Revisiting Grid Structure at the Sharjah Museum

Alois Kronschlaeger, Grid Structure #1, 2014. Bruce Museum, Greenwich, Connecticut. Basswood, calligraphy ink, black and silver metallic spray paint, aluminum mesh, black plexiglass, fluorescent lighting, black sand and gravel. Photo by Marc Lins.

In 2014 Alois Kronschlaeger developed a site-specific installation for Tales of Two Cities: New York & Beijing, an exhibition at the Bruce Museum in Greenwich, Connecticut in which each of five Beijing- based artists were paired with five New York-based artists, bringing together their respective artistic practices and producing a rich cross-cultural exchange. The multimedia, multi-scale works that resulted from these collaborations addressed the complicated implications of creating art in an increasingly globalized, socialized, and politicized context. For the project, Kronschlaeger was paired with the Chinese paper sculptor Lin Yan, who designed a rice paper installation in the museum’s entrance rotunda; Kronschlaeger’s work for the exhibition, Grid Structure #1, was installed in a three-stories-high circular atrium.

Twenty-two cubes made up of 6,500 basswood sticks were stacked—and each of 24,000 sides of the wooden sticks individually stained—to create Grid Structure #1, a larger-than-life sculpture that towered eighteen feet high, echoing the vertical axis of the atrium. If the ambitious verticality of the work was the viewer’s most urgent observation, no less daunting was the sculpture’s domain of horizontal space. Several cubes had not been stacked comfortably on top of the structure but rather placed notably outside its limits, and appear to be teetering on an edge; still others were intercepted by wire mesh intrusions that warp and disrupt the calculated coordinates of the grid.

With its harmonic proportions and rigorous logic, the grid has nourished and shaped artistic production from da Vinci to de Stijl, but it is without a doubt especially emblematic of modern times: “No form within the whole of modern aesthetic production has sustained itself so relentlessly while at the same time being so impervious to change,” affirmed Rosalind Krauss in 1979. Given the grid’s universality and timeless relevance, it is not entirely surprising that Kronschlaeger has chosen to revisit Grid Structure #1 on the occasion of the 19th annual Islamic Arts Festival organized by the Sharjah Museum in the United Arab Emirates.

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Digital renderings of Alois Kronschlaeger’s installation for the Sharjah Museum

For this sweeping exhibition that last year featured three hundred works by thirty-six artists from seventeen countries, Kronschlaeger was invited to create a variation of Grid Structure. This time, the installation won’t be responding to the cylindrical confines of an atrium but to the all-encompassing environment of an allocated space in the museum gallery. Where the Bruce Museum intervention had only begun to examine Grid Structure‘s horizontal potential, this design offers an opportunity to fully exploit it.

In his decision to arrange the multichromatic cubes in a horizontal rather than a vertical layout, Kronschlaeger is responding to an ongoing concern for site-specificity that persists in his artistic practice. The tunneled space of the Bruce Museum atrium was particularly unique, and called for an installation that would make visitors hyper-aware of their architectural surroundings. The Sharjah Museum work, in contrast, was not conceived with such specifications in mind. However, there is more to this plan than an adaptation to a new and distinct installation space. In Kronschlaeger’s vision for this version of Grid Structure, four separate constellations of stacked gridded cubes generate a dynamic urban sprawl contained within the exhibition space. Unlike the Bruce Museum work, where each cube was stacked solely in service of the grander vertical structure, each cluster of towers in the Sharjah Museum seems to retain a certain autonomy. Much like the diverse edifices that form the foundation of a bustling metropolis, Kronschlaeger’s structures will be interrelated but independent.

Beyond the urban evocations of the new design, there is also a shift in the way the public will interact with the work. At the Bruce Museum, the viewer’s confrontation was vertical: one could walk around the structure, or look up as the stacked cubes receded into the interminable depth of the atrium. The Sharjah Museum version will allow the viewer to not only walk around the perimeter of the space but also within it, a development particularly significant given the variations in color amongst the cubes. Enabling the viewer’s physical intervention into the installation activates the possibility for an infinite number of individual optical responses.

