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08 September 2011

Reconsidering Postmodernism

Glory Days?

There’s something vaguely depressing about the idea of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art staging a conference called Reconsidering Postmodernism:
It sounds a bit like a dreaded high school reunion where the jocks recount their big achievements on a small stage, or the ‘60’s crowd attending a recent Rolling Stones concert. Those days are past and, for whatever their glory, have essentially nothing to offer us today. For classicists like me (and I count myself in that camp as both artist and architect), Postmodernism was a high school we couldn’t wait to graduate from, a way station on the road to something more substantial, richer, more rewarding. Admittedly, I was shaped by a PoMo education that gave me tools–analytical, compositional, conceptual–that I still use; but the architecture that resulted from it was a thin, jokey, naïve, clunky, awkward pastiche of the great architecture of the past, and thanks in no small part to Tom Rajkovich (who saw through it earlier than I did) I moved on to the real thing; and once I had I didn’t spend too much time looking back. That saved me (I vainly hoped) from the withering critiques of the post-Postmodernists by the Decons, et al, who too easily pilloried the PoMo icons for all of their shaky pretense; unfortunately, those who took classical architecture more seriously were lumped in with our less serious “mentors” by the neo-Mods, and classicism in a way has never achieved the status it deserves because of the sins of our fathers. Thanks for that.

Apart from what seems, to me at least, a really bizarre idea for a conference by the ICA&A, one wonders about its content. The age of Postmodernism was also the age of nascent classicism; where, then, are Allan Greenberg and John Blatteau in the program? Having worked for John, who had little patience for Postmodern jokes, I can imagine at least one of those two serious classicists who happened to be practicing during those glory days poking holes in any nostalgia for the brief reign of the jocks. And then, what about the &A part of the organization? What about postmodern painting and sculpture? I remember the work of Carlo Maria Mariani, Edward (Ted) Schmidt, and Tony Visco being legitimate alternatives to Abstraction, Conceptual Art, etc. From what I can tell, there is no place for art at this conference, even though one of Michael Graves’ greatest achievements was reintroducing figurative art into his projects, like his unrealized painted room with Ted Schmidt for the Clos Pegase winery.
I spoke last year in Venice on the 30th anniversary of the Biennale’s Presence of the Past, and I lamented the role of History disappearing from architectural education after Postmodernism; but I didn’t lament the disappearance of Aldo Rossi’s Teatro del Mondo.

Sadly, what this seems to be about is an admitting of defeat by the classicists in a world increasingly hostile to what we do, and a longing for a moment in the past when everything seemed a little freer. But it was a sloppy, insubstantial time, and being much of an autodidact I’ve had to struggle for decades to shed the postmodern attitudes that prevented me from doing serious classical work; the idea of turning back the clock, essentially unlearning what I’ve learned in the last quarter century, seems more like a nightmare than a dream.

Reconsidering Postmodernism? No, Thanks. I graduated a long time ago.

1 comment:

  1. Well said David! I frankly was disconcerted when I received the announcement for the conference. I applaud you for plainly speaking the truth, we don't need to revisit this particular past.