Friday, July 07, 2006

Unwanted Modernism

On Modernism and the the eponymous exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

They were obsessed with control. Their aim, said the Russian painter and designer El Lissitzky, was "not to adorn life but to organise it"... The individual, Gropius believed, had to be replaced by "the will to develop a unified world view".

"For a generation," [Ernst Bloch] wrote in 1940, "this phenomenon of steel furniture, concrete cubes and flat roofs has stood there ahistorically, ultra-modern and boring, ostensibly bold and really trivial, full of hatred towards any so-called flourish of ornamentation and yet more schematically entrenched than any stylistic copy from the 19th century ever was."
Of all the products of the Enlightenment, it is probably Modernist architecture that best illustrates the horns of the dilemma on which we (most uncomfortably) sit. Nothing could, on the face of it, be more reasonable. Build using undisguised modern materials and industrial techniques living spaces for people without illusions and educated in the rational enterprise of scientific enquiry. Avoid the decoration that was invented in ages of superstition and unquestioned power. Build for the modern man.

And yet, the modern man continues to seek the comforting illusions of yesteryear. Modern man wants a house that suggests a chateau, or a gothic cathedral. Modern man wishes to surround himself with the aristocratic flummery of a bygone age. Modern man needs his illusions. And sees Modernist superman's living space as an imposition, as an act of totalitarian oppression to be ignored, if possible, or subverted, if not.

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