The interactive preoccupation recurs in the artist’s practice, most notably explored in his Polychromatic Structures exhibited at Cristin Tierney Gallery in 2015. And it is perhaps this aspect of Kronschlaeger’s forthcoming installation that most tangibly embodies the universal character of the grid. Although defined by a systematically fixed configuration and deeply entrenched in the history of modern art, the grid in Kronschlaeger’s Structure allows for a personalized and highly intimate visual experience.

Revisiting Grid Structure at the Sharjah Museum

shifting landscape: Kronschlaeger’s vision for UDEM

c13Rendering of Kronschlaeger’s forthcoming installation at the Universidad de Monterrey.
(Produced by studio assistant Sandra Lee.)

_DSC4281Tadao Ando’s Gate of Creation at UDEM. Photo by Alois Kronschlaeger.

Last month, Alois traveled to Mexico to meet with Ana Perez Escoto, Founder and Director of PEANA Projects, and curators at the Universidad de Monterrey (UDEM) to discuss his proposal for a site-responsive installation at the campus. Designed to cohabitate with Japanese architect Tadao Ando’s Gate of Creation, a sublime poured concrete edifice that houses UDEM’s Centro Roberto Garza Sada de Arte, Arquitectura y Diseño, Kronschlaeger’s proposed installation was initially imagined as a series of latticed brick walls that would harmonize with the striated surface of Ando’s extant structure. Kronschlaeger’s physical experience of the site, however, played an integral role in the development of the most current proposal, a vision very different from the originally proffered plan: the nascent idea of the stacked brick wall metamorphosed into a design dominated by organic clusters of seventy-five carbon steel rods that create a cohesive path toward, underneath, and beyond the Gate.

Approximately twenty-four feet tall and one inch wide, alternating in color and in distance to one another, the rods will be set in the hilly ground that supports the structure laterally and flanks the pathway that meanders beneath the building. Kronschlaeger’s conception proposes the creation of a wholly new axis to Ando’s building and to the corresponding pathway, defined by shifting vertical color lines that weave in and out of the structure. Perceptible tonal variations in the concrete of the Center, which was poured in different locations, are conjured by the polychromatic palette of the artist’s installation.

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Scale models.

The façade of Ando’s building is slashed into two canted planes that sweep into and consume one another. Anchored in the earth at a tilt, Kronschlaeger’s carbon steel poles are also slightly inclined with respect to the horizontal axis, flirting with Ando’s oblique angles. But if Gate of Creation and Kronschlaeger’s sculptural response mimic each other’s swooping diagonalities, the architect emphasizes the inertia of the angle, whereas the artist invokes its kineticism: the metal rods, lithe but sturdy, sway with the wind like the foxtail grass that envelops the campus in a billowy to-and-fro.

_DSC4277Foxtail grass at UDEM. Photo by Alois Kronschlaeger.

This rhythmic pendulum motion—when tested for flexibility, each rod had a sway of about twelve feet—stands in direct opposition to the sort of monolithic construction that characterizes Tadao Ando’s projects. With movement in mind, UDEM becomes the substrate for a historically charged progression from a site-specific artistic intervention that is static to one that is mobile. The optical phenomenon whereby each rigid vertical pole appears to yield in the wind and become elastic serves as a reminder that nothing is truly stable or still. It evokes an architectural problematic, reminding us of William LeMessurier’s infamous design for Citicorp Center, a skyscraper suspended on nine-story stilts that had to be urgently reinforced with steel plates once calculations revealed a flaw that made the building fatally susceptible to diagonal winds.

Robert Smithson, whose legacy is theoretically inseparable from the concept of site, collapsed traditional principles of space and time by creating earthworks that forced the spectator beyond the limits of the gallery and into a vulnerable, exposed atmosphere subject to destruction (although he recognized the confines presented by both sites: “I don’t think you’re freer in the desert than you are inside a room.”) Earthworks were enigmatic explorations into immediacy and infinity, and Kronschlaeger’s interception at UDEM retraces many of these temporal concerns. But where Smithson was preoccupied with entropy, often creating works that were irreversible disintegrations of themselves, Kronschlaeger’s project deals with the production—and not the exhaustion—of energy. To illustrate this point, the artist will have to literally reign in the electric potential of his carbon steel rods, grounding them three feet into the earth, to avoid creating a veritable lightning field.

