Friday, June 19, 2009

The Tapho Files 2: Andres Lepik

This edition of The Tapho Files features Andres Lepik, curator of the Department of Architecture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City, which is hosting the exhibit “In Situ: Architecture and Landscape” through Jan. 18, 2010.
Lepik, who was hired by MoMA in July 2007, previously was chief curator of the 20th- and 21st-century architecture collection at the Kunstbibliothek in Berlin. He originally was a student of art history, who also loved the study of architecture and, most recently, of landscape architecture, thanks in part, he says, to his appreciation of Central Park.
“In Situ” draws on MoMA’s permanent collection in featuring some of the most famous landscape architecture in the world. Included is artwork of three cemeteries: Erik Gunnar Asplund’s Woodland Crematorium in Stockholm, Sweden; Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo Cemetery, near Modena, Italy (pictured here; credit is below); and Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos’s Igualada Cemetery, near Barcelona, Spain.
The following Q&A is condensed from our conversation of Friday, June 19, 2009:

Whistling Past the Graveyard: What was the impetus for including cemeteries in this exhibit?

Andres Lepik: I was looking at what we had in the collection. The project was related to landscaping, and I found that there were cemeteries also in the collection that I didn’t know. And in looking in the material, we found three of them, and that’s the reason (they were included). We don’t have much landscape design in the architecture collection; it was never a purpose of the collection, there was never an interest in it. But we have some, so (we decided), let’s put the few we have together.
It was a natural step to include the cemeteries, because otherwise, I couldn’t have filled the room. … One project we found, and then I saw that we had two others, and I said, OK, let’s do one wall with the cemeteries. There are some famous examples here in the collection. Let’s bring all three together and make one wall, like it’s a chapter in landscape architecture.

WPTG: These were things already in the collection.

AL: The whole exhibition is based on the permanent holdings in our collection … Architecture design cannot be presented the whole year, because these graphics and watercolors will fade out. We have to bring them back to storage once in a while. The maximum we can show them is like three to six months and then they have to have a rest, so that means we cannot keep those drawings in the wall forever, because they would fade out in the light.

WPTG: When you started looking through the material to decide what you were going to include in the exhibit, was it a surprise that you decided that you could include cemeteries. In all honesty, there are other things you could have brought out.

AL: I thought it’s a very interesting part for architects. We have some beautiful drawings here. I thought this was really, really interesting … to bring the audience into this room, with what you might expect – Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house, the model in the collection … and the cemeteries could be something for people to think about. The relationship between cemeteries and landscape. How architects approach the topic.

WPTG: That’s one of the things I’ve learned in my research. When people are told about the subject, and learn about the subject, it comes together naturally for them. But it’s not something that’s the first thing on people’s minds. … You say you have drawings in this exhibit?
AL: Yes, we have three cemeteries. The first one is Erik Gunnar Asplund. He did this cemetery in Stockholm, which is called Woodland Cemetery, Woodland Crematorium. This is a famous project. He worked on it for more than 10 years, 15 years, and he developed the whole landscaping and all the buildings … It’s great … It’s from the earlier times (of the 20th century). It was finished around 1937, 1936 … There are five drawings.
From the later century, around 1971, we have Aldo Rossi’s San Cataldo, which is near Modena in Italy, which is a very interesting contrast to the other one. In Italy and Spain, there is a completely different tradition for the cemeteries, because they put the urns in walls. And in the northern countries, they have this sort of park-like, open landscaping, where you have the graves in the earth, and in Italy and Spain, you have these ashes in urns that you put into walls. You have these buildings constructed, which encloses landscape, and the other is more like a landscape that includes some buildings. I found it quite interesting that we can have both topologies, the northern topology of Asplund, and the southern Europe, Aldo Rossi. They’re from different times in the century. This opens up the spectrum (to) the different range of possibilities.

WPTG: The third one is …

AL: The third one is by Enric Miralles and Carme Pinos. A Spanish cemetery, Igualada; it’s near Barcelona. It’s pretty interesting; it’s kind of like the Aldo Rossi, the building walls for the urns, but at the same time it’s open. It’s an extension of an existing cemetery, but they chose to enhance the landscape and build some part into the mountains, or the hills there. Like to make it an experience of walking through a landscape of the dead. It’s a very, very interesting project. I mean, we have only a paper model; it’s not enough. I would like to have more…know better what this project is.

WPTG: The Aldo Rossi … that’s also drawings?

AL: A set of three drawings.

WPTG: Did you find any evidence that there was ever any American cemeteries included in the museum’s permanent collection?

AL: No, not that I know. I’m not sure. I didn’t go through all the files and records, but as far as I know and as far as I talked to colleagues … as far as landscape architecture, it has never been thematized in this way. As far as landscape architecture, it's neve been done. The Woodland has been shown in other exhibitions before … but never as a topic of cemeteries.

WPTG: And again, from my personal observation, I don’t think cemeteries (in America) have been given that kind of frame of reference as perhaps in Europe ... I don’t think there’s the same kind of recognition about the possibility ... In some cases they are, but I still think they are more on the periphery of people’s consciousness than perhaps in Europe.

AL: That’s absolutely right. In Europe, if you go to ... cities, there is a sort of tourism to go to cemeteries and to find famous graves of famous people and also something architecturally interesting in cemeteries, to go and see them. I’ve never heard of that in the U.S. Maybe some historic examples here, but ... you don't go for the architecture or the landscaping. You go because of the relevance, not for the architecture or the landscaping.


Art: Aldo Rossi (Italian, 1931-1997)Gianni Braghieri (Italian, born 1945)Cemetery of San Cataldo Modena, Italy, Aerial perspective (1971)Crayon and graphite on sepia diazotype. 24 x 49 3/4" (61 x 126.4 cm)The Museum of Modern Art. Gift of The Howard Gilman Foundation, 2000

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