ways. This type of curation takes serious guts: projects by architects "dabbling" in artistic waters, or artists "dabbling" as architects, are ripe for critical attack—quite often justified. So be it.
A few weeks ago, my colleague Alexandra Lange asked for suggestions on how to reinvigorate the Cooper-Hewitt. Here's one: Activate that extraordinary and underutilized backyard with installations that do more than supplement the shows going on within.
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