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Left: Constantin Brancusi, Column Without End, version I, 1918. The Museum of Modern Art. Right: Underbelly of Tadao Ando’s Gate of Creation. Photo by Roberto Ortiz.

The grooved underbelly of Ando’s building echoes the long history of the serrated motif, exemplified perhaps by the various iterations of Brancusi’s Column Without End, the first of which dates from 1918 and features rhomboidal modules with slightly curved faces carved into an oak beam. In 1920, Brancusi created a 24-foot high version of the Column for the garden of photographer Edward Steichen. The late sculptor and authority on Brancusi, Sidney Geist, wrote that the Column in Steichen’s garden

…rises without effort and unobtrusively…a repetition without monotony, diminishing perspectively, but ever present in the mind. Stiff where all is swaying, regular where all is varied, it is the shape of intelligence amid floral exuberance, a human gesture in a natural world.

Ando’s Gate of Creation has a similar effect on its surroundings: it stands block-like and rigid in a vastly green and open space, while its corrugated surface imitates the campus’s natural topography. Alois Kronschlaeger’s installation reverses the logic of Brancusi’s column in Steichen’s garden, effectively swaying where all is stiff, and takes the human gesture one step further—not only integrating the site’s landscape but leveraging the region’s elements, such as its strong winds, to amplify movement. Simultaneously strong and supple, the artist’s design for UDEM opens up a new and much-longed for field of conversation with its architectural predecessor.

At this stage, the artist is consulting with an engineer, Esteban Astudillo, to produce a feasibility study. Installation will begin at the end of January 2017; the project opening date is scheduled for March 2017.

 

 

shifting landscape: Kronschlaeger’s vision for UDEM

Kronschlaeger’s Carbon Steel Structure

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Left: Alois Kronschlaeger, Carbon Steel Structure, 2016, 44 by 24 by 24 inches; right: detail.

To create his Carbon Steel Structure, Alois Kronschlaeger first arranged and welded together groups of three by four-inch tubular carbon steel units, building separate layers or planes. These layers were then stacked on top of one another on alternating axes to create pockets of negative space that echo the distinctive hollowness of each individual unit―a practice that undoes the calculated logic of the hermetic brick wall, traditionally free of interspaces. The layers are not welded to each other, and so they can be stacked and re-stacked indefinitely in the original order in which they were placed or according to another whim altogether.

When thinking of a title for the work, which was shown as part of Cristin Tierney Gallery’s booth at ZONA MACO in February 2016, Kronschlaeger eschewed words like “tower” or “totem”―the former is restricted to ascensional growth, while the latter serves primarily as an object of idolatry. Neither truly encapsulated the idea of a construction that contracts and expands in space, nor evoked the importance of the unique, singular unit. The artist decided on “structure,” a term that does not favor growth in any one direction but rather opens up the possibility of horizontal and vertical evolution. The word stems from the Latin struere―to heap together; arrange.

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Various views of the carbon steel modular units used in Kronschlaeger’s Carbon Steel Structure.

Carbon Steel Structure preceded, and yet is strikingly reminiscent of, the 2016 Serpentine Pavilion designed by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). The architects stacked pultruded fibreglass frames to build a wall that, in their own words, “unzips.” Rather than using multiple walls to create a structure with a finite number of exterior sides, BIG employs a single, forking wall to demarcate the space. Both the Pavilion architects and Kronschlaeger, however, thought to leverage the process of stacking―the basic building methodology―to accomplish a surface that varies in translucency as the viewer shifts positions. In their Architect’s Statement, BIG describes the Pavilion: “…free-form yet rigorous; modular yet sculptural; both transparent and opaque; both solid box and blob.” The Pavilion and Carbon Steel Structure function much like screens, allowing various amounts of light to filter through as the hollow units reveal glimpses of the world on the other side.

serpentine-gallery-pavilion_big_bjarke-ingels_london_dezeen_sq.jpg2016 Serpentine Pavilion, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG). (Serpentine Galleries).

Screen Shot 2016-07-04 at 4.43.09 PM.pngDetail of BIG’s Serpentine Pavilion (photo by the architect).

The action of “unzipping” is unique to the Pavilion, but Kronschlaeger’s Structure also expands in horizontal space, though with a different impulse. The modular units are not arranged according the regular, visually apprehensible logic of the Pavilion, where each fiberglass frame is stacked on its widest, horizontal side a minutely calculated distance from the other. Instead, some of the interlaced units that make up Kronschlaeger’s piece stand on a vertical axis, jutting out more or less than the units that surround it so that the Structure expands in select places, to varying degrees, and contracts in others. In a further gesture of complexity, the artist has alternated the outward-facing sides of each unit so that one sees the hollow and the solid faces in the same line of vision. This practice takes full advantage of the singular unit (and evinces Kronschlaeger’s fascination with this element.) As they scan the structure, the viewer’s perspective is either tunneled—when they look through a tubular unit—or blocked, interrupted by the sudden opacity of a smooth carbon steel surface. The net effect of this interplay is that the structure presents itself as simultaneously penetrable and impenetrable by the gaze of the spectator.

metalocus_serpentine-big_04_1400.jpgBIG’s Serpentine Pavilion. (Serpentine Galleries)

The tradition of stacking has been integral to Kronschlaeger’s production for a very long time. In The Architectural Impulse, curator Warren James described the artist’s process: “the repetitive and rigid structural module—every cell exactly like every other cell—is made supple and yields to endless variations.” Prior to creating Carbon Steel Structure, the artist experimented with concrete pavement blocks in a similar format. These exercises yielded the Celosía configurations, such as the one pictured below; a similar desire to create separate units that are stackable, and thus infinitely re-configurable, is patent in the artist’s heaped grids for his site-specific installation at the Bruce MuseumGrid structure #1.

Details of Alois Kronschlaeger’s Carbon Steel Structure can be accessed at Cristin Tierney’s Artsy profile: https://www.artsy.net/artwork/alois-kronschlaeger-untitled-29 .

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Alois Kronschlaeger, Celosía configuration #2, concrete pavement bricks, 2016.

Kronschlaeger’s Carbon Steel Structure

Kronschlaeger, Kiesler, and the Endless

“All ends meet in the ‘Endless’ as they meet in life. Life’s rhythms are cyclical. All ends of living meet during twenty-four hours, during a week, a lifetime. They touch one another with the kiss of time. They shake hands, stay, say goodbye, return through the same or other doors, come and go through multi-links, secretive or obvious, or through the whims of memory.”

–Frederick Kiesler

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Alois Kronschlaeger, Untitled (Basin and Range), 2013.
Photo by Marc Lins.
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Frederick Kiesler, Endless House, 1950-60.

Alois Kronschlaeger’s studio, and home, is also the place where we meet to speak about objects and process. The space where our conversations take place is warmly lit and longer than it is wide. A wooden table extends the length of the room and recedes into the back wall, where one of his wall sculptures (a Polychromatic Structure) hangs; I find myself straining my neck to look up at it intermittently during our conversations. The discovery that I kept looking at it as if it were going to change is an organic response to the artist’s work, in which the viewer transcends the role of the spectator to become an active participant. I become convinced that my position vis-á-vis the object does not simply impact my view of it, but actually has a transformational effect on the object itself, and I long to see the work again in search for this feeling that I have presence—and influence—on something that is outside of myself.

“What do you see here?” asks Alois, holding up a small model of what will be a large-scale, site-specific private commission. Vertical rods, at first glance parallel but in actuality slightly skewed, extend from a solid wooden base. I immediately think of Jesus Rafael Soto’s Penetrables, aptly named to evoke the way they invite the viewer to enter the sculpture, to physically inhabit it. What the artist is trying to get me to see, though, is not so much the possibility of the spectator’s insertion into the space but rather her ability to intimately interact with it from the outside. Each side of each rod is painted a different color, and when she walks around the work the faintly angled lines produce something like a moiré effect—an optical illusion whereby two or more patterns of lines are superimposed, creating a semblance of movement.

The position of the spectator changes relative to the first row of lines, which in turn also changes relative to the second row, and so on, in such a way that the visual impression of the work is dependent entirely on the viewer’s vantage point. What is unique about these objects is that they lay dormant in an empty room, but they come to life only in presence of the spectator or participant. The aesthetic and conceptual drive from which they operate is precisely this summoning of the viewer—a longing for his or her undivided attention. Something happens when you are surrounded by Kronschlaeger’s sculptures that’s similar to the effect of switching off the lights and watching otherwise still forms become animated under the veil of darkness. You become the center of gravity, toggling with the potential movement latent within each work as the shifts and displacements of your body pull the strings.

Alois cites the work of Austrian artist and architect Frederick Kiesler as an inspiration for his own constructions. Sometimes the evocations are very apparent. Kiesler’s Raumstadt (City in Space), a hovering support structure built for the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes in 1925, recalls the stacked and slanted grids that rose out of the ground for Kronschlaeger’s 2013 work 30° at Untitled in Miami. And Endless House, Kiesler’s famous design for a home that was never built, is dominated by the same swooping curvilinear forms that defined his Basin and Range in Tucson, Arizona. Still, the strongest point of convergence between the artists lies in their urge to introduce a human element into their work: while producing structures that are definitively architectural in their separation from the body, they are profoundly concerned with the viewer and his or her pure physical presence. Kiesler incorporates the human form by emulating it and adapting the material to its shape; Kronschlaeger does so by devising a system where the work and the viewer are mutually stimulated by nature of being in a shared space, a communicative relationship that echoes Kiesler’s provocative assertion: “…all ends of living meet.”

 

Kronschlaeger, Kiesler, and the Endless

Valentina at the blog

There is something about writing that’s much like inhabiting a space. When I thought about what it might mean to inhabit Alois Kronschlaeger’s blog, like a newcomer who just landed in a country that is not my own, but where I can imagine the possibility of one day, in the near future, feeling at home, I struggled most with the preposition. Am I writing in Alois’s blog, for him, with him? Each option carries with it a distinct relationship to the artist and a different mode of being within the body of work, a degree of closeness and immersion. I decided that I liked the idea of at, a word that denotes a precise location and a specific time, so that as a writer I come not so much to a place—a blank page—but to a moment: the artist’s immediate present.

Alois’s preposition is on. His architectural sculptures work on the space. While scale varies, from the Wall Grid Structures that jut out just past the wall to the colossal Allotropisms, the genesis of the objects is always their ability to intervene and act upon their surroundings. This is self-evident in his site-specific works, where location (and accompanying factors, such as light) precede and determine the structure from scale model to completion, but it’s also patent in those works that were not conceived with a place in mind. The Russian constructivist Gabo distinguished what he termed the “volume of mass” from “the volume of space,” pinning one against the other: a solid cube represents the former, while a carved cube illustrates the latter—“the space in which the mass exists made visible.”  In concrete terms Gabo was defending space, reclaiming the sculptural quality of the area that is unoccupied by mass.

I can’t help but think of the swaths of aluminum mesh that sinuously interrupt the schematic structure of the grid in Alois’s works. These material interceptions rupture planes and lines, collapsing our geometric belief system and making way for randomized instances of beauty in the space: sensual shadows fall upon walls and floors, breathing new life into the surfaces; streams of light render a strip of paint suddenly transparent, revealing a concealed element. To borrow Gabo’s language, the artist carves into the space itself, and the action of carving suddenly shifts that space into our view. The forms that cut into the grids make us acutely aware of our position in space and time—one that is as transient as an optical effect.

It is curious and a little frightening to write about an artist’s work. Critics and art historians are often guilty of looking at an artwork so intently that it becomes something else entirely, like when a word loses meaning from repetition; artists are also guilty of this. I want to arrive at this project recognizing that I will be carving the space, drawing attention to the mass of what was there before, and that my words too will create haunting shadows that contract and stretch as the days elapse. But my presence as a writer also borrows from another operation at work in Alois’s sculptures: site-specificity. I recognize that I need to discover what is feasible, take measurements, make blueprints, because the subjects I will be writing about—artistic process, product, challenge, and concept—are not limitless vacuums but rather well-demarcated areas. The relationship of an artist and a writer is akin to the mutual respect and interplay between an object and space.

At is my introduction to the reader. It evokes my arrival here, now:

at present
at first glance
at full strength
at random
at intervals
at it
at once.

Valentina at the blog

Flint Public Art Project

Later this month, the Flint Public Art Project, in cooperation with the Civic Park Historic Neighborhood Association and other organizations, will unveil their newest project in the Civic Park neighborhood of Flint, MI: a series of 87 designs painted on the window and door panels of empty houses. I created each individual design in New York, and over the next week local youth in Michigan will paint them onto plywood boards, which will then be installed on 14 houses.
The design for each house is unique, and responds to the specific angles and forms of the building it was created for. The simple black and white lines were inspired by the logo for the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City. Once painted, the boards will be installed for a June 25th Neighborhood Art Parade celebratory event featuring live performance, free food, and a parade through the neighborhood.
I am honored to be a part of this wonderful undertaking, and extend my gratitude to Stephen Zacks and all of the people at Flint Public Art Project for inviting me to participate. Thank you also to everyone at Haskell Youth Center for your efforts in painting my designs. It is always rewarding to be involved in public art projects, and I hope the local community will enjoy the result. Below are a few renderings of designs that I submitted to Flint Public Art Project, and that will be displayed for the Neighborhood Art Parade.
1201 Patterson_Page_1
1201 Patterson_Page_4
1201 Patterson_Page_3
1201 Patterson_Page_2
1209 Patterson_Page_1
1209 Patterson_Page_2
1214 Patterson_Page_1
1214 Patterson_Page_2
2160 Foresthill_Page_1
2160 Foresthill_Page_2
2302 Parkhurst & Delmar _Page_1
2302 Parkhurst & Delmar _Page_2
Flint Public Art Project

Art Lima 2015

Earlier this month, I exhibited my work for the first time ever at the Art Lima fair in Peru. The fair was truly an amazing experience, and I was incredibly fortunate to be able to show with my friend, the artist Aldo Chaparro, and gallerist Damián Casado of Galería Casado Santapau. Beyond the great opportunity I had to show my work to a brand new audience, the fair also allowed me to deepen my relationships with old acquaintances, as well as make some new friends.

At Art Lima, I showed a spinning cube, two wall sculptures and several smaller cubes. Once we had arrived in Peru, Florencia and I immediately got to work constructing the cubes in Aldo’s studio. We worked non-stop up until the fair opened, making sure everything was ready.

We tried a few new things with this set of works that turned out really stunning. For example, with a few of the cubes, I chose a color selection inspired by Peruvian textiles (pictured here). At the suggestion of Damián, we also experimented with some new corner installations of the works. Not only did they look fabulous, but they also evoked Malevich’s Black Square as well as the rich historical lineage of art installed in corners (by Dan Flavin, Vladimir Tatlin, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Lynda Benglis and many more).

The reception of my art in Lima was genuinely heartfelt and overwhelmingly positive, and I cannot wait to return to Peru. As always, my beautiful wife Florencia Minniti supported me in everything, and her hard work and bright spirit contributed greatly to the success of this trip. A huge thanks also goes to Aldo and Damián for introducing me at Art Lima. Aldo is a wonderful friend, and he not only introduced me to Damián but he also gave me space in his studio to work in while I was in Peru. His studio manager Claudia Salem was also a huge help and a joy to work with. I hope you enjoy the photos of our trip and the fair.

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Art Lima 2015